Masochist that I am, I’ve read a lot of second-guessing and score-settling about why the extraordinarily well-qualified Hillary Clinton lost to one of the most loathsome and unprincipled men ever in politics (and that covers a lot of scoundrels).
A fair, thoughtful and balanced analysis – one that is brutally honest, but also constructive rather than destructive – comes from my old friend Will Marshall (Hunt ’84 Senate campaign), president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute, a centrist political think tank: “What Democrats Can Learn From Hillary Clinton’s Tragedy: The art of political persuasion matters more than the mechanics of mobilization.”
It’s worth reading in full. Highlights:
“As the populist tide rolls across the transatlantic world, it’s hard to feel anything but sympathy for Clinton. She’s an infinitely better person than Trump, who falsely and maliciously branded her a criminal. But she did not run a better campaign, and now progressives must come to grips with how she lost to the most unpopular nominee in modern times.
“There’s no point in whining about the Electoral College. Team Clinton knew the terrain on which the race would be decided. The question is why Trump was able to solve the Electoral College puzzle, and they weren’t.
“The answer lies in two strategic miscalculations. The first was the decision to devote more resources to making Trump anathema to voters than to articulating a compelling rationale for Clinton’s candidacy. She fell back on ‘experience,’ while he at least offered restive voters a theory of big change, however implausible the details. And while she succeeded in deepening public doubts about Trump, she failed to engage anxious white working class voters in a conversation about their economic and cultural discontents….
“Which brings us to Team Clinton’s second and related strategic failure: A message and electoral strategy tailored narrowly to the demands of identity politics. The Clinton campaign bet heavily on recreating Obama’s huge advantages with groups that are growing in the U.S. electorate: minorities, millennials, single women and secular voters. Obama’s success had convinced many Democrats they could count on this ‘Rising American majority’ to maintain their lock on the Electoral College.
“Such demographic determinism, however, proved unavailing as Clinton won smaller margins among these groups than Obama. That was not a problem in overwhelmingly Democratic states on the two coasts but it was devastating in the more thinly blue rustbelt states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. And Clinton’s enthusiasm gap even extended to white voters, with whom she also underperformed Obama.”
“Despite these errors, Clinton won the popular vote comfortably. But while Trump won fewer votes, he won them in the right places. What lessons should progressives learn from such a tragic loss?
“One is that America’s changing demography doesn’t guarantee a progressive majority. Each nominee has to chart a unique course to the White House and build their own majority. This means that the art of political persuasion is still more important to winning presidential elections than the mechanics of mobilization. And if you want to play identity politics, it’s probably a bad idea to ignore whites, who still comprise nearly 70 percent of U.S. voters.”