To borrow from T.S. Eliot once more this week: This is the way the Clintons end … not with a bang, but a lot of whimpering. For forty-eight hours, Democrats stunned by the most shocking presidential-race outcome in at least 68 years seemed more than willing to follow Team Hillary’s lead in blaming the loss on a string of factors other than the campaign or the candidate herself. James Comey? Check. Sexism? Check, with an extra added “penis ex machina” thrown in too. Racism? You betcha, even though this ignores the fact that the same electorate had given Barack Obama two presidential terms in as many tries.
After a couple of days, though, these excuses are wearing thin, even with Hillary’s campaign surrogates. Politico’s Annie Karni reports that a conference call held today by John Podesta and Jennifer Palmieri continued to blame everyone else, and their allies’ patience has finally run out:
“They are saying they did nothing wrong, which is ridiculous,” said one Clinton surrogate. “She was the wrong messenger and everyone misjudged how pissed working class people were.” …
“She got this gift of this complete idiot who says bizarre things and hates women and she still lost,” said one longtime Clinton ally and fundraiser. “They lost in a race they obviously should have won. They need to take some blame.”
So far, they’re not willing to go public with their frustration, but some are getting more chatty with friendly media, apparently. With the shock beginning to dissipate and the prospect of at least a few years in the wilderness ahead of them, they’re also looking to identify real causes to figure out what they need to fix. Karni says that some have begun looking at Robby Mook — and perhaps Podesta, Palmieri, and other senior leaders. In this telling, Bill Clinton had turned into a Cassandra on his wife’s campaign:
And some began pointing fingers at the young campaign manager, Robby Mook, who spearheaded a strategy supported by the senior campaign team that included only limited outreach to those voters — a theory of the case that Bill Clinton had railed against for months, wondering aloud at meetings why the campaign was not making more of an attempt to even ask that population for its votes. It’s not that there was none: Clinton’s post-convention bus tour took her through Youngstown, Ohio, as well as Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, where she tried to eat into Trump’s margins with his base. In Scranton and Harrisburg, the campaign aired a commercial that featured a David Letterman clip of Trump admitting to outsourcing manufacturing of the products and clothes that bore his logo. And at campaign stops in Ohio, Clinton talked about Trump’s reliance on Chinese steel.
But in general, Bill Clinton’s viewpoint of fighting for the working class white voters was often dismissed with a hand wave by senior members of the team as a personal vendetta to win back the voters who elected him, from a talented but aging politician who simply refused to accept the new Democratic map. At a meeting ahead of the convention at which aides presented to both Clintons the “Stronger Together” framework for the general election, senior strategist Joel Benenson told the former president bluntly that the voters from West Virginia were never coming back to his party.
That’s probably not wrong about West Virginia, but it’s not true of voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Hillary Clinton never even set foot in Wisconsin after the convention, apparently assuming for some reason that the state was safe. Democrats had gotten rolled back in election after election since 2010 and the public-employee unions have lost a huge amount of political traction, so that assumption looks very strange. Maybe they thought Russ Feingold’s Senate campaign would turn out enough voters for Hillary so that she could keep concentrating on urban centers in bluer states, but if so, that turned out to be a very bad bet.
The above explanation probably comes closest to the truth without actually touching on the biggest reason for the failure — Hillary Clinton herself. For the last quarter-century, she’s been unpopular, controversial, and singularly lacking in any accomplishment except for marking time in the Senate and the State Department. But even these allies can’t really point fingers at Hillary, because that would mean pointing fingers at themselves. Sure, they didn’t know about her e-mail scandal until February 2015, but as Karni notes they certainly knew how bad the Clinton Foundation operations would look — and even by then, they had lots of time after that to look for a better candidate. The problem they would have had, though, is that they and their entire party had co-opted themselves to the Clintons and allowed them to block anyone of serious quality from challenging her.
These disillusioned Democrats want answers — but just not the most true answer. Maybe they should stick with scapegoating.
Addendum: As I wrote earlier, they can also look both ways on Pennsylvania Avenue, but they won’t do that either:
Meanwhile, President Obama, who has enjoyed his highest approval ratings in years during the final months of the election cycle, saw the election become a referendum on his legacy — a point that Obama himself explicitly made on the campaign trail. His signature legislation, ObamaCare, has become such a disaster that even Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, one of its loudest proponents, called it “unaffordable” after seeing premiums skyrocket an average of 60 percent in the state.
If one wonders how the electorate got this angry, angry enough to elect Donald Trump, ObamaCare is a great case in point. Consider the pattern of Democratic disaster that unfolded after its passage in March 2010. Democrats lost the House in 2010 over it, then lost the Senate in 2014 largely on the same issue (among a few others). Obama has now presided over the loss of Democratic control over the White House, both chambers of Congress, a record number of state legislatures, and after last night, even more gubernatorial offices. Maybe refusing to deal realistically with popular opposition to government-run insurance markets had something to do with that, eh?