The Boring Story of the 2016 Election

Matt Yglesias is basically right about what happened in the 2016 election. Despite the elaborate theories that have been floated over the past few months, the real story as told by the exit polls is very boring: Donald Trump won because Hillary Clinton was an extremely unpopular candidate.

Donald Trump did not win because of a surge of white support. Indeed he got less white support than Romney got in 2012. Nor did Trump win because he got a surge from other race+gender groups. The exit polls show him doing slightly better with black men, black women, and latino women than Romney did, but basically he just hovered around Romney’s numbers with every race+gender group, doing slightly worse than Romney overall.

However, support for Hillary was way below Obama’s 2012 levels, with defectors turning to a third party. Clinton did worse with every single race+gender combo except white women, where she improved Obama’s outcome by a single point. Clinton did not lose all this support to Donald. She lost it into the abyss. Voters didn’t like her but they weren’t wooed by Trump.

Some Pundits Understood This
What’s a bit odd about the post-election punditry is that a good number of pundits understood these basic demographic mechanics well in advance of the election outcome. For instance, Jamelle Bouie perfectly nailed it in February of 2016:

If these issues [of Trump creating deep antipathy among women, people of color, and young people] are borne out in a general election, then Trump will have an even larger problem than negative attacks. He’ll have a negative electoral map. With abysmal ratings among blacks and Latinos, Trump is uniquely unsuited to this year’s demographics, which—all things equal—has a modest tilt toward Democrats. With Marco Rubio or John Kasich, Republicans might have a chance with minority voters. With Trump, that’s gone. To win, he would need to bring a massive influx of new white voters and create a further swing towards Republicans among existing white voters, all without alienating moderate whites or sparking counter-mobilization from nonwhites.

As Bouie notes, if Trump’s politicking caused an enormous swing in the voting choices of women, people of color, and young people towards the Democratic nominee (here Clinton), then the only way he could have won is by running up the score among white voters. It turns out Trump’s politicking did not cause any noticeable swing of the voting choices of women, people of color, and young people, and so he did not need to run up the score among white voters, which is something he failed to do entirely.

Unsatisfying Story
So the overall story the data tells us is that Trump won with less white support than Romney because he managed to hold strong enough with female and nonwhite voters and because Clinton was so unpopular that she bled a significant enough portion of Obama’s coalition into the abyss.

The lack of attention to this story of Trump’s win makes sense because it is satisfying to basically nobody.

Liberals do not like it because they want Trump to mean some of their identitarian arguments are true and because it is extremely humiliating to the liberal establishment in general that their hand-picked candidate was world-historically weak. After writing delusional arguments saying the plain fact of Clinton being bad at politics (something Clinton herself admits) was actually wrong, it’s easy to understand why the post-election truth that Clinton lost because she’s very bad at politics is not one they rush to embrace.

Conservatives do not like it because they want Trump to mean at least something about how voters are not happy with liberal overreach.

And leftists do not like it because they want Trump to mean at least something about how the Democratic party’s refusal to embrace a transformative economic message is dooming it.

Some of these narratives could even be true in general about our political moment. But they are not explanations of what happened here. Clinton lost because Clinton was a really bad candidate. If you had replaced her with almost anyone else, they would have beaten Donald Trump. Bernie would have won. O’Malley would have won. And Barack Obama would have dominated in an absolute landslide.

  • JerseyCowboy

    Any of the other Republicans would have beaten Hillary in the popular vote, too. They were both hated so much.

  • CapnVan

    “If you had replaced her with almost anyone else, they would have beaten Donald Trump.”

    That remains an important point. If you go back and look at the pre-primary polling, you’ll find that 53% of likely voters said that they would not vote for Clinton, period.

    She actually managed to improve on that slightly, likely because Trump was even more unpopular.

    As far as I can recall, this is the only election when either party, let alone both, nominated candidates with negative approval ratings.

    That’s What Happened.

  • SusanSunflower

    I was intrigued when her campaign said they were going to address her negatives — what a feat to re-establish trust where it had either never existed or been losts! — but they never did.
    Ultimately, by her logic, the server scandal cost her the election … the insanity of running for president while under active FBI investigation should be glaringly apparent. I thought the hubris demonstrated in the Judicial Watch Foundation-related e-mails sufficient to call her character and judgement into question. “No quid pro quo” was frankly an embarassing retort.

  • blog

    Running a candidate that the opposition had spent 20 years pounding on, and who was under investigation by the F.B.I, was a suicide mission (leaving aside that by and large Americans largely dislike politicians who have been around for a while).
    https://trumpstudies.wordpress.com/2016/12/06/on-her-favorables/

  • squilliam fancyson

    idk why these results are inconsistent the narratives you point out. i suppose the argument can be made that trump, despite his open rhetoric of white supremacy and extremist positions, still put up mainstream republican numbers. that reveals at least something about our country’s underlying politics — whether it represents a read on the level of racism or economic populism, or more likely, both. that hillary clinton was unpopular cannot be considered in a vacuum either, as her politics and the ideas voters have about her politics relate to her wider party and ideology.

  • spongeson

    if anyone is a white supremacist it’s hillary clinton. she owned black prison slaves . show me when trump did

  • thatindividual

    Oh, do give it up.

  • Mickey Dugan

    It wasn’t simply that Hillary was an historically awful candidate — it’s that her party, her supporters, and her media cohort never saw it and never imagined it. Whereas regular American voters had seen it for decades. Voters lost not only confidence in the candidate and the party, they lost confidence in journalism and the whole damn system. Hillary was the Warmongering Emperor Wearing No Clothes at Her Own Fairy Tale Coronation. It Takes a Potemkin Village.

