The Clinton-Warren fight divided and weakened Democrats. Many pundits compared the contest to the Humphrey vs. Kennedy fight of 1968. But back in 1968, there was an obvious solution: a unity ticket (had the gunman’s bullet missed Kennedy, that is). Democrats in 2016 were not prepared however to field an all-female ticket. Clinton was the nominee; Warren went back to the Senate.
Ted Cruz, however, could offer the vice presidency to Chris Christie—and the Democrats’ post-2014 leftward veer frightened Republican donors enough that they pressed Christie to accept. Unlike Romney in 2012, Cruz’s conservative allegiance could not be questioned, freeing him to write the vaguest platform and conduct the most issue-free campaign of any Republican since George H.W. Bush in 1988. Cruz delivered half his convention speech in Spanish and used the other half to rededicate the party to “the compassion of conservatism,” a subtle variant of an old phrase that delighted convention delegates.
Clinton Democrats took for granted that Cruz was unelectable. They had not appreciated how badly the 2014 recession would hurt them. Disenchanted Latinos and young people stayed home. So did down-market white males, who seemed to react to Clinton with almost visceral dislike. In the presidential election of 2008, almost 58% of eligible voters had turned out, the highest level since the extension of the vote to 18-year-olds. In 2016, turnout dropped below 50% for the first time since 1996.