Now that the votes are in for the 2016 Presidential election, there is a predictable amount of Monday Morning Quarterbacking going on. My earliest argument on why Bernie Sanders would be the next president (check it out here!) obviously did not bear out, but some of the arguments in it were correct and actually foreshadowed what went wrong for Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee on Tuesday night. There were two key elements to Hillary Clinton's campaign that led to her loss in the general election, both of which were potentially rooted in arrogance: denial of the electoral college and a failure to campaign.
My initial premise is likely to offend the sensibilities of some. How can I, a person who has never interviewed Hillary Clinton, nor been involved with the inner workings of her campaign assert that Hillary Clinton and/or her campaign were motivated by a sense of arrogance or hubris? For that, it is relevant to explore how Hillary Clinton began her 2016 campaign for President. Hillary Clinton began her 2016 campaign for President in 2008, when she conceded to Barack Obama in the primary. Clinton conceded and the head of the DNC, Tim Kaine, was replaced with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, a woman who was deeply involved with leading Clinton's primary campaign. Clinton spent the first term of the Obama Administration boning up her bona fides internationally as Secretary Of State to eliminate one of the rhetorical arguments against her; that she lacked international experience. And, in the wake of the 2014 mid-terms, Hillary Clinton's campaign unofficially began with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz lining up superdelegates to create the appearance that Hillary Clinton was the presumptive Democratic nominee for President. Before Sanders or Trump ever declared their intent to run for President, Hillary Clinton's supporters lined up with the attitude that it was Clinton's turn to run for President . . . without actually waiting for Democrats to tell the DNC who they wanted or what they wanted the platform to be. It is unconscionably arrogant to assume authority over the electorate in a democracy. As the machinations of the Clinton campaign were revealed over the course of the primary election cycle, the rampant cronyism and arrogance became transparent: Wasserman-Schultz's attempts to suppress votes got her removed from the DNC, but then given a role in Clinton's campaign, and Tim Kaine, who stepped aside eight years prior as the head of the DNC was rewarded with the VP position on Clinton's ticket. It is arrogant to believe in a democracy where Freedom Of The Press is a deeply cherished value that cronyism and back room dealings will remain secret and hubris to believe that there will be no consequences for that arrogance.
Hillary Clinton and her supporters are now living in the shadow of that arrogance as they face the results of the 2016 Presidential Election. The failure of Hillary Clinton's campaign to win the 2016 Presidential Election may have come down to the campaign's failure to accept the electoral college and campaign to a massive chunk of the United States.
The Electoral College
Right now, many people are bemoaning the electoral college in the United States. The electoral college, like it or hate it, has been a part of the United States since its founding. The last serious attempts to change the Constitution of the United States to abolish the electoral college came in 2005 and 2009. Both times, Democrats - probably still feeling burned by the 2000 Presidential Election - proposed an Amendment to the Constitution and were unable to get the Amendment passed to be sent to the states for ratification. In 2009, that attempt was made with a Democratic House, Senate and Presidency and the Democrats could not get enough support from its members to pass the Amendment.
So, Hillary Clinton ran for President knowing exactly how she needed to win the election. Clinton knew that to become President she would have to win the electoral college vote - I do not believe that she was so arrogant as to assume that the electoral college win did not apply to her. In the primary election, Hillary Clinton won 28 state primaries, plus the District Of Colombia. If one were to look at the states that Clinton won in the primaries, the 28 states plus DC, would have granted her a possible 337 electoral college votes. In other words, if Hillary Clinton's campaign had stuck to the states that she had won in the primary elections, she would have had a fairly sizable electoral college win if she had simply carried the states that had elected her months before. Of note in that argument, there are several states with significant numbers of electoral college votes that Donald Trump did not win in the Republican primary, most significantly Texas (38) and Ohio (18). For those keeping count, had Clinton won both Texas and Ohio, she would have won the electoral college vote.
But, I hear many readers cry, how could Hillary Clinton have won Texas?! Well, she did in the primary election and she pulled more than 43% of the popular vote there in the general election. So, focusing on places Clinton won in the primary and dominating the places where there were voters who had shown a willingness to vote for her could have netted her 337 electoral college votes if she had swept those states.
That, however, is not the strategy that Hillary Clinton's campaign took. Instead, the Clinton campaign focused on six states: Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. Ironically, of all of those states, Ohio was the safest bet for Hillary Clinton; it was the only state she won in the primaries that Donald Trump did not win in the Republican primary. Of course, retrospect is everything, but from an entirely objective standpoint, Pennsylvania was never going to be a a cakewalk for Hillary Clinton to solidly win; both she and Trump won the Pennsylvania primaries. But Trump won the Michigan primary for the Republicans and neither Clinton, nor Trump, won Minnesota or Wisconsin.