  • Joshua Heffernan

    She received the most votes, more than Trump. Are all those millions of people that voted for her not “regular Americans”?

  • Time to pretend once again that her defeat was actually a victory…

  • Joshua Heffernan

    Not at all. She lost, and it was mostly her own fault. But I do object to the “regular Americans” characterization.

  • thatindividual

    Exactly.

  • Gary1234

    That’s like saying her team gained more yards while his team merely kicked the winning field goal.

  • Joshua Heffernan

    It’s actually nothing like that, but thanks for playing.

  • Nym w/o Qualities

    There’s another problem with the “she won by 3 million!” mantra. It’s true, but it’s equally true that outside of three blue states that were never in play — CA, IL, NY — HRC *lost* the popular vote by *4 million.* To put a finer point on it, given why those 3 states are blue, she basically got smoked outside of Metro NYC, Metro Chicago, the Bay Area and Greater L.A. I agree with the blue voters! But Dems have a real problem with vote concentration. [And no — Trump’s votes weren’t nearly as concentrated in any 3 states.]

  • JPRVS

    Clinton won urban centers, (most) wealthy suburbs, and college towns. They are dotted all over the national map, and exist in almost every state. The vote concentration issue is real, but it’s not limited to three states. It’s an issue almost everywhere.

  • Nym w/o Qualities

    Didn’t say it’s limited to 3 states. But CA, IL & NY are each bluer than any red states are red. It’s another way of looking at the “she won by 3 million” thing. The rest of the country is collectively a GOP blowout.

  • JPRVS

    Clinton won California by +30 points (NY by “only” +23).

    However, even using the +30 threshold, Trump won Wyoming by +47, Oklahoma by +37, North Dakota by +36, Idaho by +32, West Virginia by +41, Kentucky by +30, South Dakota +30. e.g. states that are just as red and in some case redder than CA is blue.

    If we are looking at states with +23 GOP margin add in TN, Indiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Nebraska and Alaska into the mix. e,g. states that are just as red and in some cases redder than NY is blue.

    The population of all those states is nearly equal to CA alone. Collectively they are almost twice the size of NY and more than IL and NY combined.

    You can slice and dice the population anyway you want. If we look at just 30 and under vote, Clinton wins 48 states. Restrict it to 65+ Clinton wins almost none. I’m not really sure what the point is.

    Generally speaking, the Dem vote tends to be concentrated in population centers + college towns. The GOP vote tends to be in areas with lower population density.

    We don’t vote strictly based on population. We don’t vote strictly based on landmass and square footage either.

    Take Texas and Florida away from Trump and Clinton wins the popular vote by an even larger margin AND the Electoral College.

    What’s the point?

  • Nym w/o Qualities

    I know where the votes are. Since we started talking about millions of votes, I’m talking about margins of millions of votes. Zero states gave Trump the raw vote margins HRC got in CA, IL or NY. The point is, “She won 3 million more votes” is one valid way to slice it, but “She lost by 4 million in 47+ states” is also true and relevant to understanding that GOP votes are more widely dispersed and aren’t “wasted” making big red states redder. Dems could win every vote in CA and console themselves with winning the pop vote by 6 million or whatever, but it wouldn’t improve the electoral map. That’s all.

  • JPRVS

    Technically, she lost an aggregate of 4 million votes in 12 Trump blow-out states with a combined population of 35 million. But I agree with the broader point.

    Those states in the aggregate have 74 EVs, while NY and IL only have 49 (and roughly the same population). CA has 55 EVs and a population of 40 million.

  • Mark Cardozo

    Excellent points.

  • thatindividual

    That is also where voter fraud is highest, with large concentrations of illegal immigrants in urban centers, and in addition those who organize them for voter fraud.

  • JPRVS

    Poor communities tend to have a much lower rate of participation.

    We have spent tens of millions of dollars investigating “voter fraud” over the course of years, and it rarely happens.

    We live in a country where the majority of people do not vote. Immigrant communities and poor people generally participate at a much lower rate than upper income people in suburbs.

    Decades ago with some old immigrant communities — Irish, Italians — the practice of vote buying was likely a lot more common. But people aren’t going to risk their immigration status in order to vote.

    To the extent that there are fraudulent ballots they tend to be cast by rich people who register in multiple states and have multiple homes. There are incidents involving fraud with respect to mail-in ballots as well (e.g. the GOP’s favored technique).

    A number of people on Trump’s staff, including family members, are registered in multiple states. Those are the kind of practices that are ripe for voter fraud. Trump’s nominee for U.S. Trade Representative moved from VA to MD last year, and still went ahead and cast an illegal vote in Virginia at a time when he claimed Maryland residency (e.g. he sold his home in July 2016, and purchased a home in MD in 2016 — he still cast a vote in VA). Will the GOP prosecute him? My guess is probably not. Trump and the people around him probably look at the willingness to engage in illegal behavior as a credential and a strong reason to continue to support his nomination. We’ll see.

  • thatindividual

    Illegal aliens are voting. There are people organizing them to vote in very large numbers. In CA alone it is estimated 3 million illegal aliens voted. That alone accounts for the 3 million popular votes some claim Clinton won by.

    This alone is the primary reason Democrats do not want voter fraud investigated, and fight so hard against voter ID laws. There is no innocent reason to fight against voter ID laws.

    More people would vote for Trump today than on election day.

