We need to understand how Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump- not to hurt Hillary, but to avoid future losses for the same reasons. A reluctance to fully understand what went wrong, even if it is painful, especially to Hillary should not diminish any examination of the 2016 election. Hillary may not have been one of the best candidates to ever have run for President but she was far from being the worst one. She was not the devil, she has long demonstrated her capacity for handling complex issues and preparing for challenges. Why then did she not beat the least favorable candidate in U.S. history and the candidate who, as she described, presents a true threat to the US? Many are saying "don't look back -- don't look back, look forward". The point is we must look back until we feel we understand what happened so that we can work on solutions for the future. How should Democrats prepare for future races?
In April 2016, during the democratic primary contest, we published an analysis of Hillary Clinton as a candidate, then contrasting her with Bernie Sanders. We described Clinton as having economic blind spots, somewhat based on her loyalty to President Obama, and some based on her political philosophy hardening during the Bill Clinton's presidency. In 2016 she was half-hearted and unconvincing as she moved away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) largely because she had long held free-trade beliefs and was defensive about the downsides of the North American Free Trade Agreement, originated by President George HW Bush, and signed by Bill Clinton. Hillary focused more on the proximate issues surrounding the 2008 financial crisis, rather than demonstrating a real concern for those Americans who have been hurting year after year for over 30 years. In contrast, Progressives and Donald Trump emphasized that NAFTA was largely responsible for growing unemployment and wage stagnation. Their focus on NAFTA's negative effects may have been simplistic and missed explaining the role of automation, but were none-the-less appealing to Rust-Belt voters, who found empathy and promise.
Hillary, for some unknown reason, also refused to hold actual people accountable for some of the problems voters were facing. She preferred to propose programs to correct "issues", but did not want to blame powerful bankers, corporatists, or politicians, and perhaps long standing friends for their role in stealing the wealth of Americans and causing many voters misery. Without an explanation for the shift of power and without naming those who wielded power, her messages lacked coherence and did not tell a story. She promised she would fight. But a fight requires an opponent, and she would not name her opponent. Many voters, not understanding who her opponent was, simply did not believe she would fight for them.
Now that voter file analyses from the 2016 election are becoming available, Nate Cohn and others are confirming our analysis and describing how the Clinton campaign should have been thinking. Democrats needed to keep the Obama coalition together, and to expand it, but, they didn't.
The key facts that created and held together the Obama coalition was the focus on Blacks and Latino. What Mrs. Clinton missed was the fact that Obama -- a mixed race Black- with an Asian sister- did not need a narrative that explicitly included all of the elements of his coalition. He, along with "Hope and Change" was that narrative. She, however did need such a narrative.
Donald Trump, on the other hand did develop a narrative that explicitly included all groups, albeit a racist one. This narrative was that stupid politicians, aided by a dishonest media, allowed bad trade deals and immigrants to take white jobs. Those stupid politicians are able to keep their jobs because blacks and illegal immigrants - who should not be voting - returned them to office in exchange for welfare programs like Obamacare. Of course, Donald Trump's racist nationalism is appealing to some voters, but the narrative that explained their suffering is appealing to more.
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Hillary might have intended to implement policies to positively impact the Obama coalition. Voters, however did not believe that she would fight for them when she seemed reluctant to name who she was fighting, seemed ambivalent about trade deals even though she promised not to sign the TPP. She didn't even want the transcripts of her speeches to Goldman to be published because showed her being pleasant to these bankers rather than calling them out. If she wanted to show she was going to fight, she would have to name who she was going to fight.
So here we are -- not even beyond the inauguration of Donald Trump and it looks like some Democrats think it will be ok to again be nice to those who are stealing voters' wealth. The idea that Americans will vote for Dems because they are smart and nice, but allow themselves to be impoverished is not at all smart or nice. Dems cannot allow themselves to pretend that they can show favoritism or even neutrality to those who have been taking the nation's wealth. A focus on Hillary's flaws as a candidate cannot paper over this economic reality.
If it is any comfort, Donald Trump shows clues of hailing his friendship to bankers and the super-wealthy. He has loaded his cabinet with millionaires, billionaires, and corporatists. There is little reason to believe that he and his friends will stop the flow of wealth to the super wealthy, let alone pause their own quest for enrichment at the expense of most American families. Democrats should not bet the party on the hope that he'll miss the point more than the 2016 Democratic leadership did. They should not pretend that he will fail while they give him "the benefit of the doubt".
Democrats cannot look to mass media to explain the truth to voters and assist them to win in 2018, 2020 and beyond. The media simply will not explain why some policies are damaging American families and communities. So, if Democratic strategists think that such an explanation is worthwhile, they better think how to convey that message themselves. Democrats need to "name names", "cast blame", fight the people who create the policies. Donald Trump is a dangerous man with dangerous ideas culled from the Republican Party. More worrisome is that once he is gone, other Republicans will replace him to promote the same ideas. If Democrats want to preserve any of the values they hold such as a government standing between bankers, corporatists, and the super wealthy, they must fight the Republican Party which champions the same ideas.