In strategizing to win the electoral college, there was some strategic sense in attempting to win Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota. Of the states that both Clinton and Trump won in the primary, it made the most sense for Clinton to neglect California and New York, just as it made some sense for Trump to neglect campaigning (from a sheer historical point of view) in South Dakota, which virtually always votes Republican in the general election. But with Clinton's six-state strategy, Wisconsin and Minnesota were unrealistic goals for Hillary Clinton, regardless of who she was competing against in the general election: Clinton never won Wisconsin or Minnesota in a primary election. For sure, both states were states Trump did not win in the Republican primary, but by losing there in the primaries, the Clinton campaign had a pretty clear message that Democrats in those states did not want her as their President. To be fair, Clinton did pull off a win in Minnesota.
But there is a special level of arrogance in the Clinton Campaign in assuming that the 10 electoral college votes for Wisconsin would go to her when Clinton never won an election in Wisconsin and never appeared in the state during her campaign for President!
Pennsylvania was an understandable upset for Clinton - she received more votes in the primary than Trump did and more Democrats voted in the Pennsylvania primary than Republicans voted in their primary - but states like Florida and Michigan had more Republican primary voters than Democrat . . . and Clinton lost the Michigan primary. So, even if one were arrogant enough to assume that all of the Democrats there would fall in line and vote for Clinton, Clinton would not have won either of those states if Republicans similarly fell in line! But, rather than try to win over Texas and fight harder in Florida, the Clinton campaign looked for an electoral victory that involved Michigan.
The Clinton campaign lost that bet.
Which brings us to . . .
The Failure To Campaign
The Clinton Campaign was plagued by an arrogance that failed to understand what primary voters attempted to tell both political parties. Both the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee attempted to force upon their members a candidate in a top-down manner, which was explored in my article on why political parties ought to be disbanded (that article is here!). The common element between the Sanders and Trump campaigns was that they did not have institutional support and the candidates appealed directly to the electorate in order to attempt to make their candidate the party's candidate.
As hard as it is for the Clinton supporters to accept: Donald Trump is the Bernie Sanders of the Republican Party.
Republican voters did not like candidates who the RNC was running and when Donald Trump came to them and campaigned, they threw their support to him. Donald Trump sold himself to disenfranchised Republican voters the way Bernie Sanders sold himself to disenfranchised Democratic voters. He showed up, he spoke, he sold himself.
Setting aside anything about the electoral college, the philosophy behind this approach is a rhetorical idea that allowed Trump to defeat Clinton. Donald Trump wanted to be President Of The United States and he campaigned like that is what he wanted. He showed up.
Take Mississippi. Both Clinton and Trump won their primaries in Mississippi. In fact, it is one of the few states that Clinton decimated Sanders in. Trump went to Mississippi and campaigned. He told the people of Mississippi that he wanted to be their president. After his visit in August, polls in Mississippi showed Hillary Clinton within striking distance of winning Mississippi. I can find no evidence that Hillary Clinton stepped foot in Mississippi during her campaign. Or Arkansas. Or Texas (I found an article about her buying advertising time on television, but no public appearances). Or Utah. Or Delaware after the primary. Or Oregon.
Hillary Clinton failed to be elected President Of The United States because she showed voters she did not want to be President Of The United States. Hillary Clinton illustrated by her campaign that she wanted to be President of some of the states.
Let me blow your mind by rephrasing that: Hillary Clinton did not actively sell herself to voters in several states, but she wanted a position that would have had her governing over them. There is an arrogance in the campaign strategy that implicitly declares "I don't need the votes of the people in those states, even if I'll be their President, too." That is a philosophy shared by the Clinton campaign and absentee landlords.
To be fair, neither Trump, nor Clinton campaigned in Kentucky, but in researching for this article, it became painfully clear that Clinton and her campaign wrote off vast sections of the United States by not having Clinton appear in those states. And the more one considers this, the more rhetorically troubling that is. It doesn't matter who one is running against in an election; at some point, a candidate must convince voters that they are worthy of the task and tell voters what they offer them. Simply not being "the other guy" does not work when you never show up to say who you actually are.
How can any candidate for President run for the office without ever visiting all of the states they wish to manage? The fundamental difference between the public appearances by the Trump and Clinton campaigns is this: Trump went almost everywhere in the country, putting himself in front of people and talking to them; Hillary Clinton focused her appearances on places that were favorable to her. For sure, winning a campaign is an important aspect of governing, but it is absolute folly to expect that people who never see you and you never approach to ask for support would ever seriously consider you as a leader. Surrogates are helpful for getting out the vote - even if, alas, The West Wing cast and Adam Scott could not deliver Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin for Clinton! - but they are no substitute for a candidate actually showing up and talking directly to the voters.
Hillary Clinton's campaign lost, in no small part, because she wrote off a significant portion of the country by never appearing before them to ask them for their support. Instead, she wrote off large tracts of the country and she failed to sell herself to other key areas. After a campaign where she derided Sanders supporters publicly, ignored several states and their voters altogether, avoided responding to allegations of corruption and spent more time criticizing Donald Trump than proposing solutions to the nation's problems, Hillary Clinton expected voters to show up and install her as President Of The United States. Expecting people to vote for a candidate under those conditions - where the candidate is hostile, evasive, or entirely absent - is thoroughly arrogant.
For other political articles, please check out:
An Open Letter To Donald Trump: You Won, Go Home
Fail Of The Superdelegates
The Worship Fallacy
For other political articles, please check out my Other Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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