  • davidnrobyn

    As a guy from MT, I’m really, really tired of the “poor people” low-income excuse. If you’ll check on the per-capita income stats, you’ll see that MT is in the bottom three, unless something’s changed drastically. But there are almost none of the problems there that afflict “low-income” areas. If income were the only determinant, MT should be up to the eyeballs in crime. THERE ARE OTHER FACTORS. I call it the Wendy’s effect. If you go into a Wendy’s (or other fast-food restaurant) in MT, you see fresh-faced, sharp, attractive young people who are happy to take your order and deliver it with timeliness and a smile. If you go into a Wendy’s in a major West Coast city which I won’t name (and no, it’s not LA, SF, or Seattle) you get apathetic, strung-out zombies with needle tracks in their arms. And, as a bonus, you’re considered a dirtball unless you make a certain amount of money. The economic snobbery was something that took me some time to get used to. But I still refuse to play the game.

  • verycold

    Millions in CA never voted. Ever look to see how to vote in CA. Talk about no rules.

  • russianbot3984723893

    The problem with all these numbers games is that many people do not vote because the state they live in always votes the same way and their vote will not affect the outcome. There is no way to even somewhat accurately count who, how many, and what they would have done with their vote.

  • Alice Morland

    Oh c’mon, Hillary cheated, all the Dems cheated, they used bogus voters in, have illegals drivers licenses and just the fact that Hillary now spends her time in Costco’s milk isle with 30 people lined up for her book tells you how popular she REALLY is.

  • homegirl

    “Where do you get your information, a bubble gum machine?”

  • eastbay

    She won all the illegals and dead voters by a overwhelming margin.

  • DJ

    She received 2.8 million more votes than Trump bc of California. She lost, however, every single toss-up state (including three solid blue states that haven’t gone red since 1988).

  • thatindividual

    We don’t really know that without voter fraud correction, and the powers that be will never allow that to be investigated.

  • Mark Cardozo

    Who cares? This is not how presidential elections are determined in the U.S. Clinton was not stupid. She knew the rules when she decided to run (and vastly outspent Trump). Whether or not the electoral college is a good idea or a bad idea is a separate argument. You don’t change the rules of the game after the game is over. BTW, I believe the electoral college is a good idea. It was put into place so that scenarios like California and New York picking our president wouldn’t happen. The fact is, if you eliminate that super-progressive liberal bastion of California, Trump wins the popular vote also. If the DNC doesn’t want to devolve into a coastal party of elites, it will have to reform itself and appeal to the entire country rather than split us into separate grievance groups. This identity politicking failed them this time around.I also believe in what Steve Bannon said. The cultural movement is towards populism. Whether or not it is a left-wing or right-wing populism is yet to be determined. Perhaps we’ll know in 2020.

  • Konrad_Lorenz

    Dems should just focus on splitting California into more states. If the west coast had as many states as the east coast they’d always win.

  • davidnrobyn

    Okay, looks like I need to trot out the baseball analogy again. In baseball, as in other sports, a win is a win. It doesn’t matter in the records if it’s 1-0 or 12-0. The object is to win the most games. In the electoral college, it’s the same story. The votes in this case are the runs. Hillary scored more runs than Trump, ostensibly, but Trump won more games. Where Hillary won, she won big (e.g., urban areas) but she lost a lot of close ones. The games are states. That’s modified greatly by the fact that some states, like CA, are very heavily weighted while others, like MT, are very lightly weighted. Because of that, Trump’s victory was much broader than merely taking more states. He had to take a LOT more states. And he did.

  • WHY was she unpopular, is what you guys always ignore. Why would a generic white dude have beat Trump, but not HRC? It is so frustrating to see a pundit sphere dominated by white men who stoked gendered hatred with “emails” nonsense just ignore this hugely important aspect of Hillary’s public identity, being a woman and the kind of woman (not submissive/warm/etc) that we hate the most.

  • Solai

    Elizabeth Warren would’ve won.

  • Sure white dudes. We’ve achieved gender equality meanwhile our president is a noxious famous misogynist. I WANT TO LIVE INSIDE YOU GUYS’ MINDS where everything is equal. IT SOUNDS SO NICE.

  • Solai

    What’s so discouraging here is that you’re sure that we’re not taking your argument in good faith. But you’re also doing the same. You’re not entertaining the notion that she had flaws in her candidacy that were not gendered, that were the lions share of her problems. Isn’t the simpler answer that her platform and ideology were rejected?

    Personally, I was a Hillary supporter until February, and I’d still prefer to see a woman in the white house.

  • sfhand

    Why do I get the feeling that your views are polarized by race and gender?

  • eqreynolds

    Question, do you not think that all the sexist attacks on the “BernieBros” had an effect on their support of Clinton?

    Since the election, and especially since Clinton’s two books, the sexism has gotten even worse, with misogyny castigated relentlessly toward anyone unwilling to say Clinton was the best candidate ever.

    What a lot of women can’t understand is that a lot of men disliked Clinton on a gut level that had little to do with her gender. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kristen Gillibrand, Jennifer Granholm, Barbara Boxer, Michelle Obama are all fantastic women in politics. There are even Republican women who I admire for standing on principles beneficial to the public. Hillary Clinton just wasn’t one of them. She simply came across as too inauthentic and ungenuine.

    Starting a gender war and driving away potential voters because of pique and spite seems to be the surest way for the Democrats to continue losing elections, and by default to delay righting the gender wrongs you so fervently believe need correcting.

  • RV

    You need a dose of some good old fashioned mansplaining.

  • squilliam fancyson

    obama would have won. maybe there’s a legitimate reason most of the population doesn’t like rich old white people who feel entitled to the spoils of american public life. maybe you don’t feel the same way because this hits too close to home, idk. but the majority of america seems to be on my side on this one. dont remember jeb bush doing very well either

  • coniinthegarden

    And people often don’t get how Trump could attract people who hate old rich white people. Trump, despite his wealth, he doesn’t belong to the same “club.” He is despised by NY elite, considered a vulgar nouveau riche. Is ignorant about world politics, history, government. Can’t spell. That actually HELPED him with his base. The rest of the Republicans simply went with it. It’s certainly to their credit they didn’t try to rig elections because they didn’t like who was winning the primaries.

