Close election means every explanation for Hillary’s loss is plausible
posted at 3:01 pm on December 12, 2016 by John Sexton
Democratic strategist Joe Trippi had an interesting insight into a problem currently faced by Democrats as they seek to rebuild their brand and win future elections. Because the election was so close, with Trump winning three swing states by a total of about 80,000 votes, it’s impossible to sort out which factors really mattered in Clinton’s loss.
As Trippi points out, Democrats can point to almost any explanation, from Russian hacking to Bernie Sanders to explain the 2016 loss, which means different factions of the party have very different views about what to do next. From the Hill:
Trippi also saw a danger for the party, in that virtually any explanation for why Clinton lost is plausible, given the narrowness of the margin.
“Everybody can point to something that went wrong — and they’re right,” he said. “It makes it impossible to know what the party really needs to do.
“The [Bernie] Sanders people believe, if only we had been more populist we’d have won, and they’re right. The Hillary people believe, if only Bernie hadn’t attacked her so hard in the primary we’d have won, and they’re right. Everybody’s right.”
Trippi hasn’t come close to exhausting the possible explanations. Recall that Clinton communications strategist Jennifer Palmieri recently accused the Trump camp of winning because of appeals to the alt-right. Palmieri told her opposites in the Trump campaign, “I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.”
Then there’s the claim from some Clintonistas that the media is at fault in any number of ways. Some, including President Obama, have claimed the media was unfair to Clinton, others that it was sexist, and still others that it didn’t hold Trump to the same standard. There is also the separate but related complaint about “fake news” swaying the election. Hillary Clinton herself has even come out against that.
Or maybe it was the announcement by FBI Director James Comey that he had found a new cache of Clinton emails on a laptop belonging to Anthony Weiner which handed the election to Trump. That’s the claim being made by Senator Reid today. From CNN:
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Monday FBI Director James Comey was “heavily involved as a partisan” in the weeks leading up to the election and that Comey’s actions handed the presidency to Donald Trump.
The retiring Nevada Democrat said Democrats “would have won the majority in the Senate and would have won the presidency but for Comey.”
Finally, there’s the Russian hacking of the DNC, DCCC and John Podesta’s email account. That seems to be the explanation that is dominating the news this week, with Clinton advisor John Podesta now siding with a group of faithless electors in calling for more information on connections between the Trump campaign and Russian hackers.
Trippi is on to something here. The Democrats have many potential villains and alternate explanations for why they lost this election. And depending on which one they believe is most directly responsible, it could lead to a very different look for the party going forward. For instance, if the problem was Sanders or 3rd party candidates the party could move toward the center. If the problem was installing Hillary as the nominee rather than backing Sanders the party could shift to the left (as it seems ready to do by giving the DNC chairmanship to Keith Ellison.) If the problem is fake news then Democrats might invest heavily in counter-programming on the left. If the problem was Russian hacking they could go all in on an effort to delegitimize Trump before he even takes office.
About the only problem Democrats don’t seem interested in exploring is the simplest one: Hillary was a terrible candidate who didn’t appeal as strongly as Obama did to minorities and who seemed to be a turn off to millennials. But why blame Hillary for her own downfall when there are so many more tantalizing external villains to choose from.