It’s essential that progressives learn from Hillary Clinton’s devastating defeat. There are two competing theories about what happened: Hillary’s campaign blew it or she was cheated.
1) The Clinton Campaign screwed up. The strongest argument is: 2016 was a change election and Clinton’s campaign didn’t take that seriously. During the Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders tried to warn the Democratic Party about the economic frustration of working families but somehow the Clinton campaign didn’t get this message.
In his pre-election survey of likely voters, (http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2016/11/07/patrick-caddell-real-election-surprise-uprising-american-people.html#) Democratic pollster Pat Caddell found that two-thirds of respondents agreed, “The real struggle for America is not between Democrats and Republicans but between mainstream American and the ruling political elites.” 81 percent of respondents said, “The U.S. has a two-track economy where most Americans struggle every day, where good jobs are hard to find, where huge corporations get all the rewards. We need fundamental changes to fix the inequity in our economic system.” [Emphasis added]
Hillary understood the “two-track economy” problem but her message was not clear. At the time, “Stronger Together” seemed okay as a slogan but it indicated that Clinton gave as much attention to bigotry as she did economic fairness. While bigotry is a huge problem, in this election economic fairness was by far the dominant issue. Thus, Trump’s slogan, “Make America great again,” was more effective.
Late in the election cycle, when it became clear to the Clinton campaign that they might lose Michigan, they began running TV ads there. However, the Clinton ads attacked Trump; none featured Hillary’s economic message.
The New York Times exit poll indicated that of those voters whose most important candidate quality was “can bring needed change,” 83 percent chose Trump. (Clinton prevailed on all the other qualities: “cares about people like me,” “has the right experience,” and “has good judgment.”) Change voters voted for Trump even though they had an unfavorable opinion of him.
Hillary wasn’t the right Democratic candidate for a change election. Pat Caddell’s survey found 87 percent of respondents believed, “The country is run by an alliance of incumbent politicians, media pundits, lobbyists and other powerful money interests for their own gain at the expense of the American people.” Clinton was viewed as an insider and Trump as an outsider, theoretically an agent of change.
Bernie Sanders would have been a better Democratic candidate because he was seen as an outsider and someone who understood, “the system is rigged.”
In July, Michael Moore wrote “5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win” (http://michaelmoore.com/trumpwillwin/) and he was right on target. First he predicted that Trump would focus on, and ultimately carry, four previously blue states: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. States filled with angry voters who feel, “abandoned by Democrats.” Second, he predicted the election would be “the last stand of the angry white man.” (Trump won white men by a wide margin and Clinton did not get the female voter surge that she expected.) Third, Moore predicted a problem because of Hillary’s unpopularity which resulted in a lack of Democratic voter enthusiasm. Fourth, Moore thought that Sanders’ voters would ultimately vote for Hillary but unethusiastically, leading to a depressed turnout. Finally, Moore predicted “the Jesse Ventura effect” where some voters would vote to blow up the system. (On November 8th they voted for Trump because they believed he was a change agent even though they didn’t like him.)
2).Hillary was cheated: She won the popular vote and barely lost the electoral vote.
The Clinton campaign blames her loss on the October 28th intervention by FBI Director James Comey who, in effect, reopened the issue of the Clinton email server. Certainly this was an unprecedented act; one that some Washington observers felt violated the Hatch Act. But to blame Hillary’s loss on this ignores the fact that, even before Comey’s intervention, Hillary had a 53 percent unfavorability rating.
Clinton didn’t hold the “Obama coalition.” (She received 5 million fewer votes than Obama did in 2012.) Hillary underperformed among young people, African-Americans, Asians, and Latinos. She also slightly underperformed Obama’s numbers among Democrats and Independents. (Trump held 90 percent of Republicans while Clinton held 89 percent of Democrats.)
Hillary was suppose to overperform Obama among female voters but that didn’t happen — she only attracted 1 point more women (and lost 5 percent of males). According to the Cook Report, Clinton didn’t do as strongly among suburban Republicans and college-educated white women as her campaign had expected.
Clinton lost Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by a total of 107,000 votes. Some Hillary supporters feel these votes were stolen. However, an excellent analysis by German Lopez (http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/11/11/13597452/voter-suppression-clinton-trump-2016) concludes that voter suppression does not explain Clinton’s loss in Michigan and Pennsylvania: “In Pennsylvania, Clinton got 2 percent fewer votes than Obama did in 2012, while Trump got 11 percent more than Mitt Romney. In Michigan, Clinton got 11 percent fewer votes than Obama did in 2012, while Trump got 8 percent more than Mitt Romney. Clinton simply got fewer people to turn out for her than the last Democrat who ran, while Trump appeared to get more than the previous Republican.”
Bottom line: This is such a devastating defeat that it’s comforting to imagine that Hillary Clinton was cheated by Donald Trump. But that’s not what happened: Hillary lost because she ran a losing campaign.
In 1992, the in-house motto of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign was, “It’s the economy stupid.” Hillary was there but, for whatever reason, she didn’t use this motto in 2016: she didn’t make economic fairness her cornerstone issue and it cost her.