  • Unhiddenness

    It’s more to do with Bill Clinton’s presidency, rather than anything to do with gender. A lot of people have bad memories of that era.

  • jimsilverman

    I think we’re underestimating the disaffection for the ruling political class. Clinton campaigned on this: being the most politically qualified, being part of the status quo. Anecdotal, but my parents voted for Trump because they didn’t want to see “the Clintons back in the White House.”

  • coniinthegarden

    We will never know exactly why Hillary is not liked and what you are saying is only speculation, really based on nothing. Eg. I don’t perceive Hillary Clinton as “strong.” To me, she is just annoying as she makes all those “strong woman” faces. Real strength comes from the inside. I’m actually not a big fan of Warren for many of reasons, but she has that “inner strength.” Hillary is also preachy which I absolutely hate in anybody. There is definitely personality element in people’s dislike for Hillary that has nothing to do with her being a woman.
    This is not to say that sexism didn’t play a role. There are still men around who just don’t want to see women in position of power. But I think it’s a mistake, and it’s a mistake that’s narrowing your vision, Angie, to connect Hillary’s unlikability to sexism.

  • ae

    Sexism did play a role: many people voted for her only because she is a female.

  • Robert Allyn

    To make this claim––that Clinton was so deeply unpopular primarily because of an institutionalized sexism––you would have to account for the fact that Trump won white women, which seems very hard to reconcile. Sexism was of course a major factor in her unpopularity––both in 2016 alone and in historically shaping her public image since the nineties––but it’s clearly not satisfying as the deciding factor in the election, nor is it a politically useful lesson. (The other story you would have to tell is that America is more sexist than it is racist, more sexist than every other institutionally sexist country that has had a woman head-of-state, and so on.)

  • Pete Needham

    Hillary Clinton could have recruited Oakland’s Barbara Lee, or Elizabeth Warren. Who did she go with? The incredibly tone-deaf Madeleine Albright, sleazes like Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and dipsticks like Neera Tanden. Rachael Maddow, of MSNBC, made it blatantly obvious that she’d enjoyed too many drinky-poos at the White House with her Russia-Russia-Russia noise.

  • linked1

    Sexism played an enormous role in the election. Many people voted for Hillary solely because she’s a woman. If she’s been a he, a man who was thirsty for war with Iran, Syria, Russia, after having already laughed about killing Qaddafi, and having voted for the illegal invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and for promoting fracking, coal, oil pipelines, bad trade deals, wall St/ bailouts – if a man had done those things he’d be as universally detested an Donald Trump.

  • efcdons

    But why did enough people refuse to “hold their nose” and vote for her? I think her messaging was bad and her “strategy” of targeting typically gop demographics (white, wealthier, college educated people) was bad even though so in a sense succeed in implementing the strategy looking at the voter breakdown. It’s just that it wasn’t successful enough to overcome the apparent negative impact it had on the “Obama coalition” voters.

  • People would have voted for Bernie without holding their nose…

  • thatindividual

    Trump would have beat him. You only think Bernie would have won because you never got to see Trump’s campaign against him.

  • Lewis

    I’m of two minds on this, because I DID see white supremacy in the election. It’s just a matter of seriously measuring its effects, which of course, is discouraged in a racist society.

    I think it’s undeniable many other candidates could have beat Trump had they teased out populist grievances, the death rates of the poor, etc. Opinion polls show Hillary is a hated figure, and even in the Democrats her “Strong Support” rating was about 15 points below Obama. From 2012 to 2016, strong support for the presidential candidate fell from 60 percent to 45 percent. Strong support for Romney/Trump went up from 38 to 45%. (Voter general election preferences, Pew research, July 7, 2016).

    A good summary of this election was it was an anti-establishment election, and Hillary distancing herself from Rahm Emanuel was not enough. She had to distance herself from Obama and was probably the worst person positioned to do that: having smeared him during earlier elections, and having routinely turned away grassroots activists, she left open a space for a fake populist. Single payer and minimum wage are overwhelmingly popular across the country and wouldn’t require any dialing into niche demographic or single-state grievances to sell. Hillary didn’t do that and voters punished her for it.

    But we should recall, fascists don’t always win with overwhelming majority. If one only looked at votes, we would have no idea what brought Hitler into power, he was appointed by the courts. So I disagree with the analysis that merely looking at how many whites voted for Trump proves racism wasn’t a crucial factor, particularly in the media.

    Starting with the analysis that a more popular candidate would have beaten Trump, racism did interfere with that too, some of it in the Democratic party. Democrats hemorrhaged support from every race category except White women, which is to be expected when your candidate is dragged on national TV for wanting to deport children. Why are we deporting them? They belong in their brown countries, “reunited with their families.” Their countries, their families, not ours. The white supremacist machine that allowed Obama in the country club when he distanced himself from his radical preacher (facilitated Andrew Sullivan’s very public forgiveness of him) was set on Bernie, and later the women’s march following the election. A story early on sabotaged the reputation of Bernie as an outsider. He was compared to the exotic Latino socialist, Hugo Chavez. They also enjoyed having this both ways. The specter of left populism was supposedly going to unleash hordes of angry white bros. Of course, this erased young men and women who are Black, Latinx, and Asian who supported for him. Further, as you well know, the argument that we are “not Denmark” builds on the racist idea that socialism is only tenable in small homogeneous societies, not large multi-cultural ones. One could argue the Democrats, with Big Law and Big Security Contractor at the helm, were not prepared to talk about the intersection of race and economics, but were in a kind of embarrassing, outrageous psychotic siege mentality. Some might recall people boasting “We don’t need your votes!”

