Very early Friday morning, December 16, 2016. Revised for clarity and out of the writer's obsessiveness, Thursday morning, January 26, 2017.
Over a month has gone by, and I still have no good idea what the hell happened.
Kerry on the ferry: Then Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry with his wife Teresa Heinz-Kerry on their way from campaigning to Michigan to campaign in Wisconsin during the 2004 election campaign. Kerry carried both Michigan and Wisconsin that year and this year Hillary…didn’t. Photo by Jeff Dean via Wikipedia.
I’ve read a lot of “analysis” by people who are pretty sure they know what happened, but most of it has seemed to me some version of “She’da won if she’d done exactly what I was saying all along she shoulda done.” I don’t find arguments that are based on the premise that “I’m so much smarter and wiser than people who are demonstrably smarter and wiser than I am” persuasive.
“Analysis” I’ve read that hasn’t been advertisements for the writer’s self have seemed to be versions of “Here’s why it’s HER fault I was wrong!” Also not persuasive.
Like I said, I don’t have any good ideas myself and I’m in no hurry to get one. I don’t get paid to have any opinion so there’s no percentage in it for me to come up with one or defend it. No one who matters wants my opinion or needs it or is paying attention if they did. I know that people of consequence and influence in politics and the media read the blog. But they read it for the same reasons everybody else does---I know how to turn a phrase and I’m occasionally amusing. So I don’t feel any pressure to be smart about what I am clearly not smart about. I just have a personal desire to understand.
One of the things I want to understand is why I was so sure she was going to win.
Smarty-Pants Bias doesn’t cover it.
Neither does the fact that I along with just about everybody else including Trump himself believed the polls. And by the way, one of the many pieces of evidence he isn’t up to the job was how in the last month of the campaign he showed he’d given up and was sinking into petulance, anger, and despair and showed it to his own voters who were counting on him to buck them up. Leadership! At any rate, the polls never reassured me because while they consistently showed her ahead, they never showed her winning. As far as I can recall---and excuse me for not going to look it up. Like I said, I don’t get paid for this.---few polls showed her hitting let alone cracking 50 percent, and most showed her stuck around what she wound up with. There was always a high percentage of undecideds. There were also all those Johnson voters. Stein’s voters hurt but there really weren’t many of them. The questions always were what would happen with those undecideds and would those Johnson voters stick with him and where would they go if they didn’t?
My mistake was thinking both groups would break more for Hillary.
So what happened?
Well, despite it not mattering, I do have an opinion, but it’s five in the morning, I’ve been up for three hours with insomnia, so this is pretty much a Philip Larkin-esque aubade. But, for what it’s worth, my idea of the moment about what happened is Republicans happened.
People who are sure they have good ideas are focused on how she lost or failed to win the White Working Class. The assumptions behind this are that there is a White Working Class as opposed to working class whites who voted Republican and that they’re the heart of Trump’s coalition. First off, there is no White Working Class, there is only the Working Class. And the Working Class split their votes between Hillary and Trump. But if white working class voters were all there was of Trump’s support, he wouldn’t have won the nomination, let alone gotten 62 million votes in the general.
Another assumption is that those working class whites who voted for him were Obama voters in 2012 and 2008. Some were. Most weren’t. At least, I suspect most weren’t. I haven’t seen that there’s been much of a look into this. None of those “We need to understand and sympathize” articles, posts, op-eds, and television bobblehead blatherings I've read take into account the answer to the question, “Just who did you vote for in the last few Presidential elections?” because the question seems to have rarely been asked. It's just assumed that these all around good plain folks voted for Democrats and not for the candidates who represented their plainly expressed conventionally Right Wing Republican politics. Here’s the thing.
Trump wasn’t saying anything new.
He was saying what Republicans have been saying for over a generation: Everything that’s wrong with the country is THEIR fault and we all know who THEY are.
Trump just said it with more passion, more style, and more seeming conviction. Romney and McCain and even George W. Bush just couldn’t sound as convincing when they said it, but they said it. And Republicans in Congress and the state houses have said it over and over and over, and have voted as if they believed it---because they do. And voters keep rewarding them for it.
