Again and again the media makes the claim that Hillary Clinton lost the easiest election ever. By Damon Linker (twice). By ostensibly professional Democratic partisan Jon Favreau. Chris Cillizza of course. They often do this because they assume her campaign was terrible and she did nothing right. They often do not not explain exactly what her campaign did that was so terrible except that she did not go to Wisconsin. After all, Cheato was the worst candidate in history therefore it must be her fault.
But this isn’t true.
The Fundamentals Were Against Her From the Start
When it comes to any given election, there are a group that will always vote Democratic and a group that will always vote Republican. The rest of voters are what need to be persuaded. In the 2016 election many of these were individuals who had voted for Obama but were ready for something new.
This is what is called third term fatigue. Generally, a third termer can win when the opponent is one of two things: bland and boring, or simply bad at campaigning. History gives us three examples.
In 1940, Republicans nominated as a surprise candidate when their convention deadlocked a former Democrat Wendell Willkie. He was a tough campaigner, but he was indistinguishable from the Democrats based on what he was proposing. He lost.
In 1948, Republicans nominated a very bland but popular governor of New York who was an extremely lazy campaigner who did not even endorse his party’s platform. But he was beloved by the media (sounds familiar) and they gave him all sorts of advantages in the press. Meanwhile Truman was barnstorming the country and giving rip-roaring speeches. In the days before real mass media like TV, he was a good in person entertainer. He also was the current president who in a masterful stroke, called the majority Republican Congress back into session to pass their priorities as listed in the platform. They failed.
In 1988, Democrats nominated Michael Dukakis. He was a passionless fellow who had a couple of problems. First, he had no passion. Second, he was governor of state where a black guy was given a furlough and killed a woman. George H.W. Bush seems like a sad old man now but he okay’d using a racist ad against Dukakis and it won him the election. (Racism will return again and again in this story.)
Donald Trump Was A Formidable Candidate
Next, the fallacy that Cheato was somehow a terrible candidate. He didn’t do what he needed to do of course. He didn’t fundraise. He only did one event a day. He was and is extremely stupid. He had to fire two campaign managers mid-campaign. (Lewandowski and Manafort)
He was a formidable candidate for other reasons-he was entertaining as a clown often is. Because of that, he got almost 5 billion dollars in free advertising. Much of it was negative but all of it was free. Hell, his podium got more airtime than Clinton even when she was making major speeches.
He had the clear assistance of Russia. From direct help in the form of stolen information, active interference on social media, and of course indirect assistance by way of pouring money into the NRA, the entity that spent 30 million dollars for Cheato’s win.
Russia is also the group that handed Wikileaks most of the non-Clinton emails to be dropped for the media to blather relentlessly and pointlessly over.
He was not a normal politician so didn’t care about the general. Remember, before the general, Cheato had to face 15 Republicans, some of whom were extremely good politicians. Despite Rubio’s whining, he has been elected numerous times in Florida. He even won re-election in 2016 while complaining about how much he hated being a senator.
John Kasich was no joke when he ran. Kasich is one of those smiling Republicans who gut you while you are complimenting them on how nice they seem. He won re-election in 2014 by thirty points. Even now he is above 50% as governor despite Ohio’s economy not being that great.
Ted Cruz was another major contender who had no reason to suspect he would lose. He had, after all, been the guy who gave one of history’s biggest political upsets with his surprise win in 2012 in the Texas Republican primary. David Dewhurst, his then opponent, had what appeared to be an insurmountable lead after the initial primary in May when he got 10 points over Cruz but was flipped by the runoff election in July. That is a shift of over 10 points in two months.
Jeb Bush was always going to suck.
But with those three other opponents, it should have been simple for them to beat Cheato. Why didn’t they?
I believe a large part of it was Cheato simply didn’t care enough to moderate his tone for the general. Republicans had been playing with fire since 1972 and the invention of the Southern Strategy. They use racist policies that they paper over so those who have zero interest in dealing with it can pretend that no, the Republicans are not the home of white supremacy. Their news organizations (Fox, Sinclair, and others) go to a great deal of effort to magnify racial tensions by overreacting to the slightest expansion of rights of non-whites while steeply underreacting to real world racist results. In addition, Republican state legislatures have been openly racist for years with the North Carolina legislature being so racist a court took extreme measures to point this out.
The national politicians (including Kasich, Cruz, Rubio, and Bush) had long been playing cute, so they usually were using dog whistles to hide the racism. 2016 and Cheato blew past the dog whistles and gave the Republican base what they wanted-a racist candidate who was happy to play up all the same conspiracies that they had been fed for years by Fox News.
But wait! What about the fact that many voters voted for Obama before they voted for Cheato? Racial resentment plays a large part in this. It is dressed up as “cultural anxiety” but it is plain ol’ racism.
“I voted for Obama but Black people didn’t stop demanding things.”
A co-worker said that to me. I don’t know why it is weird that they would demand to not be shot but then I try to actively work on my privilege.
Let’s Talk Sexism
The 2016 election was one of the ones where cultural issues hold great sway. Why? The economy was humming along okay, the world was mostly at peace, and there wasn’t a sense of urgency like there had been in 1992 and 2008. Both of those years had pick ups by Democrats because the US was worried about the economy. 2008 was bad enough that a guy named Barack Hussein Obama won in a landslide.
The 800 lb gorilla in the room that is rarely spoken about except by Hillary Clinton fans like myself is the sexism.
It is extremely hard for a woman to run for President of the United States. Here is a table of only the national party candidates who got at least on the nominating ballot at the convention.