    Going back to the Trump vote. Time magazine had testimonies of the voters in the Democratic party who voted for Obama and went to Trump. Most of this is just overall punishment of the bad showing of Democrats in the incumbency, and many and more would be persuaded with a better economic agenda. But they didn’t have to vote Republican, and if you look, it really did have tropes of racism, the vague Brexiter nationalist variety that Republicans have been popularizing for the last few decades. A voter from Michigan complained “Clinton would go out of her way to appeal to minorities, immigrants, but she didn’t really for everyday Americans.” Another person said “Oh, we gotta have these Mexicans here but we gotta have ‘em legally.”

    One of the biggest differences between 2016 and 2012 was the email leaks, and though they themselves were just straight reporting, we now know Assange really does like Trump and sympathizes with a kind nationalist agenda that puts women in their place as breeders for whites. Michael Tracey, somewhat more moderate, but one of the most committed and popular non-partisan agitators during the election, hyped the story-line about Syrian refugees being terrorists and downplayed fears of white racism as just homegrown ignorance, not cultivated race propaganda. Whether these actors produced Trump votes, independent votes, or apathetic non-voters is anyone’s guess, but it was definitely a conscious downplaying or even admiration of Trump’s racial agenda.

    You are right about Hillary being destined to lose, however racism is still a part of that. What Republicans did in 2016 and have been doing since the Southern Strategy was look for an issue that crosses state lines. Democrats have found that in single-payer, but it was too late. Republicans found that in racism and hatred of the Democratic party.

    1. http://www.people-press.org/2016/07/07/2-voter-general-election-preferences/
    2. http://time.com/voices-from-democratic-counties-where-trump-won-big/
    3. Assange tweet, 2 Sep 2017: “Capitalism+atheism+feminism = sterility = migration. EU birthrate = 1.6. Replacement = 2.1. Merkel, May, Macron, Gentiloni all childless.”

  • Max

    This is a good starting point. The next question is, why was Clinton so bad? You could point to her lack of charm or charisma or whatever, but apart from her intrinsic qualities, she had a couple of crippling handicaps. She wasn’t a fresh face, and the fact that everyone predicted her nomination meant that Republicans could train all their fire on her years in advance. Also, zero excitement generated from being 1st female major party candidate because of her staleness and inevitability.

  • The important point is that too many of her supporters were (and are) in obtuse, aggressive denial about her weaknesses.

  • coniinthegarden

    I wondered about it.

  • johnshaplin

    What you are saying- I agree- is that when push comes to shove in a national campaign demographics is not the deciding factor nor even the issues per se but the quality of the candidates: their ability to articulate their positions in such a way that voters feel that they are being honest and to some degree consistent; not just some ‘motor-mouth’ rationalization their own failures or the failures of the governments with which they are identified. Its not even that they or their government failed that upsets people. After all, everybody knows that ‘s..t’ happens- people accept ‘messy democracy’- its the failure of a candidate- its the magnaminity to accept that with a certain amount of grace and good humor that people are looking for not vain attempts to excuse those failures, to dress them up as something they really aren’t or to make up some technical argument about why this or that cannot or should be done. Every candidate has to shout some slogan and otherwise engage in the usual sandbox antics but they still have to project some sort of inner calm or comfort with their own buffoonery, being careful not to appear excessively self-righteous. That is, that have to BE American in a fundamental sense. Trump ended up being ‘the last man standing’, in that regard. In fact he had and continues to have a unique ability to provoke in his opponents precisely those kinds of attitudes and statements which aggravate voters to believe they are not fit for office. So in that case I DON”T agree that ‘Bernie would have won.” etc.

  • Andrew

    …and the electoral college means that simply getting more votes than your opponent isn’t a necessary nor sufficient condition for victory.

  • Andrew

    The second she picked Tim Kaine you knew that Comey would write an ill-advised letter about duplicate emails discovered on Anthony Weiner’s laptop?

    Can you tell me what tomorrow’s lottery numbers are?

  • MrWebster

    VP picks are dismissed as not effecting elections. But in this cased it did. Just one piece in the proverbial puzzle.. In particular, it was going to suppress African American voters. African American voters were absolutely critical in putting Clinton over the top in the primaries, and she how does she politically reward that critical group? She does not. Even when her cabinet picks came out African Americans were grossly under represented. While Clinton had the loyalty of the African American political class,–she generated no loyalty or excitement from that base.She musta believed the nonsense that her husband was in fact the first black president.

  • JPRVS

    If you remove sexism from the equation, Clinton probably does win with all the other advantages. But we knew that going in, and it was still a match up against an even more unpopular opponent with a 2 to 1 cash advantage.

    It shouldn’t have been close. Clinton didn’t need to be twice as good. But she and her campaign weren’t going to win by default either.

    I still think that if Clinton had gone a different direction with the VP, had prioritized ground organization in the midwest, had refrained from making the supporters of her opponent an issue (in both the primary AND the general election), she would have won too.

    Yglesias is correct that Clinton competed in PA, but her campaign wagered heavily on the Philly suburbs and didn’t do enough to minimize the damage in central and western PA. There was a heavy reliance on simply disqualifying Trump — no real effort to articulate an alternate vision other than “Not Trump” (which was still pretty persuasive, but not enough where the election was decided). The “deplorables” and “irredeemables” remark did a lot more damage than Comey with undecided voters in that state in particular.