The glaring fact about the election is that Hillary lost six states Obama won in 2012 while picking up none that Romney won. Three of those states had gone blue in every past Presidential election since 1988. One, Iowa, voted for the Democrat in all those elections, except one. I'll let you guess which election that was.
The glaring fact about this glaring fact is that she did it while winning the popular vote and by a large enough margin that she should have won the Electoral College too. She got more than enough votes. She just didn’t get them in the right places. Spread just a few hundred thousand around and she wins Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Florida, North Carolina, and possibly Ohio, to boot.
So why weren’t they spread around? What did she do that she shouldn’t have done? What did she not do that she should have?
Lot of online leftists seem to think she should have gone after that non-existent White Working Class and not concentrated so much on African-Americans, Hispanics, and middle-aged women. (No more "Identity Politics", as if White Working Class isn't an identity.) Which I take as their saying, “She should have done more to make me feel right about holding political views I’ve held since I was a freshman in college!” Not of few of these are “More Progressive Than Thou” types who were and still are Sanders partisans and came reluctantly around to HRC on the “Lesser of Two Evils” principle. And I take what they’re saying---because many flat out say it---as “You should have listened to us and nominated Bernie!” I don’t buy that, but on the first point they may, well, have a point. Maybe she should have made more and more emphatic appeals to white working class voters…
Assuming it could have been done while not appearing to be taking her base---African Americans, Hispanics, and Women of all colors---for granted. I think it could have because, after all, many African Americans, Hispanics, and women of all colors are working class, and in no small way by focusing her efforts on her base she was also focusing the working class as a whole.
But this is just me trying to understand. I don’t know how either her base or the white working class voters she was supposedly ignoring see it.
What is nagging at me this morning as I sit here alone in the "soundless dark" is the thought that one of the reasons Democrats were so surprised by the election is that we all assumed Hillary would do at least as well as President Obama did in 2012.
This was dumb.
Never mind that the circumstances were different. Never mind that the Republicans didn’t nominate Mitt Romney again. Never mind that they didn't nominate a Romney-like alternative---which there couldn’t be one of, anyway. The closest there was at the outset was Jeb, and look at how fast he disappeared. And Kasich never showed any signs he could have caught on given more time. If it wasn’t Trump, it would have been Cruz. Never mind any of that. The most important fact is that Hillary was not Barack Obama.
I don’t mean that she wasn’t the incumbent President. I don’t mean that she simply wasn’t as good a candidate. I mean that he was special.
I think there are many white “progressives” who still don’t appreciate what Barack Obama means to African Americans and other people of color. On the contrary, they seem to actively dismiss the idea that his meaning has any meaning, if you know what I mean. They’ve even made the case that he shouldn’t mean so much to people, that, in fact, "they" should be as disappointed in him as they are themselves---or claim to be. It’s hard to be disappointed in someone you’ve been rooting against since he turned out not to be the socialist you wanted him to be.
But I also think that a lot of us white Democrats who do appreciate how much he means to our fellow Democrats of color, to whom he also means a lot, and not just for how he assuages our white liberal guilt, don’t truly appreciate how special he is.
He's made mistakes. He's done things that would get him consigned to hell if there was a hell and a just God without mercy. But they all made mistakes. They were all damnable for one thing or another. And much of what he’d hope to leave as his legacy won’t survive through next year. But, all that considered, he’s the best President those of us who weren’t here for FDR have seen, and the best man to hold the office maybe since Lincoln. He’s not just smarter, more capable, more effective than anyone since Franklin Roosevelt. He’s a great human being. Great as in good and as in all around superior. Not to mention he is extremely charismatic and, more important, likable.
And still he didn’t win 40 states when he ran for re-election.
And the reason he didn’t was the reason most candidates for President don’t win 40 states.
Doesn’t matter how good a candidate is as much as it matters how partisan the voters are.
Democrats voted for him. Republicans voted against him.
And that’s what happened this time out.
It’s unfair to Hillary to expect her to have done as well as President Obama for the simple fact she is not Barack Obama. She couldn’t be. Nor could anyone else have been. (No, not Bernie either. Especially not Bernie.) So I don’t think it tells us anything about what happened to compare what she did to what he did except that along with the Electoral College maybe we should ditch the 22nd Amendment too. Instead, I think we should compare her to other, more typical Democratic candidates. John Kerry, for instance.
