How Hillary Lost
1. Too Clever by Half
Modern politics has become a game of fixed races. The two major parties, the Republicans and Democrats, conspire to create rules that tilt the playing field steeply in their direction. Excluding independents from debates, creating a system that requires massive amounts of money, among other things, results in a system where the Republicans and Democrats can maintain a virtual monopoly on political power in the United States.
In many races, the political leadership of one party will put up straw candidates, or not raise money for their candidates, in order to give the candidates of the other party a free pass. With campaigns so expensive, parties can not afford to compete for every seat ever year, so they pick and choose which contests to contest. Many candidates of both parties run without major party opposition.
In recent years, this corrupt system has been extended to the presidential race. The incumbent administration, far from keeping hands off the nominating process of the other party, seeks actively to get the other party to nominate the weakest possible candidate. This is what the Republicans did during Reagan’s second term, promoted the candidacy of Mike Dukakis so that Bush could succeed Reagan. If any of these people really cared about the United States, they would want the other party to nominate the candidate who was strongest and best for the welfare of the nation.
My fear for decades has been that some day, the candidate who was put up to lose would win. This is what has happened with Donald Trump. Did President Obama really have to pay so much attention to Donald’s absurd birther accusations at the 2011 Correspondent’s Dinner? Criticizing Trump was a gratuitous way of raising his political profile. And then, did the president have to go on the Jay Leno Tonight show just days before the 2012 general election when the country is paying close attention to the candidates, and make jokes about how Trump and he grew up in Kenya? Obama went out of his way to raise Trumps political profile. He and Hillary were too clever by half.
2. It Was Always going to be a close Race
Hillary Clinton has always been a frontrunner. From 2008, when she lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama in spite of getting more primary votes than he did, to 2016 when she lost the presidency to Donald Trump in spite of winning two and a quarter million more votes, Clinton was always favored to win by the pollsters and pundits.
The election results told a different story. As early as the New Hampshire Primary on February 9, 2016, Clinton was losing. She lost to Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary 95,355 to 152,193. More significantly, she was losing to Trump’s 100,735. The higher Republican turnout in New Hampshire was 287,653 to the Democrats 254,780 was another indicator.
The voters in New Hampshire have their own problems. Less than a million people have the heavy burden of winnowing the presidential field early in the contest. Until 1992, when Bill Clinton was elected president, every president and half the losers won their New Hampshire Primary contest. New Hampshire has been working hard to shed a portion of that burden, a topic too complex and peripheral to discuss now.
The 542,433 primary voters yielded a turnout of 57.3%, a decent general election result. In the General Election, Clinton managed to squeak past Trump by 2,736 votes, 348,526 to 345,790 on a turnout of 77.3%. In the General Election, Clinton gained 93,746 votes over the total Democratic Primary turnout and Trump gained 58,137 votes over the total Republican Primary turnout.
A non-partisan analysis of the election results, as was done here, indicated that the race would be close as early as February. Here at the Institute of Election Analysis, chief psephologist, Joshua Leinsdorf, said, “The election is going to be close,” beginning in April.
For further confirmation, the Pennsylvania Primary that followed New Hampshire by eleven weeks is instructive. In the “traditionally” blue Keystone state, the total Democratic Primary turnout of 1,681,427 was only 86,952 more than the Republican Primary turnout of 1,594,475. Clinton’s 935,107 barely beat Trump’s 902,593. Josh sent an email to his wife’s cousin saying, “It’s going to be close all the way to November.”
More worrying for the Democrats in Pennsylvania, where there are 4 million registered Democrats to 3 million Registered Republicans, was that the Democratic Primary turnout was only 42.3% of party registrants compared to 53.2% of Republicans. This was in April.
There were other indications of declining Democratic support in Pennsylvania. In 2008, Obama got 3,276,363 votes. Four years later, he lost 375,089 of those votes to get 2,900,274. Both numbers were enough to best McCain’s 2,655,885, and Romney’s 2,680,434 even though Romney gained 24,549 more votes than McCain. The significant fact, though, is that the almost 6 million Pennsylvania votes in 2008 (5,995,137), dropped 343,097 in 2012 and then recovered to 6,013,032. So, the turnout in 2016 was almost identical to the turnout eight years earlier. Although Hillary got only 36,329 fewer votes than Obama in 2012, Trump surged 254,149 to beat Clinton in Pennsylvania by 70,638.
And the black turnout in Philadelphia can not be blamed. Clinton’s 563,275 votes in the city was only 32,000 less than Obama’s 2008 record, but contributed only 20,000 to her defeat because Trump also ran 12,000 votes behind McCain. In Pennsylvania, the 2,737,130 voters who went to the polls in the General Election, but who did not vote in the Primary broke, 52.88% for Trump to 47.22% for Clinton, assuming all the Democratic Primary voters voted for Hillary and all the Republican Primary voters voted for Trump. That was just enough to give Trump Pennsylvania by a 70,638 vote margin.
