I’ve calmed down a little but the numbness hasn’t gone away yet. I’m not sure what Trump really believes since he really doesn’t have any policy positions. Plus, he was a Democrat until pretty recently. Either he will implement policies that are contrary to almost everything I believe or he will be disappointing his voters. But that is in the future. For now, I’d like to analyze my own party.
Bernie Sanders speaks near Hillary Clinton
Bottom line: I think they should have nominated Bernie.
This will annoy all my women (and some men) who supported Hillary Clinton from the beginning and who were really invested in seeing a women be elected President. Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to live long enough to see a woman elected, but I was never sure Clinton was the right candidate. OK. Maybe this is sour grapes, but I’m not the only one who thinks that Bernie could have won. The best analysis I’ve seen so far is by Fredrik deBoer in the Washington Post.
Donald Trump’s stunning victory is less surprising when we remember a simple fact: Hillary Clinton is a deeply unpopular politician. She won a hotly contested primary victory against a uniquely popular candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders. In her place, could he have beaten Trump?
That Clinton has unusually high unfavorables has been true for decades. Indeed, it has been a steady fact of her political life. She has annually ranked among the least-liked politicians on the national stage since she was the first lady. In recent years, her low favorability rating was matched only by that of her opponent, animated hate Muppet Donald Trump. In contrast, Sanders enjoys very high popularity, ranking as the most popular senator for two years in a row. Nationally, his favorability rating is more than 10 points higher than Clinton’s, and his unfavorability rating is more than 15 points lower. This popularity would have been a real asset on the campaign trail.
deBoer points out that Bernie’s big primary wins were in the Rust Belt, most notably Michigan.
But turnout matters in a close election, and here she suffered significantly compared with President Obama in both 2008 and 2012. In Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties in Michigan, the heart of Detroit’s black voting bloc, Clinton won 55 percent of the vote — compared with 69 percent for Obama in 2012. Meanwhile, it was in Michigan that Sanders won his most shocking primary victory, probably through the same forces that hurt Clinton on Election Day: Her agenda did not seem to offer much hope to those hurt by deindustrialization and outsourcing. We can only guess how much better he might have performed there, or in Ohio and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (which he also won in a surprising primary upset) had he been the nominee. But there is little doubt now that his success in the Rust Belt was a canary in the coal mine for the Clinton campaign, a now-obvious sign that she was in trouble.
deBoer goes on to analyze image, something I had never thought of doing. It is true that Bill and Hillary Clinton are very tied to the Eastern elite – or if you are on the West Coast, the Hollywood elite – at least in the minds of many voters.
If Clinton’s campaign seemed bizarrely pitched toward the interests of those who were always going to vote for her anyway, Sanders was uniquely positioned to reach voters with a different sensibility. In contrast to the millionaire polish of the Clinton camp, Sanders has a somewhat shambolic, grandfatherly presence that conveys an unpretentious and approachable character. Clinton struggled to use Trump’s wealth against him, in large measure because she herself is an immensely wealthy woman. (In fact, she frequently suggested that Trump wasn’t really all that rich, a ludicrous line of attack from a primary in which Sanders’s play for Nordic-style egalitarian policies won him favor in battleground states such as Pennsylvania.) Sanders would have been able to contrast Trump’s ostentatious wealth with his own shabby aesthetic. The message writes itself: Trump talks a good game about economic anxiety, but why would you trust this New York billionaire to put your interests first?
Bernie also had crossover voters which she did not. Turnout was also an issue.
Indeed, turnout overall was a major problem for the Clinton campaign; though not all votes are yet counted, it’s clear that Clinton received millions fewer votes than Obama in several states, while Trump frequently received more than Mitt Romney did in 2012. Nor did Clinton enjoy the benefits of party crossovers. There was much talk of “Clinton Republicans” who would, in the spirit of the Reagan Democrats, cross party lines to oppose Trump. But according to the exit polling of the New York Times, more Democrats crossed over and voted for Trump than Republicans crossed over and voted for Clinton. Sanders, notably, never had trouble drawing crowds, and in the Democratic primary campaign, turnoutrebounded from 2012 lows. Whether that rebound was a result of voters’ enthusiasm for Sanders or the opposite is hard to say; what’s clear is that Clinton wasn’t able to get out the vote herself and that she lost both Democrats and independents to Trump, while Sanders had notorious luckwith independent voters.
Neither deBoer or I discount the sexist attacks that have dogged her since she was first lady of Arkansas, but if we want to elect a woman, I think we need to find one with less baggage. None of the many investigations have resulted in any findings or prosecutions, but the sheer number of them led many to think “where there is smoke, there must be fire.”
Of course, we don’t know if Bernie could have actually pulled it off, but given what happened Tuesday and given his primary record, it seems clear he probably would have had a better chance.
There will be years of recriminations in our future. Many Democrats will, as is their habit, conclude that the fault lies with the left wing of the party — that progressive party activists did not sufficiently support the candidate or that leftward attacks weakened Clinton. But that notion hides a simple fact: In an election of immense importance, Democratic leadership and voters rejected a hugely popular candidate in favor of a deeply unpopular one and are now paying the price. Some of us will be asking why for years to come.
Photograph: Melina Mara/The Washington Post