    Of course, yes, Clinton was a bad candidate. The kind of strategic and tactical choices that a candidate can’t be separated from who a candidate is either, and Clinton made some really bad choices.

    Beyond Clinton, the nomination process itself was an issue. Effectively we got Al Gore 2.0. Even the Tim Kaine pick was a nice echo of the Joe Lieberman pick. Both candidates were good fundraisers, smart, and informed about policy. Both operated from a belief that critical swing votes are somewhere in the center of the electorate, and failed to come to terms with the reality of polarization. Both candidates also were lifted into political office by a family name and an existing political machine. Not by superior political judgment.

  • MrWebster

    Great quote: “Clinton did not lose all this support to Donald. She lost it into the abyss.” Clinton effectively suppressed the democratic party base. This explanation is also unsatisfying due to the Russia hysteria gripping the democratic party. The evolving thinking is that Putin knew that the Rust Belt states were in play, and focused the agitprop in MI, WI, Ohio, and PA.

  • Shall we blame the abyss?

  • TheBrett

    I don’t think this conflicts with the Comey explanation, as Yglesias points out. Clinton was already unpopular, the Comey bit was a major hit to her polling – and unlike Trump and the sexual assault stuff, she didn’t have most of a month to recover from it back to a baseline level of support.

    The big question for me is how much this dragged down the Democrats in other races. If they’d had a more popular candidate – regardless of whether they took a more Bernie-esque or Clinton-esque platform and message – would the Democratic Party have performed better in state and federal races overall? Would we have a Democratic Senate, more democratic state governments, etc? Yglesias seems to think so, but I don’t remember if there’s any empirical support for that.

  • JPRVS

    Obama’s coattails likely helped to carry close races in 2008 and 2012. There’s a lot of guesswork, but in the case of Wisconsin in 2012 Obama netted +220,000 more votes than Romney. The difference between him and the Dem Senate candidate (Tammy Baldwin) was -80,000 votes — Baldwin still won. On the GOP side the difference between Romney and Thompson was -20,000 votes.

    In 2016, the GOP Senate candidate in Wisconsin received +70,000 more votes than the GOP presidential nominee (really unusual — typically the headliner brings in more votes — in Wisconsin the GOP Senate race helped to carry the presidential nominee). The difference between Feingold and Clinton was only about 2,000 votes.

    One working hypothesis is that Dem presidential candidates tend to win and have bigger coattails when they bring in irregular and first time voters.

    Obama did that in 2008 and 2012. Clinton’s electorate looked more like the Gore/Kerry electorates of habituated Democrats. e.g. in terms of youth turnout, Clinton’s performance paralleled Gore/Kerry more than Obama.

    If Democrats want to win down ballot races in presidential years, they need to bring in a universe of irregular and first-time voters, because the core base of older habituated Dem voters is smaller than the GOP’s core of older habituated voters. e.g. “smaller” is not entirely accurate. The issue is also related to how that vote is distributed nationally. If the Dems are going to win majorities in Congress, particularly in the House, they need to turn out more than a simple majority nationally. They need large majorities similar to 2008 where Obama won by 9 million votes.

  • Bringing in irregular and first-time voters is something Sanders would have done!

  • JPRVS

    Absolutely.

  • SusanSunflower

    I thought the Clinton campaign “stick a fork in it” reaction to Comey doubled the damage … I was shocked and wondered what her consultants were thinking … Yes, it was dire, but Guiliani had already been hinting he had some bombshell scoop for a couple of days … Their reaction was neither “reassuring” about crisis management or professional, straying quickly into quite personal accusations about Comey (sabotage, professionalism, etc.)

  • Interesting perspective, though the closing doesn’t seem to follow:

    “If you had replaced her with almost anyone else, they would have beaten Donald Trump. Bernie would have won. O’Malley would have won.”

    My intuition tells me this is probably right — but I’m not sure we can state counterfactuals like this so matter of factly. The American people did not feel the weight of a contra-Bernie campaign leading up to the general. The “Bernie is a socialist” trope and the known and unknowns of his oppo research folder could have secured some serious mileage. Interestingly enough, my intuition actually tells me O’Malley would have had a higher chance of victory than Bernie.

  • Avedon

    I disagree with that whole premise. It was a change election and Clinton and O’Malley were not change candidates. Sanders was, and the fact that he wasn’t a Democrat actually made it more likely he could end-run around the fact that that we’d already had eight years of a Democratic administration. It was a very bad year for any status quo Democrat to be running. People wanted the change they’d hoped for eight years earlier and didn’t get. Sanders and Trump were the only ones proposing real change.

    Blame Comey or Russians or anyone else you like, but it’s hard for a party to get a third term in the White House even in good times, and these have not been good times. Even early on last summer, Clinton was running way too close to Trump, and when the announcement was made that Obamacare premiums would be shooting up, her numbers starting dropping. That’s bread & butter, the much more likely reason she lost traction. But, again, she was running too close. What made Sanders so exciting to many was that he was outside of the party establishment and sufficiently different that he just might have beat the odds.

  • “just might have” is quite different from “would have”. But I guess one doesn’t play as well.

  • Mike Powers

    “The American people did not feel the weight of a contra-Bernie campaign leading up to the general.”

    Nope. We know what a contra-Bernie campaign would have felt like, because we saw it from Clinton.

  • Ben Johannson

    Matt,

    Your theory doesn’t explain why Donald Trump, the sole non-orthodox Republican candidate who made economic issues the center of his campaign, defeated sixteen other candidates.

    It doesn’t explain why Martin O’Malley wasn’t Hillary Clinton’s primary challenger rather than Bernie Sanders, the other non-orthodox candidate who made economics the center of his campaign.

