Sunday, November 20, 2016

Mandate, Shmandate (President, Shmesident): Why Hillary Clinton Lost


The bats are streaming out of the abyss, the dark legions are clicking their heels, and fresh smoke still billows over the wreckage...pick whatever expression of purple prose that you prefer to describe the debacle. For Democrats, Election Day 2016 bore an unsettling resemblance to a multi-car pileup of the kind that generates reams of shrieking headlines. 

Few saw it coming. Even as her nine-point peak in the polls continued to evaporate, Hillary Clinton's claque beamed messages of reassurance during the last week: Hey,she's got this. We've been down this road before, it always tightens this late in the game. She's been picked apart for 20-plus years, what more can they dig up? Who'd give Donald Trump the nuclear codes, anyway? 

Once more, however, Democrats found new ways to crash and burn. Although nobody saw the House of Representatives falling -- thanks to the preponderance of Republican-driven statehouses, whose fingers firmly controlled redistricting -- Democratic predictions of retaking the U.S. Senate turned into a washout. Only two Republican incumbents (Mark Kirk, IL; Kelly Ayotte, NH) failed to cross the finish line, and nobody rated their chances too highly, anyway. However, 22 GOP incumbents are returning next year, which is certainly a dismal outcome if you're hoping to gain a majority.

Of course, Clinton's popular tally -- at last count, her margin was 2.8 million votes, and counting -- only makes the disconnect more painful*, since it doesn't change the Electoral College math an iota...and she still joins fellow also-rans Al Gore, Michael Dukakis, Adlai Stevenson, and Walter Mondale in the Presidential Losers Club. So what went wrong? Well, in the spirit of our 2012 post ("Why Mitt Romney Lost: Now Let The Circular Fingerpointing Begin"), we offer 10 reasons. As in Mitt's case, pick the one that best suits your mood.

<Once more...with feeling, 'cause you won't see this image again...>

1. Big Data Doesn't Vote (People Do). As soon as the starting gun fired last fall, pundits assumed that Clinton's celebrated organizational machine would raise Obama's demographic detail mining to whole new levels: Alas, "demography was not the destiny Clinton hoped it would be, because the nation is also angrier and more fearful, in part because of dislocations and disappointments caused by the economic globalization that she and her husband have long embraced. Trump's protectionist promise that he can bring back lost working-class jobs in Ohio and Pennsylvania may have been false on its face, but that barely mattered." ("What Was Hillary Clinton's Real Downfall? Complacency," politico. com, 11/10/16)

2. Dynasty Fatigue, Anyone?:
There's a reason why voters sent Clinton's evil twin, Jeb Bush, so early to the showers after blowing through $150 million.without winning a single primary. However, not everyone got the memo, even after 30 years of a political landscape dominated by Bushes and Clintons: "Yes, it's easy to conclude that the broad disdain the public expresses toward dynasties is a major hurdle for both Jeb and Hillary. But, to my mind, people saying that political dynasties aren't a good thing for the country is kind of like people saying they think there's too much money in politics. Sure. But is it something that impacts actual votes? In both cases I would say no."("People Say They Are Tired Of The Bushes And The Clintons. They're Not, Really": The Washington Post, 3/30/15). 

3. Even Rocky Didn't Take His Victory Lap Over Apollo Creed This Early: Until the FBI's infamous email landmine blew up in late October, gurus from Nate Silver (FiveThirtyEight), to the Princeton Election Consortium, never put Clinton's chances below 70 percent: "If the election were held this week, the project estimates that Clinton's odds of securing the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency at more than 95 percent, and by a margin of Electoral College votes. It is the second week in a row that the project has estimated her odds so high. The results mirror other Electoral College projections, some of which estimate Clinton's chance of winning at around 90 percent."  ("Hillary Clinton On Track For Electoral College Landslide: Poll," Newsweek, 10/15/16)

4. It's The Rationale, Stupid: "When I asked a long-serving Clinton aide this week if there was anything she could have done to keep from losing, he replied without missing a beat: 'Sure: give people a reason to vote for her.'"  ("In Memoriam: The Fall Of The House Of Clinton," 
Vanity Fair, 11/11/16)

5.Learning To Love That Slow Drip: "There's a good chance that FBI Director James Comey's vague letter about emails to congressional Republicans, which led to an extremely ill-timed media firestorm, tipped the election to Trump. But then again, she might have avoided the whole story by following the dang rules in the first place.

"I always assumed that if Clinton were nominated for president, the race would be dominated by some weird quasi-scandal that dragged on for month after month. It's not fair, but it is simply the reality of the Clintons. At some point, one simply has to take that into account."
 ("Why Clinton Lost," The Week, 11/16/16)

6. Maybe It Was Something In The Water, After All: Clinton's plaintive summary of her  fortunes ("Why aren't I ahead by 50 points?") this spring ranks with George W. Bush's battle cry of "Mission accomplished!" in the Premature Pronouncements Hall Of Fame: "She may be a skilled policymaker, but on the campaign trail she makes constant missteps and never realizes things have gone wrong until it's too late.

