Is this the new spin? That Hillary didn’t, in fact, blow a gimme election but lost to an unstoppable political juggernaut? Good lord. The best part is when he argues that Joe Biden would have had trouble with Trump in part because he’s a creature of the Beltway, a man who’s spent decades in Washington. What, four and a half decades instead of Hillary’s two and a half?
There’s a plausible case to be made that Trump really was the only Republican in the field who could have won the election despite his unbelievably terrible numbers in popularity metrics. Maybe not. Maybe a generic GOPer like Kasich or a soft-spoken conservative like Rubio would have eked through due to Hillary’s own phenomenal unpopularity. At the end of the day, though, the Republican nominee still would have needed to crack that blue wall in the midwest. Who was going to shift working-class white voters in those states from Democrats to Republicans the way Trump did? No one, probably. Maybe Kasich, a son of the Rust Belt, would have won by running up the numbers with more well-heeled whites and pulling enough white voters without a college degree to get past Clinton. But it’s debatable.
But there’s a plausible case to be made too that not just Obama but a lot of Democrats, Biden and Bernie Sanders included, could have beaten Trump. That argument is simple: Again, popularity. Trump went into Election Day with a fighting chance only because the Democratic nominee was loathed only marginally less than he was. That wouldn’t have been so with a populist Democrat who lacked Hillary’s scandal baggage. Democrats may not have gotten excited for Biden but he could have kept enough of Obama’s white working class supporters in the fold based on sheer likability to deny Trump the thin margins of victory he enjoyed in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. It’s an exaggeration but likely closer to the truth to say that Hillary was the only Democrat who couldn’t have beaten Trump than that Obama was the only one who could.
The elephant in the room here, though, is the black vote. Reines doesn’t mention that when discussing Obama’s superior chances against Trump but there’s no doubt it’s on his mind, as black turnout fell seven points between 2012 and 2016. That may not have been decisive — the trend he mentions in downscale white Obama supporters shifting to Trump probably was — but it sure didn’t help in close states with substantial black populations like Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. If those voters turned out again in large numbers for the first black president *and* Obama held his own against Trump among working-class whites, then yeah, Obama would win that contest. Those are some big ifs, though. Even if you think O was a more authentic populist than Hillary with more appeal to lower-income whites, there’s no telling how that would have played against Trump’s cultural appeal. Obama probably wins but I doubt he would have had margins like he did against Romney, a candidate with no intrinsic populist appeal at all.
Exit question: If Ivanka Trump wants to achieve what Hillary couldn’t, namely, becoming the first woman president, why hasn’t she emulated dad’s populism during her time in the political spotlight? Her most obvious chance at a political career is becoming a Marine/Marion Le Pen figure succeeding her dad as her country’s foremost nationalist. Instead she’s built a reputation among populists as a “globalist” and a closet Democrat, an enemy of right-wing activists like Steve Bannon. Is she hoping to run down the road as some sort of Republican fusion candidate, someone who’s moderate enough to bring along the establishmentarians yet sufficiently Trump-approved to bring along POTUS’s cult of personality? Stay tuned!