3. The Pennsylvania Senate Race
Hillary’s defeat in Pennsylvania might be explained by the inept handling of the Democratic nomination for the Senate. The Democratic Senate Campaign committee took sides in the Democratic Senate Primary. The very bias Bernie Sanders complained about in the presidential race was on full display in the Pennsylvania Senate contest. The DSCC contributed money and support to Katie McGinty in her race against Joe Sestak. This was stupid beyond words, another example of Obama and Clinton being too clever by half.
Arlen Specter was Pennsylvania’s moderate Republican Senator for thirty years, from 1980 to 2010. In 2010, polls showed that he would lose the Republican Primary to Pat Toomey, so Specter switched to the Democratic Party. Specter was endorsed by the Democrats by winning more than 77% of the votes of the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee at the state convention. Joe Sestak, however, challenged Specter and went on to win the primary. Sestak then lost the General Election contest to Toomey by a narrow 80,229 votes in what was a solidly Republican year.
In 2016, Sestak again sought the Democratic nomination for the Senate. But in a classic case of payback for his challenging of Specter (who died on October 14, 2012 of the Lymphoma he had been battling since 2005) the Democratic Party supported Katie McGinty, an appointed environmental official who had never served in elective office. Joe Sestak, on the other hand, not only served in the House of Representatives, he is a retired two-star Admiral, the highest-ranking military official ever elected to Congress. McGinty lost to Toomey by 104,751. If Obama and Clinton hadn’t tilted the playing field against Sestak, he might have won the primary and pulled Clinton to victory in Pennsylvania. Another bad call by Barack and Hillary.
Note: And Hillary never visited Wisconsin even once during the General Election campaign. As in Pennsylvania, this may be the reason she lost the state by 27,257 votes.
5. The Iran Deal
During the spring primaries, I read in the paper that Clinton was considering distancing herself from Obama’s foreign policy. I posted a message online saying that trying to distance oneself from the foreign policy of an administration of which you are a part is not only suicidal, but insane. Two weeks later, Clinton came out strongly in favor of the Iran deal, but promised to enforce it strictly. This is an example of the bad instincts to which John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, referred in the emails leaked by Julian Ansange.
6. The Israeli – Palestinian Problem
After winning the nomination, Clinton’s operatives on the Democratic Platform Committee removed the phrase “occupied territories” from the platform. Hillary’s strategy was to stay one nanometer to the left of Trump and sit on her lead in the polls. Hillary’s husband Bill spent a lot of time and effort trying to promote the two-state solution. Once “occupied territories” was out of the platform, I supported Hillary on faith, not because I felt she was significantly better than Trump when it came to holding reactionary positions on peace in the Middle East.
7. The Negative Campaign and the contribution con
So, now the conventions are over and the campaign between Crooked Hillary and The Donald is underway. My email box is filled with messages asking for contributions from the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, and James Carville, who I didn’t like even in 1992. I have a shopping bag filled with printed mail solicitations from the Hillary Victory Fund in addition to many of the aforementioned. The Hillary Victory Fund solicitations come to Joshua Leinsdorf, Joshua F. Leinsdorf, Mary Blohm (my wife), Mary K. Blohm, and Katherine Blohm, all at the same address. They all say the same thing: “Stop Trump.” But why? Where are the solicitations saying, “Save Obamacare” or “Keep the Iran Deal” “Don’t let the Supreme Court revert to right wing control” or “Keep a woman’s right to choose”? No, it’s just the negative message, Stop Trump.
In August, I send a message to my contact near the top of the Clinton campaign and say, “If Hillary runs a negative campaign she will lose because she can’t out-negative Trump.” But my real reaction is that the Supreme Court and the two major parties are in collusion to raise the cost of campaigns to the highest possible level and then to conduct the campaign in the way best designed to keep the independents turned off and at home. The political campaigns have become professionalized and the voters reduced to consumers, able to give money and vote, which is the opposite of self-government. If the Republicans and Democrats were private corporations, they would be guilty of a corrupt combination, collusion, or conspiracy in restraint of trade and, with the help of the Supreme Court campaign finance decisions over the past forty years, price fixing. Instead of self-government and democracy, we are ruled by a professional class of politicians, lawyers and political operatives.
To one telephone solicitor from the Clinton campaign I said, “If you can’t keep your mailing lists straight, how are you ever going to run the country?”
8. Labor Day and the General Election Campaign – Wake me Up When September Ends
Democratic presidential campaigns traditionally begin on the Labor Day Weekend, with a rally in Cadillac Square or a walk in the Labor Day Parade in Detroit, Michigan in obeisance to the party’s union base and the auto industry. This year, Hillary was meeting with labor leaders in Cleveland while her husband, Bill, walked in the traditional kickoff Labor Day Parade in Detroit. Hillary ducked this great photo opportunity, the traditional beginning of the fall campaign. Gee, how could Michigan go for Trump by 10,704 votes out of almost 4.8 million?
