But even if Trump’s vile statements and behavior had been less widely known and the condescension could have been dialed back, focusing so lopsidedly on Trump’s character (while saying so little about policy and the future of the country) was both foolhardy and sharply divergent from past norms of campaigning. As an analysis by The Upshot’s Lynn Vavreck has shown, “More than three-quarters of the appeals in Mrs. Clinton’s advertisements … were about traits, characteristics, or dispositions…. Since the start of presidential campaign television advertising in 1952, no campaign has made 76 percent of its television ad appeals about any single topic. On average, traits typically garner about 22 percent of the appeals. The economy typically generates about 28 percent of the appeals. There’s usually much more balance.”
And not only in ads. Nearly the entire vice presidential debate was an awkward, repetitive exercise in Democrat Tim Kaine attempting to pin Trump’s most offensive statements on his running mate Mike Pence. Do it once. Do it half a dozen times. But over and over again for 90 minutes straight? Clinton did much the same thing in her three debates with Trump, deflecting policy questions whenever possible, avoiding broad appeals to the country as a whole, and pivoting as often as she could to the myriad glaring defects of her opponent.
To those who scoff at the suggestion that Clinton would have benefited from talking at greater length about policy, I’d point out that the idea isn’t that she needed to plunge into greater specifics. On the contrary, an over-abundance of specificity on small-ball proposals that micro-targeted the panoply of groups in the Democratic Party’s identity-politics-based electoral coalition was precisely the problem.
Where was the overarching vision for the country and its future?