Why the Democrats Lost

Hillary Clinton, Campaign Stop, Tempe, AZ, Gage Skidmore


Hillary Clinton at Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, 2 November 2016. Photo by Gage Skidmore. https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/

Not everyone was surprised by the outcome of the election as the news media claims. Since the election began back in mid-2015, one name has clearly dominated the headlines and the commentary and the debates over candidates. To turn around now and act surprised is the height of hypocrisy for the national press, since they’ve been large contributors to this candidate’s success given all the attention and free advertising they’ve given him over the course of the election. Given the level of visibility this candidate already enjoyed as a celebrity, the excessive coverage only sealed his chances.

Since election night, many disgruntled voters have been blaming people who failed to vote, or so-called “uninformed” voters, or, especially, voters who supported alternate party candidates including the Green party and the Libertarians. They’re reacting as though these people are traitors to the cause of liberty and blaming them for the current president-elect. This is nothing but sour grapes and speaks to just what’s wrong with the two-party tyranny that has a stranglehold on our democracy — the belief that we’re only allotted two choices and no more. If more people supported alternate parties and candidates, they would no longer be viewed as a liability during election cycles. Don’t blame people who exercised their right to vote for a candidate of their choosing for the outcome of this election. It’s the system that’s broken, not the voters. In particular, the Democratic party, with their business as usual stance, bears the lion’s share of the blame. In November, 2015, I predicted how they would botch the election, and they pretty much performed as I expected (see “Related” links below).

To find out what works for the Democrats, it’s helpful to look back at Democratic candidates who have succeeded in becoming president and the circumstances of their victories. John F. Kennedy was considered an upstart and an outsider, given his Catholic background, who gained the presidency in one of the closest races in history. Jimmy Carter was a Washington outsider who benefited from the national disgust over Watergate and the fact that his opponent had gained the White House without being elected. He never enjoyed the full support of the party leading to Ted Kennedy opposing him in the 1980 primaries, despite his being a sitting president. Bill Clinton was another outsider who ran an energetic race against a man perceived as the ultimate insider, George H. W. Bush, who had held just about every government position available, including CIA director. Clinton was aided in his quest by Ross Perot, who ran as a third-party candidate, siphoning votes away from the Republicans. Barack Obama was in his first term as a senator and seen by voters as untainted by the corruption which had plunged the US into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and racked up the worst deficit in history. Party insiders reluctantly supported him once it became obvious that he was the choice of voters. Contrast these candidates with Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis, who met with their party’s approval, but failed in their bids for the highest office. Now Hillary Clinton joins their ranks, taking a spot once occupied by Ted Kennedy, a candidate Democratic stalwarts loved, but for whom the rest of the country couldn’t garner much enthusiasm.

People hate Washington insiders and Clinton is seen as the epitome of that and never did anything during the campaign to change that perception. For all her qualifications, Hillary Clinton did not resonate with the voters and the Democratic party knew this from the start. If there were lingering doubts, they had only to look back at 2008 for proof. They knew it and they either didn’t care, or were so inundated by Clinton loyalists that they were unable to do anything about it. They rigged the nomination to weed out any spoilers among their party. When Bernie Sanders entered the fray, they scheduled the Democratic debates during times when no one was watching, and didn’t call attention to them thus making it clear they weren’t going to tolerate any opposition to their anointed candidate. The mere fact that Sanders even ran should have been a wake up call for the Democrats and it wasn’t. If they had been able to convince someone more progressive and charismatic like Elizabeth Warren or Al Franken to run, or fielded a lineup of younger, more progressive candidates, things might be much different now. The fact that Sanders did as well as he did among Democratic voters, though having no credentials as a registered Democrat, should have clued everyone in on what the party wanted in a candidate, but instead fell on deaf ears in the rush to make Clinton president, hoping only to “push her left” on certain issues.

