Published in The Moderate Voice on December 12, 2016
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Most recently, Robby Mook was the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, a position that obviously requires many talents. But in light of the misses that led to the outcome, I’m not sure I’d put Mook on my team if my odds of winning an election going in were 99-1.
Admittedly, I’m just an arm-chair quarterback. I’ve never aspired to be on a campaign, only to issue commentary on the hits and misses. But I am well-versed enough to know that in guiding Clinton’s campaign, Mook violated the cardinal rule of the path to the White House. Not seeing to it that your own ducks are in a row before expanding. In this case, the “ducks” was the “blue firewall,” and Mook’s failure to sufficiently make sure they were in line was nothing short of political malpractice.
Explaining that rule really comes down to two words. Basic math. As American now know from general civics– or as they found out through the long, elongated campaign, 270 is the magic number for winning the White House. It doesn’t matter that Clinton has garnered 2.9 million more votes than Trump and very nearly exceeded the 65.9 million votes that President Obama received in his successful 2012 re-election, the Presidency is won by electoral votes, not actual ballots cast. And somewhere along the line, team Clinton took their eyes off the ball in two but arguably three of the states that proved climactic and ultimately decisive for Donald Trump securing the presidency. Failure to launch until it was too late in Michigan and Wisconsin proved costly and while the Clinton team did play hard in Pennsylvania, a couple of strategic errors clearly tipped the scales to Trump.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out a couple of factors that hugely impacted the results. The Comey letter was obviously the 800 pound elephant in the room and as the Clinton camp contended, it is a certainty that it made the difference. Team Clinton needed to flip just 5,000 votes in Michigan and 11,000 in Wisconsin (and at this writing 22,000 in Pennsylvania) so that by itself would indicate that the letter did her in. But had they been playing offense from the beginning, they would have been able to deal with it.
Going into the final stretch, the Clinton campaign was feeling euphoric, so much so that they were trying to breakthrough in Arizona and Georgia and hold on to Ohio and Iowa which, ordinarily would not be a bad strategy weeks before an election you’re poised to win. Certainly, they had the money. But something was sneaking up in the “blue wave” which, had they been monitored since the party’s national convention in July, wouldn’t have come as the election night shock. Incidentally, Hillary Clinton’s numbers man once boasted to have been able to identify every voter. How’d that work out?
Consider. Clinton did not pay a Wisconsin a single visit during the general election and her appearances in Michigan until the very end were minimal. I had one reporter from the Wolverine State tell me just prior to Election Day that excitement in the state was swirling around Trump while the Clinton campaign was attempting to put together an apparatus in one week – having realized that the polls were now tied.
It is true, the Marquette University poll released six days before the election found Clinton with a 6% lead and Marquette is of course the gold standard of the Badger State. But Wisconsin is a battleground’s battleground. It gave Gore and John Kerry less than one point margins of victory and was fairly competitive in 2012 even with Janesville native Paul Ryan on the ticket. To take the eye off of it without an organization was inexcusable but, more consequentially, the small margin could have been accounted for over the summer. After all, Bernie Sanders’ shocking win in the Michigan primary and his comfortable margin in Wisconsin came largely through working class voters. Democrats should have realized that fence tending was necessary. Instead, they went AWOL and many of those voters went to Trump.
Pennsylvania is harder to fault completely. It certainly was not ignored and unlike Michigan and Wisconsin, a plethora of polls were released weekly. Also different was that Clinton did beat Sanders in the primary. And in fairness, it behooves me to point out that a Clinton victory there would’ve been required even if she had prevailed in the other two. But there were obvious strategic errors which, looking back, defy imagination.
Two tweets from Dave Wasserman of the <em>Cook Political Report</em> tell the story of the belief in Clintonland.
Wasserman was among the very few analysts who assessed, as early as this past Spring, that the Keystone State, despite last voting Republican at the national level in 1988, could be ripe for the taking this year. Recently, he tweeted a sentiment from Brian Fallon of the Clinton campaign, which said “if you’d known her Election Day performance in Philly and (the) collar counties in advance, you’d likely have assumed a PA victory.” I’d give them that – I would have made the same assumption.
A further observation by Wasserman in an October column just before the Pennsylvania registration deadline, a time Clinton appeared to be on clear sailing spoke of the “forgotten voter.” This typically refers to the white working-class. Wasserman said Trump had potential among that demographic, but expressed serious registration that his campaign was putting much effort into identifying those voters and registering them.
Once the deadline passed, it appeared that some did register, but by itself not nearly enough given the expected swing toward Clinton in the collar counties. Wasserman’s tweet read, “In the 15 months since Trump announced his run, net registration gains in heavily white, rural and GOP-leaning counties have been unremarkable. Although Trump may be converting plenty of existing voters to his side, there’s really very little evidence that previous non-voters are coming out of the woodwork in large numbers for him.”
But for all of the lines uttered or tweeted by Donald Trump that were branded as heinous or irresponsible, Clinton’s vow to “put coal out of business” was among the worst. Now I don’t know whether that line was extemporaneous or tucked into her speech but anyone following the rise of Donald Trump knows that it emanated from a handful of things. Resentment among the working class tops the list. Just as Barack Obama brought demographics receptive to him out in unusually massive numbers in 2008 (and to a lesser extent 2012), it should have been assumed that Trump’s message would resonate in large numbers.
There were other missteps. The Clinton campaign was focusing on states like Iowa until the bitter end. The Hawkeye State had just six electoral votes and was not necessary to secure the Presidency. It was also slipping away as early as September. More visits could have been made to Pennsylvania. In fact, more visits could have been made just about everywhere. Trump was doing 5-6 rallies a day. Clinton until the final weekend was getting in 2-3 and not starting until mid-afternoon.
A few other points. Why wasn’t an issue made of Steve Bannon’s role during the campaign? Why didn’t they talk more about the Supreme Court, or electng the first female President? That would’ve brought out a few swing voters? That brings us to the polls? Did their polling not reach rural Pennsylvania?
In short, devastating mistakes were made that, even with Comey, could have been avoided with more precision. The fact that this precision was not applied gives Democrats four years to ponder how to not let it happen again.