Millions of words have been expended the last month analyzing, over-analyzing and struggling to understand why the American people – or, at least, the Electoral College system – would make Donald Trump President.
Democrats are frenziedly trying to figure out what happened and, as usual, find somebody or something to blame.
As in: “Hillary was just a flawed candidate.” “She didn’t have an economic message.” “It’s Jill Stein’s fault.” “It’s Jim Comey’s fault.” “It’s Bernie Sanders’s fault.” “It’s Hillary’s fault for not listening to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.” “It’s the DNC’s fault.” “The Russians hacked the election.” “We’ll never win if Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are our leaders.” “It’s the media’s fault.” “It’s all that fake news.” “Hillary forgot about rural and blue-collar voters.” “Rural and blue-collar voters are all racists.” “She didn’t energize enough minorities, millennials and women.” “She spent too much time appealing to minorities, millennials and women.”
As Bert Bennett used to say, “When you win, everything you did was right. When you lose, everything you did was wrong.” (Bert was Terry Sanford’s campaign manager in 1960 and Jim Hunt’s political mentor. He’s still going strong, by the way.)
But one analysis stands out to me, because it comes from somebody who had the guts (or the lack of good sense, depending on how you look at it) to actually run for office: Thomas Mills, who blogs at PoliticsNC and ran unsuccessfully for the 8th District Congressional seat this year. And who talked to real voters, not just pundits and pollsters.
Thomas wrote about a conversation he had earlier this year with a friend who worked in the 2015 Kentucky governor’s race for Democrat Jack Conway. Conway was a popular and well-known Attorney General. His opponent, Republican Matt Bevin, had never held public office and was regarded as something of a joke, like Trump. Like Clinton, Conway was expected to win easily. On Election Day, his staff was confident they would be celebrating that night.
Conway lost. By nine points.
Thomas wrote that, after he announced for Congress this year, one of his friends from the Conway campaign called:
“He warned that there’s an undercurrent of resentment among rural voters that polling is missing. They don’t really care about policy or politics because they don’t expect political leaders to deliver anything, anyway. In their minds, they’ve been so left behind and left out, that they just want to give a big F-you to the political establishment.
“He was right and the Kentucky race portended Trump’s victory. Democrats need to understand these voters. They didn’t vote against their self-interest. They didn’t even really vote for Trump or Bevin. They voted to burn down the system because they see that as in their best interest.
“The reason for their pessimism and resentment is multifaceted. It’s not just economic insecurity or racism, though both play a significant role. It’s a belief that parts of the social safety net encourage dependency and that they pay for it with their paychecks. It’s the sense that they are losing their culture. It’s the knowledge that the next generation will likely have to leave home to maintain their quality of life. And it’s the understanding that the benefits of the modern economy are going to other parts of the country. And they believe politicians from both parties have encouraged these trends while ignoring their effects on their way of life.
“These people will give Donald Trump a lot of leeway as long as they think he’s fighting for them. They’ll forgive him increases in health care premiums since they believe they were going up anyway. They won’t know, or care, that his treasury secretary worked on Wall Street or the net worth of his cabinet members.
“What they will know is that Donald Trump kept 1,000 jobs from going to Mexico when every other politician would have stood by and done nothing. Like Bill Clinton, Donald Trump feels their pain. They’ll excuse a lot of bad behavior as long as they keep believing that. And that’s what Democrats need to understand.”