"Everyone knows this. Even among Democratic party operatives, she's acknowledged as 'awkward and uninspiring on the stump,' carrying 'Bill's baggage with none of Bill's warmth.'  New York magazine described her 'failing to demonstrate the most elementary political skills, much less those learned at Toastmasters or Dale Carnegie."
("Unless The Democrats Run Sanders, A Trump Nomination Means A Trump Presidency": Current Affairs, 2/23/16)

7. Slow But Steady (Sends Voters Right To Sleep): As early as May, there were ample warning signs that Clinton's creaky, cautious style wasn't convincing voters that she had anything new to offer, especially when it came to their shrinking wallets, as Democratic pollster Celinda Lake discovered:: "We're never going to win those white blue-collar voters if we're not better on the economy. And 27 policy papers and a list of positions is not a frame. We can laugh about it all we want, but Trump had one. It's something that we absolutely have to fix."  ("What Was Hillary Clinton's Real Downfall? Complacency," politico. com, 11/10/16)

8. Such A Tricky Business, This Vision Thing: From the start of her campaign, Clinton's allies and critics alike wondered when (or if) she'd ever get around to explaining just why she wanted the job so badly, an omission that provided no lack of satirical fodder: "Seriously, don't you dare even think about it. If you shitheads can just get in line, we can breeze through this whole campaign in 19 months and be done with it. Or, if you really want, we can do this the hard way. Because make no mistake, I'm not fucking around. Got it?" (Hillary Clinton To Nation: "America, Do Not Fuck This Up For Me," The Onion, 4/12/15)

9. The Glass Ceiling Didn't Even Wobble: For the briefest of times, nothing seemed impossible amid the rosy glow of Clinton's nomination as the first woman to top a national ticket: "At the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, just three miles from Independence Hall where the nation was born, a sense of history is palpable -- as is Clinton's willingness to finally enjoy it.

"'What an incredible honor that you have given me, and I can't believe we just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet,'" Clinton said via satellite after a video montage showed the faces of all 44 male presidents before shattering like glass to reveal Clinton waiting to address the convention from New York." ("
CNN: Clinton Nomination Puts 
'Biggest Crack' In Glass Ceiling," CNN, 7/27/16)

10. The Revolution (Won't Even Get To Bubble Under). Historians will have plenty of fun debating how avidly the Democratic Party establishment chose to clear the decks for Clinton, despite her many flaws. (For my money, it bears all the hallmarks of the music business's response to the rise of punk and New Wave: "Push Disco! Push Top 40! Anything but that crap!"):

"There are two different worlds. So the question is: What happens when that 18,000 marches into that room... ? Will they be welcomed? Will the door be open? Will the party hierarchy say, 'Thank you for coming in. We need your energy. We need your idealism. C'mon in!'? Or will they say, 'Hey, we've got a pretty good thing going right now. We don't need you. We don't want you'? That's the challenge that the Democratic Party faces. And I don't know what the answer is." (Bernie Sanders, on the ticklish issues that his spirited primary campaign raised, on the eve of the Democratic Convention)

The answer rang loud and clear on Election Day. Time will tell how well the Democratic Party Establishment read the memo -- or if they acknowledge it at all. But I don't see why we should hold our breath. It's time to slam the door shut, once and for all, on a) The Clinton dynasty, b) the neoliberal branding that her particular wing represented, and c) the umpteenth second chance for the Democratic National Committee to get things right. Given how bad our current situation seems likely to get, we can't afford to wait for a different world any longer. --The Reckoner

*That being said, reminding Trump and his acolytes of that number serves one politically useful purpose: it means, once the third party votes are also taken into consideration, that more than half the country voted against him, doesn't support him, and doesn't intend to give him the benefit of any of their doubts. Enough said on that one.

Links To Go (Don't Forget To Wave Away
The Smoke Drifting Over The Wreckage):
CNN: Clinton Nomination Puts 

'Biggest Crack' In Glass Ceiling:

Current Affairs: Unless The Democrats Run Sanders,
A Trump Nomination Means A Trump Presidency:

Newsweek: Hillary Clinton On Track
For Electoral College Landslide: Poll What Was Hillary Clinton's Real Downfall? Complacency

The Hill: Clinton Allies Panic Over Message:

The New York Times: How Data Failed Us In Calling An Election

The Onion: Hillary Clinton To Nation: 

"Do Not Fuck This Up For Me"

Vanity Fair: In Memoriam:
The Fall Of The House Of Clinton

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