It wasn’t James Comey. It wasn’t the Russians. It wasn’t misogyny either, according to Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere. Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election because of the incompetence of Hillary Clinton and her team. Nowhere was this more evident than in Michigan, Dovere writes, where the SEIU wanted to shift resources in the final fortnight of the campaign:
Everybody could see Hillary Clinton was cooked in Iowa. So when, a week-and-a-half out, the Service Employees International Union started hearing anxiety out of Michigan, union officials decided to reroute their volunteers, giving a desperate team on the ground around Detroit some hope.
They started prepping meals and organizing hotel rooms.
SEIU — which had wanted to go to Michigan from the beginning, but been ordered not to — dialed Clinton’s top campaign aides to tell them about the new plan. According to several people familiar with the call, Brooklyn was furious.
Turn that bus around, the Clinton team ordered SEIU. Those volunteers needed to stay in Iowa to fool Donald Trump into competing there, not drive to Michigan, where the Democrat’s models projected a 5-point win through the morning of Election Day.
“The model, the model,” Dovere’s sources repeat over and over again. Slavish devotion to their theoretical campaign model — and Byzantine campaign strategies like that seen in Iowa and Michigan — blinded the Clinton campaign to the danger in its “blue wall,” and other battleground states. Instead of relying on good data and responding to it, the Clinton campaign took a very familiar approach, according to Dovere:
The anecdotes are different but the narrative is the same across battlegrounds, where Democratic operatives lament a one-size-fits-all approach drawn entirely from pre-selected data — operatives spit out “the model, the model,” as they complain about it — guiding Mook’s decisions on field, television, everything else. That’s the same data operation, of course, that predicted Clinton would win the Iowa caucuses by 6 percentage points (she scraped by with two-tenths of a point), and that predicted she’d beat Bernie Sanders in Michigan (he won by 1.5 points).
“I’ve never seen a campaign like this,” said Virgie Rollins, a Democratic National Committee member and longtime political hand in Michigan who described months of failed attempts to get attention to the collapse she was watching unfold in slow-motion among women and African-American millennials.
Well, Republicans certainly have. As I wrote in my book Going Red, Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential operation had the same problems — a top-down strategy that ignored advice from people who knew the voters, and a data operation built on assumptions that didn’t have a basis in reality. Hillary 2016 is practically a replay of the Romney team’s issues, in Dovere’s telling.
Hillary’s team added a level of arrogance that can only be described as remarkable, under the circumstances. Barack Obama built perhaps the best presidential-campaign infrastructure ever in 2008 and kept it largely intact in 2012. Democrats not only had that game plan available, but saw clearly how Team Romney failed to match it. Rather than learn from those examples, and Hillary’s own failure in the 2008 primary she was widely expected to win, they doubled down on their flaws and insularity.
Door knocking? Pass. Literature? Pass. Dovere relates a story about the Clinton campaign telling a potential volunteer that lawn signs and canvassing were “unscientific,” whatever that means in terms of politics. Only in the final days of the campaign did Hillary’s team put significant effort into GOTV. Thanks to that failure, they had no way to check their assumptions on polling or turnout models, and no time to adjust to fix the problems that emerged on Election Day.
Democrats want to blame their loss on Comey, Russians, the Electoral College; perhaps the heartbreak of psoriasis will be next. Dovere’s deep dive gets much closer to the truth about the lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton, especially in the “blue wall” states she took for granted. Hillary Clinton never bothered to generate that enthusiasm, and her campaign was almost deliberately designed to avoid it, at least in the states that mattered. Politics is not a science, but the art of human relations, a lesson that Romney learned the hard way, and that Hillary and her team still resist.
It’s also a lesson for Republicans. Dovere notes that Trump won Michigan while getting 30,000 fewer votes than George W. Bush did in a losing effort in 2004 (it’s closer to 35,000). Trump may not have won those “blue wall” states as much as Hillary lost them. If Trump runs for re-election in 2020 and draws a Democrat with more competence, he’ll have a tough time winning those states again unless he also learns the same lessons from the 2012 election.