The fatal weight of the Clinton baggage

    Hillary Clinton pauses while speaking in New York

    Hillary Clinton pauses while speaking in New York

    The final tally tells the tale: Donald Trump was eminently beatable – but Hillary Clinton was the wrong candidate to do it.

    Hard to believe, but true: For all the boiling rage that has propelled him to the presidency, Trump garnered 1.3 million fewer votes than Mitt Romney got while losing in 2012. Heck, Trump has 300,000 fewer votes than John McCain got when McCain was blown out in 2008. And yet, Trump won.

    Why? Because Clinton disastrously underperformed – pulling six million fewer votes than Barack Obama received in 2012, and 10 million votes than Obama tallied in 2008. She failed to turn out minorities in sufficient numbers. She failed to turn out women in sufficient numbers. She failed to turn out millennials in sufficient numbers. She failed to turn out whites in various Rustbelt pockets that voted for Obama in decent numbers.

    Many factors explain her failure. I cited a few yesterday. But this new anecdote says a lot:

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    Mrs. Clinton’s campaign tested out 84 slogans. There was “She’s Got Your Back,” “Strength You Can Count On” and “Real Fairness, Real Solutions.”

    “Do we have any sense from her what she believes or wants her core message to be?” Joel Benenson, the campaign’s chief strategist and pollster, asked the chairman of her campaign, John D. Podesta, ahead of a New Hampshire speech, according to a hacked email that was among the thousands released by WikiLeaks.

    Seriously, her strategist had to ask that question. It highlights a core problem that dogged Clinton all the way back to the ’08 primaries: An inability to craft a core rationale for her candidacy. And lacking a resonant message, she remained vulnerable to the widely held perception that she was merely an establishment insider motivated by a sense of entitlement.

    And thanks to her hubris and tone-deaf political instincts, she proceeded to fuel that perception.

    Yeah, the email flap was overblown. But she weaponized it for her opponents in the first place. As I wrote in March ’15, shortly before she formally launched her second candidacy, her decision as Secretary of State to use a private server – in her words, for “convenience” – defied the Federal Records Act, which requires that all top feds use government email accounts. I said it was “classic Clinton secrecy,” an attempt to shield her correspondence from Freedom of Information requests.

    Then, after she got busted for the practice, she played bob-and-weave with the press, and later insisted, via circumlocution and deceptive wordplay, that she’d never emailed any classified material. In fact, she had. James Comey’s various statements in the final days of this campaign – casting baseless suspicions, absolving the baseless suspicions – certainly didn’t help. But the original sin was hers.

    I’ll still argue that Trump’s national security ignorance and Putin flirtations surpass the email flap on the serious scale. But fairly or not, millions of potential anti-Trump voters opted to stay home in part because Clinton’s handling of the issue like the behavior of an entitled Washingtonian behaving like a deceptive Washingtonian. Thus personifying the dreaded status quo.

    And giving well-paid speeches to Goldman Sachs…really, what was she thinking? We’ve since seen the transcripts, which are basically boilerplate, but it boggles the mind why a Democrat planning to run for president would not understand that her behavior would be viewed as arrogant. Especially at a time when so many working-stiff voters are ticked off at Wall Street and hostile to the trade deals – most notably NAFTA – that her husband championed.

    And we had the Clinton marriage. It was ridiculous to suggest that Bill’s philanderings somehow disqualified Hillary, but it’s likely that many potential voters old enough to remember the couple’s ’90s baggage had no interest in replaying the ’90s.

    The inescapable explanation for the dampened Democratic turnout – despite HIllary’s decisive victories in all three presidential debates – is that millions of potential voters were ill-enthused about bringing back the Clintons for another round. Which will surely prompt many Democrats to revisit the party’s decision to clear the field for Hillary in the first place, believing (or convincing themselves to believe) that her dogged resilience would trump her flaws. I’m not convinced that Bernie Sanders could’ve won this election – imagine what Republicans would have done with the “Jewish socialist” tag – but it’s clear, especially in hindsight, that his left-populist candidacy foreshadowed the tepid Clinton turnout.

    She was gracious yesterday during her concession speech, but it played like an exit from the national scene (along with Bill, the architect of the party’s ’90s revival, who looked like a broken man). Democrats now face a long struggle over their future – will the Obama coalition (upscale educated whites, minorities, and young people) die with Obama’s departure? should they try to recapture the working-class whites who’ve bailed on the party? – but the first order of business is obvious:

    Break with the Clintons, break with the past. Build a bench of talented new faces. Find a better presidential candidate.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.


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