    It doesn’t explain why so many people turned to the only candidates using the rhetoric of the Old Left.

    It ignores that trade was an big issue and only two candidates were believably hammering it.

    It ignores that Americans were deeply dissatisfied with Obamacare.

    And it ignores the growing evidence that votes for Trump correlate with casualty figures in our Forever War.

  • johndoe3433

    Because russian trolls! WE ARE EVERYWHERE. EXPECT US.

  • thatindividual

    You have learned nothing. Congratulations. “But,…muh identity politics!”

  • Sepiano

    If we are going to talk about HRC’s unpopularity, can we also talk about the Russian-paid trolling amplifying the negative comments and promoting lies about her, the interminable Republican fake-scandal investigations, the RT-fanned hit pieces against the Democratic party? There were a lot of forces doing their utmost to create negatives out of thin air, badly decontexted sound bites, shouting from the mountain tops that were actually molehills, etc. The “simple” message, to me, is about how we underestimated the damage done by all this “legal” calumny.

  • johndoe3433

    Russian trolls control everything! BE AFRAID. EXPECT US.

  • Sepiano

    Typical.

    Trying to distort my rational and evidence-based expression of concern into an expression of hysterical paranoia?

    Why?

  • YHW

    Is this the $100,000 in Facebook ads, which we are also told were mostly NOT about the election? I’d like to see some examples of those ads because the reporting is confusing.

    Hillary Clinton rubs a lot of people the wrong way. Thats not because of Russian trolls talking smack about her!

  • Sepiano

    The FB ads were a small part of the Russian amplification of anti-Clinton messaging. For example, a lying video from RT “How 100% of the Clintons’ ‘Charity’ Went to…Themselves,” had more than 9 million social media views.

    From NIC report: “Russia used trolls as well as RT as part of its influence efforts to denigrate Secretary Clinton. This effort amplified stories on scandals about Secretary Clinton and the role of WikiLeaks in the election campaign.”

    https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf

    There’s more.

  • Sepiano

    Tip of iceberg. For some reason my earlier reply did not stick. I will try again. Basically you can read about all sorts of things done via the NIC (summarizing CIA, FBI, and NSA findings).

    https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf

    Please check out this document if you want more background, are seeking to better understand what happened.

  • Bijan Sharifi

    She attempted to blackmail the progressive wing of her party with trump while giving them the finger. Plus this was her genius strategy, via chuck schumer: “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.”

    She picked tim kaine of all people. That man is less inspiring than a cardboard cutout of himself. Its all her fault that she lost, and the fact that shes on a media tour blaming everyone else shows that maybe we dodged the bigger bullet by getting trump. Hes pure evil, but at least he’s incompetent.

  • Darko Kovacevic

    everything we see is a perception deception these days … do not think that it all started in 2016/17 because we can go back to 1916/17 & see the same Cult was doing the same things.Has anyone asked the Royal Family what they where called before 1917 .. All you Ford lovers might also be surprised but I digress.

  • verycold

    Well sort of. It was discussed during the campaign that Trump might win the popular vote and lose big the electoral vote. The opposite happened – perhaps. I believe that Trump won in the last day or so working and campaigning much harder than Hillary. He wanted to win. She expected to win. He was surprised he won. In my state, he barely won, but was definitely behind until the last week. He campaigned really hard in those swing states while Hillary sent her daughter, husband etc., to rally the troops. Mitt lost by quite a bit in my state. It never felt like anybody wanted him. Zero momentum. Trump had a big surge the last couple days.

  • johndoe3433

    Your assumption that Trump was behind until the last week is based on polling data which was completely wrong during this election. A lot of people got sick of arguing and felt like they were being demonized as far as a year before the election and ended up keeping their preferences to themselves. If the polls were wrong about the final result why would you assume they were correct a week before the election?

  • YHW

    It was the first time I didn’t put a bumper sticker on my car because I was afraid of someone vandalizing the car just because I supported Trump.

  • Konrad_Lorenz

    The polls weren’t wrong. They implied only a 75% chance of victory for Clinton. Polling indicated it could go either way and would be a close race. The only major polling failure in the election was the Michigan Democratic primary.

  • John Lacny

    I agree with all of this, save that I would add another layer to why leftists (or a lot of leftists, anyway) don’t like it: It means that changing the world is much more difficult work than many of us realize. We lost to Clinton in the primary, and we were unable to defeat the reactionary in the general election, because the left is organizationally weak due to our chronic decline. And it is large-scale, mass-based, disciplined organization that makes the difference in politics — electoral or otherwise — and there is no way around this fact. Grover Norquist came closer to the heart of the matter to anyone else on the night of the election, when he said (on Twitter, of all places — rarely the venue for intelligent comment) that Trump had won Wisconsin, and hence the election, because Scott Walker implemented the anti-union laws in 2011. The right won — even with Trump, a candidate most of them didn’t like — because they have a long-term strategy to weaken their enemies (us), and we do not have such a strategy. They won, as always win they win, in spite of the fact that their policies are extremely unpopular, because they are better organized. A “transformative economic message” is important. But if it’s only a “message,” it’s so much straw in the wind without organization.

  • Mike Powers

    What it also means, for leftists, is that you can hand people a clear path to salvation, you can open the door for them, you can show them how few steps it takes to get there, and they will quietly sit down and do as they’re told by The System. Because The System must be right, otherwise it wouldn’t be in charge, huh? And they don’t have the time to get involved in any of that political stuff, really.

  • thatindividual

    I think it was the year for Trump. I don’t anyone could have beaten him. I think it’s another fantasy narrative to think so. Whomever he ran against, he would have adjusted for, and creamed them. He was determined. He was agile.