Throughout the campaign, Democrats acted like beating her opponent was a slam dunk. The only rallying cry was, “We can’t let him become president!” Some even suggested voting in the Republican primary in open ballot states for candidates considered fringe or kookie to make Clinton’s victory more certain. This had the effect of making their message less about supporting Clinton and more about denying her opponent. It was very rare, even during the debates that I heard many arguments in favor of Clinton. She highlighted her public service, particularly on behalf of families, but failed to convince people that she was the one who could change the grim economic circumstances many people in the US face. She seemed to be hiding from the cameras, while her opponent was on every possible news show every other day. Part of what made Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992 so effective was the “rapid response” team set up to counter any misinformation about him. I saw no evidence of that during this campaign. It was largely left to friendly journalists to counter negative or politically inflammatory rhetoric from the right. Outrageous charges by her opponent went unanswered by her campaign or were brushed off as fiction as many, in fact, were. The problem is, people believed them, or at least questioned why she didn’t more vigorously defend herself.

Admittedly, the national press was much harsher on Clinton than her opponent, trumpeting every minor negative news release as though it was the smoking gun sure to derail her candidacy, while letting him make frequently untrue or unsubstantiated statements almost totally unchecked. One can understand that if someone is asked to explain situations which have already been explained over and over for years and years, it can become tiring but the fact that such questions were still coming up should have alerted the candidate and party that people were grasping for any reason not to vote for Clinton. The problem is that they gave voters no reason to vote for her.

The animosity toward Clinton is not rational but it’s very real and the Democrats failed to appreciate that. It doesn’t matter if the way people view Clinton is undeserved, or unfair, or unjustified; people don’t like her. They don’t care that most of the charges against her are baseless and politically motivated. They don’t care that’s she’s not responsible for her husband’s moral failings, or the fact that people who work for her can’t manage an email server. They just don’t like her. The one place where she’s been successful in an independent run for office, New York, is often friendly to Democrats, largely due to the influence of New York City where she lives.

Ironically, by losing this election the Democrats will have their revenge on Obama for not being the president they wanted him to be. After four years of a hard right-wing administration, it’s doubtful much of his legacy will survive, whether healthcare or civil rights. Any chance of him being on the Supreme Court is gone as well. Who knows what further indignities await him at the hands of the next administration and Congress. It’s doubtful Congress will allocate funds for a presidential library, given that their stated mission all along has been to make him look bad. In all likelihood, the next administration will do all they can to erase him from history and may largely succeed, at least, in the short term. The crucifixion has already started, with the national press spinning the election results as a refutation of President Obama rather than rejection of a particular candidate. The status quo has officially been overturned and I suspect Obama’s legacy isn’t all that will suffer.

4 thoughts on “Why the Democrats Lost

  1. Many good points but this article does not point to Hillary’s decisions/actions as the cause of the dislike and distrust. Can you believe that both Wasserman-Schultz and Brazile had to step down because they were pushing her over Bernie and she allowed it? Can you believe that the people who set up her server had to plead the 5th? Can you believe that her fees for a short speech reached such heights, fueling the tit-for-tat of corruption? Can you believe that she told families of Benghazi victims that the cause was a video rather than an organized attack? Can you believe that she lied about having no security breaches on her private server? I was in FL a day before the election and at two corners of a major intersection there were groups of people waving flags and banners and shouting at motorists to vote for Trump — yet I only saw one yard sign for Hillary. The cause was not just the press (who were selling advertisements) but also the lady herself!! She was approving of Obamacare — a financial disaster for many of the so-called 20 million new customers. And she misunderstood that the Obama coalition (women, gays, Blacks and other minorities) would never rally around her like they did Obama. HILLIARY lost by being herself!

    • My focus is more on the Democratic party and how they mishandled the election rather than highlighting the litany of charges hurled at Clinton personally. What you highlight seems to be the whole basketful, none of which were addressed by the candidate or party. The fact that such charges were out there certainly didn’t help their case.

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