With the benefit of a few days since Tuesday’s election shocker, here are my ten takeaways from Tragic Tuesday.
(1) It Was Never Going to be Easy
Winning a third consecutive Presidential race is very difficult to do. Of the seven candidates above who sought to secure their party’s third straight victory, only George H.W. Bush won and he had the benefit of an opponent who blew a 17-point lead.
This is especially true in “Change Elections” such as this. Thirty-nine percent (39%) of voters wanted a candidate who can bring needed change. Donald Trump won those voters:
83% to 14%
(2) The bright side . . .
On the bright side – Hillary Clinton did give the Democrats the popular vote for the third time in a row and fourth time in five presidential elections.
In addition, new Maryland Senator and law school classmate Chris Von Hollen and four newly elected women Senators Kamala Harris (CA), Tammy Duckworth (IL), Catherine Cortez Masto (NV) and Maggie Hassan (NH) are potential rising stars in the party.
(3) Look Who Set The Debate for The Final Weeks of the Campaign
The last month of the campaign was driven by Wikileaks dumps of emails from the Clinton campaign obtained from Russian hackers and FBI Director Comey’s astounding disclosure to Congress that he was investigating additional emails found on the computers of aide Huma Abedin and her husband disgraced former Congressman Anthony Wiener. Comey’s actions triggered a Hatch Act complaint from Richard Painter, the White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush.
As for the role of Putin and Wikileaks, this should be an issue of major concern but don’t expect the Republican Congress to investigate it.
(4) Hillary Rex
In Greek tragedies, the hero is often felled by a character flaw. Hillary is a classic tragic-hero, done in by her penchant for secrecy, distrust of the media and refusal to learn from past mistakes.
Consider three key dates:
- December 11, 1993
George Stephanopoulos and David Gergen advise President Clinton to disclose all Whitewater records, take their lumps and move on once the story died – the Standard Washington Scandal Protocol. Hillary would not agree. As David Gergen explained:
Hillary Clinton is a woman of many strengths and virtues, but like all of us, she also has some blind spots. She does not see the world in the same way that others do, when it comes to transparency and accountability.
The consequences of this decision were enormous, a protracted investigation that culminated in Hillary Clinton being brought before a grand jury and President Clinton’s impeachment.
- January 22, 2009
Hillary Clinton is sworn in as the 67th Secretary of State. By this point in time she knew she was likely to run for President again and that Republicans would throw the kitchen sink at her. Driven by her penchant for secrecy and oblivious to its implications for her future political hopes, she pursued use of a private email server and accounts.
- March 10, 2015
The Clinton email issues comes to light and Clinton, once again, does not address the issue head on and once again ignores the Standard Washington Scandal Protocol.
Yes, it is unfortunate and an outrage that President Putin and Director Comey would make this a political football in October, but it is Hillary who gave them the football.
Sure there is an element of sexism among HIllary haters, but she knew sexism would be there when she ran and that a woman would have to succeed in spite of this. Despite this, with this email fiasco she gave them another reason to vote against her.
It had a huge impact. Nearly two-thirds of voters were bothered by the email scandal. Among that group, Trump won:
70% to 24%.
(5) Rustbelt Collapse
Image: I Have What’s Considered a Good View by Thomas Hawk
The most disturbing aspect of Hillary Clinton’s defeat is that it came as the result of the collapse of her “Blue Wall” in the Midwestern states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. President Obama carried all of these states and, in some cases, with substantial margins.
While Clinton had a ten-point advantage among voters nationwide who ranked the economy as the most important issue (52 percent of the total), Trump’s attack on trade agreements played well in the Rust Belt. In Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, nearly half the electorate believed that trade takes jobs away and they gave Trump a twenty percent or more advantage.
Clinton may have ceded this territory to Trump – by not campaigning there. Clinton did not spend a single day in Wisconsin after clinching the nomination in June and only four in Michigan. She also ignored pleas to campaign in rural and exurban areas, which provided decisive for Trump on election night.