Of the 10 women who have run for the national parties, only Margaret Chase Smith, Shirley Chisholm, Hillary Clinton, and Carly Fiorina have been taken seriously enough to win delegates. And of those four, only one has made it to the general election. Every other woman has been a third-party candidate who was there mostly for symbolic reasons.
Gee, looking at it like that shows it is kind of hard does it not?
Further, we have numbers to back up the fact it was sexism and not simply Hillary Clinton being somehow uniquely unlikable. We also have confessions from Republicans.
Let us look at the numbers for Hillary Clinton and her “likability”:
If she was not running for anything and was a subordinate to another person, Clinton was popular for a politician. She hit a peak of 60% in 2011. But then Benghazi happened, and she decided to leave office, which the media assumed was so she could run for the White House. The Republicans, as confessed here by Kevin McCarthy, decided to abuse their power once again to try to stop her.
Note that word in there: untrustworthy.
Lies, Damn Lies, and the Truth
Clinton is not much of a liar. She has had very few outright lies-31 in ten years. (I disagree with some of Politifact’s characterizations of her statements since obviously some of them were hyperbole that all politicians fall prey to but whatever.)
Barack Obama had 71 in that time frame. Donald Trump set the webpage on fire. Mitt Romney (they stopped tracking him after 2012) had 32.
In fact, if you want honesty out of a politician, go ask a Democrat. They usually will tell you the truth.
Yet she is assumed to be lying all the time. Why? Women tend to be more honest than men but Clinton has been called a liar since William Safire’s column on her being a congenital liar in 1996 despite her generally being honest.
Which means it isn’t about Clinton’s actual honesty. It is about the people who lie about her.
Republicans have been doing that since she showed up on the national scene as Bill Clinton’s wife (prior to that, she was her own person but when Bill ran for the presidency, things changed a wee bit.) The media has usually and gleefully joined in. This has happened again, and again, and again, and again.
(A good example of this is Judicial Watch who were the ones who sought her emails from her time at State and repeatedly made up claims about them that the media swallowed whole scale. Judicial Watch is not a clean actor. They have a vendetta against Clinton and the media has never particularly cared.)
Because of this, Clinton spent most of 2015 and 2016 being as precise as possible in her speaking. She obviously failed since multiple times she had to go back and explain something when it was distorted by the press (who then distorted what she explained.) She is still having to do that when the brouhaha flared up over her accurate statement in India about where she won and where Cheato won and why.
Yet even though she is no more of a liar then say Obama, she is treated much worse by the press. Even her husband isn’t treated as badly as she is. It is why he is at 45% and she is at 36%. Part of the reason is of course that Fox News has been acting like she is currently President despite her repeated attempts to resign as their President in Fake.
There is also some other data that show it was about sexism that is little looked at.
I have used this before to explain why Clinton lost and I think it is important to look at. Firefighters are one of the last main bastions of white masculinity. The group is mostly white, mostly male.
They voted for Obama at barely more than 50% in 2008 and less than 50% in 2012. But they dropped to 27% for Clinton. The only thing that really explains both (since they voted for Bill Clinton at a much higher rate) is racism for Obama and sexism for Clinton.
They don’t even hide it. The president of the Firefighters Union flatly stated that they didn’t like Clinton or Democrats being focused on minorities and college educated whites instead of them.
And finally, the last part about sexism is James Comey. He of the impeccable reputation that somehow viewed his women bosses as less than reasonable. First up is Loretta Lynch. He thought she had a credibility gap. Why? There was no reason to assume it this time. He had to use a doctored email that was thoroughly debunked by his own team to assume she was going to be discredited by the partisan press.
Yet the entire time he could have gone to Sally Yates about his concerns because he may have thought that Lynch was not impartial enough. Never went to her. Didn’t go to her again when he found out about the email messages that were on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. Didn’t go to her when she was acting AG with Cheato’s behavior after the election.
(This probably should not be a surprise since the mostly male FBI has a bit of an issue with the sexism against Hillary Clinton being as obvious as the ones against Lynch and Yates:
“Besides, as one bureau official after another has made clear to me in recent months, Comey never expected Clinton to lose. He saw The Letter as the politically expedient thing to do to help bolster the legitimacy of her victory – and preserve the FBI’s apolitical reputation. “The worst-case scenario [in his mind] was she was going to be really pissed [at him],” one executive told me. “But then we’d sit her down and tell her it was her fault we were in this position.”)
The 2016 election is one that still rankles for so many reasons that we aren’t going to finish grappling with them any time soon. There are many actors who refuse to take a hard look at their behavior. From the media refusing, almost to a person, to look at what they obviously did wrong; to average Americans who do not want to admit they were acting in sexist and racist ways; to the lack of caring by Republicans as they have been turned into traitors for Russian money.
Even I have not admitted my errors. While I was active online campaigning I did little in person and even less phonebanking. I had reasons. My loss in 2014 made physical campaigning extremely painful, but I should have done more. That is on me.
Clinton looked at her behavior in What Happened which was a bit self-serving as all memoirs are, but she did look at what she did wrong. She admitted she screwed up. As far as I can tell, she is the only one who has admitted their screw-ups. Amy Chozick comes somewhat close in her memoir Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, And One Intact Glass Ceiling however the excerpts posted online are extremely clueless and self-serving.
There is a great deal to be learned from the 2016 election. Some has been with Eric Holder’s group to combat gerrymandering. DNC’s efforts to quietly help campaigns get the vote out. But the problems of racism, sexism, Russia, and the media’s right wing behavior have not gone away and will not any time soon.