Kerry won Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, all right. But he lost Iowa, Florida, and Ohio too, just as she did. But he also lost New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia. Hillary got almost 7 million more votes than he did, although it amounted to about the same percentage of the total electorate. Meanwhile, Trump got close to a million more votes than Bush did, but it amounted to over 3 percent less of the total electorate. Basically, then, Hillary did better than Kerry and Trump did worse than Bush. This suggests that Hillary was a better candidate than Kerry. You can argue that Kerry was a terrible candidate but you can also argue that so was Bush, and Kerry did pretty well against an incumbent “war president” who hadn’t yet let a major United States city drown and whose war wasn’t yet widely perceived to have been lost. My point is that while Hillary did better than Kerry all around against a tougher opponent---Yes, he was a tough opponent, despite his awfulness as a human being and his incompetency as a candidate for President.---she still lost three key states that Kerry won but won four states that he didn’t. So what happened in those states?
I’ll tell you what I think again.
Or, in the cases of Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, and Virginia, Democrats happened.
Here are some facts that have to be reckoned with.
Florida has a Republican governor and legislature and one United States Senator. Pennsylvania only recently got rid of its Republican governor but it’s kept its Republican legislature and its Republican senator. Michigan has a Republican governor and a Republican governor, although thankfully both its senators are Democrats. Wisconsin has a Republican governor who is generally considered a jerk and a screw up but has won three elections and it has a Republican legislature and a not particularly popular Republican senator who just won re-election against a Democrat people thought was a sure-winner.
Ohio, meanwhile, has a wildly popular Republican governor, a Republican legislature, and just re-elected its incumbent Republican senator, although, in contrast to the guy up and over in Wisconsin, he was fairly popular and his Democratic opponent was a proven loser with Ohio voters, having been rejected when he ran for re-election as governor in 2010.
Iowa has a Republican governor, a Republican legislature, and two Republican senators.
That’s a lot of Republicanism.
And all this Republicanism happened before and independently of Donald Trump.
What it looks like is that those states have flipped or are flipping or in danger of flipping the way the Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, and Virginia have and as it’s expected North Carolina soon will and Georgia and Arizona might very well might and Texas likely will, although that’s taking a lot longer than expected.
Could a different candidate have made the electoral map look more like 2012 or more like 2024? Good possibility but I don’t know who that would have been.
But going into 2020, the question is, can whoever wins the nomination take back Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania? A lot depends on how Democrats fare in those states in 2018.
But as for 2016, it looks to me that Trump didn’t win because the White Working Class voted for him. He won because Republicans voted Republican.
So while I still want to know where all those Democrats and other potential Clinton voters went and why and if their disappearance is the reason she lost Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, I also want to know who those Republicans are and why they voted for a man as God-awful as Donald Trump.
I suspect the answer is that in every way that matters to them Trump strikes them as a perfectly acceptable Republican. Which ain’t pretty to contemplate.
Fun fact: Trump got 2 million more votes than Romney did, but it amounted to 1.2 percent less of the electorate. More people voted this year but a lower percentage voted Republican. Clinton, meanwhile, got only around 100,000 fewer votes than Obama did, but that amounted to only about 48 percent of the total electorate compared to his 51. A three percent drop off in the Democratic totals didn’t result in a 3 percent rise in the Republican totals or any rise at all. I don’t know enough to say what that means, except that what it looks like is that a lot of voters didn’t vote for either Hillary or Trump because they voted for Stein or Johnson or McMullin or because they stayed home. I’m still waiting to hear from them by way of polls and analyses based on those and extensive interviews with them what they did and why. Mostly we’re still hearing from Trump voters who, like I said, don’t ever seem to get asked what made their vote for Trump different from their past voting or their voting for down ticket candidates this year.
Another fun fact: Trump got about 3 million more votes than McCain but it amounted to only .3 percent more of the total electorate.
I got my numbers are from Wikipedia and I’ve done some rounding off. If you want the exact numbers and check me for innumeracy---and I'd regard it as a favor if you did---here are the links for the articles on 2016, 2012, 2008, and, since I’ll be getting to it, 2004.