Politico reported that President Clinton “railed … for months” against the campaign’s disinterest in the working-class, “wondering aloud at meetings why the campaign was not making more of an attempt to even ask that population for its votes.” The Washington Examiner reported that this was “dismissed with a hand wave by senior members of the team as a personal vendetta to win back the voters who elected him, from a talented but aging politician who simply refused to accept the new Democratic map.”
From “its the economy, stupid” to “Strong Together”, Hillary Clinton’s message did not give them anything to vote for instead of against.
Figuring out how to reconnect with these voters in a core part of the party’s base will be critical for 2018 and beyond.
(6) Clinton Did Not Turn Out the Vote
Given Donald Trump’s parade of racist and misogynistic comments one would expect a surge from people and women but it did not materialize. Trump performed better than Romney among people with color, while Clinton only outperformed Obama with women voters by one percent.
This is significant since Trump did not bring a lot of new voters to the polls. Trump got less votes than John McCain but still won.
It does not appear that voter suppression was a factor except in Wisconsin – where it may have been decisive. I have heard anecdotal reports of voter intimidation in Michigan.
(7) Sanders Would Not Have Won
Bernie Sanders supporters were almost gleeful over Clinton’s loss. The same group that booed the opening prayer at the Democratic National Convention wasted little time to declare that the 75-year old Vermont socialist would have beaten Trump.
The reality is that Sanders was a flawed candidate who largely got a free ride from the media during the campaign. Had he been the nominee there were looming controversies such as not producing his tax returns despite promising to do so or his wife’s controversial loan transactions that forced Burlington College to shut it doors. We also do not know who his running mate would have been, but judging from his appointments to the platform committee, it is questionable whether his nominee would have broad support.
It is quite possible that a Sanders convention might have turned off traditional Democrats. One veterans’ activist told me that vets were really turned off by the Sanders delegates’ booing and chanting no more war when military officials took the podium. Had Sanders won the nomination it might have led Michael Bloomberg to enter the race to try to win the race from the center.
It was the older suburban and exurban white voters that delivered the presidency to Trump and Sanders platform of free college tuition would not fly with these people who are distrustful of big government. Sanders likely would have been marginalized after a heavy barrage of negative ads on his past embrace of communist regimes in Cuba and Nicaragua.
In addition, Sanders was a dud on election day as initiatives and candidates he backed fell flat. Although the greatest proof that Sanders would not have beaten Trump is that he couldn’t beat Hillary. Sanders voters have all sorts of excuses and seem to think Democrats were blind to Hillary’s flaws, when the reality is that they voted for this flawed candidate because they perceived the alternative to be even more flawed.
Finally, Sanders was a factor in Clinton’s defeat. He was a trojan horse candidate, a non-Democrat running for the Democratic nomination as a self-anointed messiah in which everyone but him was corrupt. This line of attack, including baseless attacks against the Clinton Foundation, helped Clinton’s negatives skyrocket from a small positive differential before declaring to -20 percent by the end of the primaries.
(8) The Price of Playing With Johnson
The combination of Gary Johnson (who drew from a lot of young, likely Bernie voters) and Jill Stein gained enough votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida to cost Hillary Clinton each of those states. If Clinton carries any three of those four states, she’s the President-elect.
Thank you Susan Sarandon.
(9) Bye Bye Evan Bayh
Evan Bayh was once a rising star in the Democratic Party. The son of Senator Birch Bayh, he was a successful Indiana governor and Senator, keynote speaker at the 1996 Democratic Convention and rumored to be the runner-up to Joe Biden as Obama’s Vice President choice. In 2010, however, Bayh decided not to seek reelection to the Senate but made his announcement the day before the filing deadline preventing other prominent Democrats from entering the race.
Former Senator Bayh joined a Washington lobbying firm and lived in Georgetown. In 2016, Bayh sought to win back his seat he abandoned and from the state he abandoned. He was running ahead when he stumbled over the ever so difficult question of his address in Indiana. He ended up losing by 10 points.
(10) 2018 – Gulp
While Democrats might take comfort in the hope they will get a mid-term bounce in 2018, they will be defending 23 Senate seats that year compared to 8 for the Republicans. This includes seats in red and purple states like Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.