Wednesday 9th was quite hectic for me. Unexpectedly called into work, I was stuck between serving customers and watching the results from my phone as I spoke to my friends in Iowa and California on Facebook, panicking about the results. By the end of the day, I was dealt a blow as the Republicans won all three branches, and Pennsylvania, my best friend’s home state, carried Trump and re-elected Pat Toomey in a tight race. Over the past few days of reading articles and reassessing the campaign, I’ve been trying to look at how it went so wrong for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats when all the messages seemed to give a very different story. I’ll be honest, I still thought Trump could win and that it would be a close contest, but it was still an astounding victory, and I still thought it was worth re-examining it. So, here are my thoughts:
1. Too much about Trump, not enough about the issues. I felt that too much of the Democratic campaign was focused on Trump’s rhetoric and controversial views. I can understand why this was done, many of his comments were absolutely vile, and the actions of some of his supporters were equally vile, and there was plenty of ammo for that attack. But I feel this strategy backfired. By focusing too much on Trump, it seemed the campaign was simply saying ‘We’re not Trump, so vote for us,’ which, while motivating some to vote against him, isn’t really the energising mobilisation of the vote that was needed to win. The Democrats had a pretty good platform with some good policy: debt free college if your family earns less than $125,000 a year, a $15/ph minimum wage, abolition of the death penalty and others, which would have definitely motivated voters. Had the campaign made these issues much more prominent in the campaign than simply attacking Trump, the Democrats would have done much better, maybe even keeping a couple states from 2012 blue. Donald Trump had his issues and policies, even if they proved to be controversial or economically dangerous, and even despite his toxic rhetoric and attacks on Hillary, had a focus on them throughout his campaign. People didn’t seem to care that he was offending minorities or that he could do nothing to actually make Mexico pay for his wall, they believed he was fighting for them against a Washington establishment that stopped fighting for them ages ago.
2. Clinton was a dangerous and risky nominee and didn’t pay off This opinion may get some criticism but I legitimately believe Hillary Clinton’s nomination was a dangerous move on the Democrats’ part. Don’t get me wrong, Hillary had some great experience, and had guts (she proved that with how calm she kept when faced with Trump threatening her with prison during the debate), but she played right into the hands of Trump and the Republican Party’s strategists. Trump’s anti-establishment message, speaking to many voters who may have felt disaffected, especially in the rust belt states which swung the election his way. The perception of Clinton have aided in this regard as well, especially following the controversial primary campaign, with accusations she was changing her positions simply for political gain, especially around issues like the TPP, which critics like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders attacked for giving too much power to corporations and taking American jobs out of the country. Her email debacle was also a massive risk for her campaign, shown with Comey’s announcement the case was being reopened just a week out from voting. It definitely damaged the campaign, and highlighted one of her key vulnerabilities, a long shadow of controversy and distrust that, despite her best efforts, she couldn’t shake off and I think that is a key part of why she lost.
Looking at it from a strategic point of view, Sanders would have been a better choice to nominate. The Republicans wanted to take on Clinton, they thought she was someone familiar who they could attack. While Bernie’s socialistic views may have also been a good attack point for the Republican Party, the pro-establishment strategy would have crashed and there would have been some strong competition for the voters Trump was able to mobilise. With criticism of Wall Street’s overbearing power over the political system, plans for a kind of wealth distribution system harkening back to the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and a kind of genuity and authenticity in the way he delivered his message, Trump and the Republicans would have faced a greater threat and challenge, possibly cutting off paths to victory among the rust belt.
The election was absolutely a rejection of the status quo, but for the Democratic Party, it as a rejection of the New Democrat wing. The party that had delivered the New Deal had changed too much, no longer looking out for the middle class or the working class, not delivering the solutions needed to improve their lives, and even with the signs of Obama’s recovery, people felt barely better off with them. Credit where it is due, both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did some good things in office, but it seemed unable to provide what was needed in the wake of Reagan’s revolution. The time for a third way direction is over, America needs a modern day New Deal and they need leadership with guts, sincerity and a message that will ring across the nation if the Democrats want to win again.
– Liam Bateman, Capital HardTalk