    Like him or not, it was just critical mass he win. The US will never go farther left. It’s a freight train running down the center of the tracks. Nothing will ever change that.

    That’s what determines elections. Correction. Always. It’s not perfect, but that’s why we feel this jerky ride.

  • YHW

    It would have been interesting to see an election about socialism (Sanders). I have 2 nieces in their 30s who were Bernie supporters and I never talk politics in real life so I didn’t challenge them. Why does anyone think socialism could work or even be a good thing in the USA? Even Bernie himself is a grabber; people with power will always grab.

  • Samson Corwell

    That requires having an agreed upon definition of “socialism”.

  • Konrad_Lorenz

    Then why did he get fewer votes than Romney?

  • thatindividual

    Did Trump Actually Get 1.7 Million Fewer Votes Than Mitt Romney?http://www.investors.com/politics/commentary/did-trump-actually-get-fewer-votes-than-mitt-romney/

  • Konrad_Lorenz

    That’s an old article speculating that maybe Trump will get more votes in the future. Well, it’s the future now; did he? I guess not, or you’d have linked to a different article.

  • thatindividual

    I can’t find one on the final tally, mate. If you find one, pleaselink it.

    I only know Trump got more votes than Romney in the primary, and more than Reagan, and more than

    any GOP candidate in history.

  • thatindividual

    I found this:

    Trump Beat Romney by 2 Points
    That’s what won him the election. Here’s why we didn’t know it would happen.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/11/trump_beat_romney_s_popular_vote_count_by_2_points.html#lf_comment=606247787

  • Konrad_Lorenz

    WTF? Why do you keep wasting my time with these links. That article is about percentage difference, not a difference in number of votes. It does not have anything to do with the question at issue.

  • thatindividual

    No, it’s about votes, too. Did you read it?

  • Konrad_Lorenz

    Yes I read it. You are wrong (and wasting my time again). Note the highlighted “top comment” on the article, from which I quote:

    “Can we at least acknowledge some raw numbers without dealing with percentages? Trump received about a million fewer votes than Romney. Clinton received about 6 million fewer votes than Obama. More…”

    You can find that yourself by searching for the word “million.” What you won’t find is the number of votes.

  • thatindividual

    Well let me know when you find the final tallies. Until then, it’s hard to believe Trump beat the all time record and didn’t get more votes than Romney. I didn’t get off my bum to vote for Romney. But we had a block party to vote for Trump. Cheers mate. I think Trump has a lot more support than you realize. A lot of Dems defected.

  • Sayan

    The real big story was the economy. 8 years of stagnant wages and 2% GDP growth when the historical average during growth years is much closer to 4%.

    The only reason why Obama had such a high approval rating is because he was replaced on the TV by 2 even more unpopular candidates and he was far too nice to blame for the problems facing(rising insurance costs due to too much regulations preventing innovation, increased racial division, etc)

  • YHW

    So a lot of the extreme sore losing since the election is that they are mad at themselves.

    It frosted me that her campaign and the media went on and on about the “Glass Ceiling” and her being the “First Woman.” She’s the wife of a former president and had all the advantages. She was a candidate who puffed herself up for a resume of stuff she was handed because of her husband. If she had won the election it would have meant nothing for other women politicians unless they were former First Ladies, too. Hillary Clinton is the epitome of patriarchy. So is Ivanka Trump. If anything, they push other women out of their way.

    The professional politicians know that if Clinton and Trump were equal in the amount of money they had to spend, she would have lost even more states. She had several times the money he had and in politics money is Mother’s Milk. Other Republican candidates had equal money with the Democrat and a united party behind them so theres something off about comparing Trump with them.

  • AMP2020

    She and the media are still completely, 100% out of touch.

  • Michaels_28

    For a moment I thought I was reading David French’s article.

  • davidnrobyn

    I threw my vote away here in blue WA, and I knew it, but I felt I had to cast it anyway. Two reasons: On the eve of the election I realized there was no way I wanted the Clintons back in the White House, and secondly, I knew that whenever the military-industrial complex said “jump”, Hillary would ask “how high?” So my vote was simply a protest statement. Now that Trump has basically turned his back on his constituency, what was the point? I don’t know, but I’m glad the writer of What Happened isn’t our Whiner-in-Chief. I suspect that a great deal of Trump’s vote came with reservations like mine.

  • HCCarey

    So why was she a bad candidate? One theory is she lacks warmth and relatability or “zazz” or charisma. Ok, true, maybe that’s why. Another is she is a tool of neoliberal corporatists and “triangulators.” Also true, and maybe that’s why she lost. It’s certainly why I voted for Sanders in the primary. Another is she’s a woman. Yeah yeah I know, identitarian, so disallowed.

    “Clinton was a bad candidate”does not explain why trump won the GOP nomination, which was not a vote against her. Winning the GOP gets him to roughly 50/50 odds. He got there on the backs of people voting against Rubio and Cruz and bush and Kasich.

    As an old socialist, I would like to believe that within the Sanders/trump votes we can find the germ of a progressive critique of neoliberalism. People are fed up with the capitalist consensus! As a historian, I just see the same old white identitarian politics that have been central to US culture since 1776.

    I’d like to believe there is a way to connect trump voters to sanders voters and forge a powerful progressive coalition. I can’t see any evidence for it though.

    “Clinton lost because she was a bad candidate” doesn’t really explain much of anything. The guy who won is a vulgar ignoramus who consistently resorts to race baiting when he wants to firm up his support. He doesn’t resort to economic populism.

    Could a more”populist” democrat win? I doubt it. It would be in the face of implacable media hostility and corporate connivance. Trump pulled that off, but only because he was willing to do the race baiting.