Then, day after day on the evening news, it’s Trump said this, Trump said that, one statement more outrageous than the next. Where’s Hillary? An “exhausted” Hillary has taken time off the campaign trail from Friday September 9 to Wednesday September 14, except for fundraisers and the 9/11 fifteenth anniversary memorial. The Democratic campaign strategy is alleged to be to cede the limelight to Trump so everyone will see how unacceptable and temperamentally unfit he is to be president. I console myself with the thought that, well, everyone will pay attention to the debates. In fact, Hillary was hiding the fact she had pneumonia, if not something worse. And it was during this period of no public appearances for Hillary that she made her infamous “basket of deplorable” comment about Trump’s supporters at a fund raiser. The reason it got so much play is because there was nothing else about Hillary to write about, she had been invisible, no rallies or speeches. Had she maintained a full campaign schedule, the media might have had other things to write about her. Usually, her fund raising events were closed to the press, but this one was probably opened because otherwise there would have been nothing for Hillary on a day in September two months before the election. And when she does finally appear in public, she is always with someone else on stage: a singer, an actor, her family.
Then on September 11, Hillary collapses at Ground Zero and has to be helped into her SUV in front of all the media’s long lenses. Disaster!
9. The Debates
So, now come the debates. Hillary acquits herself well being presidential and addressing national issues. But Donald, who has been told he has a very narrow path to the White House, knows what needs to be done. His responses at the first debate are targeted at Ohio; at the second at Michigan.
Donald is rude, aggressive and criticizes everything. He called Hillary a crook. There is no response. She is a punching bag. She can take it. But there is no defense of her emails, or the North American Free Trade Agreement that was negotiated by her husband, nor of Obamacare, nor of the Iran Deal, negotiated by an administration in which she was Secretary of State. Hillary’s behavior is all the more incredible because it was her husband, Bill, in 1992, who upended campaign tactics by insisting on answering and refuting every charge as quickly as possible.
This year, the vice-presidential debate mattered more than usual. With two geezers at the head of the tickets, people needed to look closely at who would replace them should the president die in office or become incapacitated. Tim Kaine was contentious, interrupting, gave unclear answers and was generally uninspiring. Mike Pence was smooth and reassuring, in spite of the reactionary content of his positions.
10. The October Surprises
In early October, the Washington Post revealed the existence of a “Hollywood Reporter” tape of Trump talking about kissing women and groping their private parts. It looked like Donald was toast until fellow male, FBI Director James Comey, sent a letter to Congress ten days before the election saying that there might be a connection between their investigation of Andrew Weiner’s emails and Hillary Clinton’s. Now it was time for Hillary’s campaign to tank. Then, on the weekend before the voting, Comey released another letter saying, “Just kidding.”
11. The Polls
The polls actually showed a very close race. Yet, because the major media outlets were in New York and California, where Hillary was far ahead, the tightness of the race was never conveyed to the voters. Like the Brexit result, a lot of angry voters cast their ballots for Trump thinking he could not win. Hillary won the popular vote by over 2.25 million, but lost the crucial 110,000 in Pennsylvania (70,638), Wisconsin (27,257) and Michigan (10,704). The Trump voters will live to regret their anger and rashness.
12. The End
So Hillary loses the election and in a phone call with contributors a few days later blames Comey.
13. The Disaster
John Kennedy said, “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” Twenty years ago, I read Webster Hubbell’s book Friends in High Places. Hubbell was a football star in high school and college, NFL draft pick, honor graduate of Law School and a rising star in Arkansas politics: Mayor of Little Rock, and Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Hubbell was Hillary Clinton’s Law Partner when she joined the Rose Law Firm and he became a target of Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater investigation during which evidence of his overbilling clients came to light. In his book, Hubbell wrote: “The Clintons move through your life like a hurricane, leaving nothing but a path of destruction in their wake.”
The Donald Trump presidency, Hillary Clinton’s gift to America. Hillary Clinton was Richard Nixon in 1960: smart, knowledgeable, hard working with a slightly shady past. She even got sick on the campaign trail at the same time and had to take time off. She also lost. Hillary’s fatal flaw was not even her opportunism and arrogance, though that certainly contributed to her defeat, but that she surrounded herself with people who were equally opportunistic and arrogant, and that cut her off from a real understanding of the electorate. Where she should have surrounded herself with people who compensated for her weaknesses, she instead chose people like herself who reinforced them. And, of course, it was the Clintons who engineered the takeover of the Democratic Party by Wall Street. It started leaving its union and blue collar roots behind long, long ago. Hillary made the fatal mistake for a politician, she thought she had the system gamed and couldn’t lose. But as Stalin accurately complained about democratic elections, you never know who is going to win.