Game over. The election was the Democrats to lose, and they did. The Dem leadership can only blame itself and the numerous strategic and communication mistakes it did along both the primary and the electoral campaigns. The GOP in fact did not win the election, the Democrats lost it, as electors did not turn out to vote: Hillary got almost 10 million votes less than Barack Obama did in 2008 and 6 million less than in 2012. Trump is almost on a par with John McCain and lost only half million to Mitt Romney. The fact that almost nobody foresaw it, severely questions the ability of party leaders and analysts alike to properly comprehend reality, as scholars and journalists stopped producing intellectually honest analyses, fabricating instead partisan stories.
In fact, ever since the primaries, there were evident signs that Hillary Clinton, though an incredibly gifted and inspiring woman, was the wrong candidate, at the wrong time. The arrogance of the Dem leadership in failing to see these signs and acting accordingly, was fundamental in losing the race.
Elections specialists kept saying Hillary’s campaign was better staffed and “technically superior”, being data-driven and tuned to winning electoral constituencies. Not even after Brexit, they questioned the data. British pollsters in vain alerted how Brexiters and Trump supporters’ profiles coincided: people who seldom made it to the voting booth in the past and who have a deep mistrust of government, journalists and pollsters, to which they do not talk, and which consequently were unaware of their existence. Yet, cases like the Indiana primary should have rang a bell: as mainstream media had Hillary prevailing by 5 points, she ended up losing by more than 5 percent; a 10% error altogether.
Even a simple drive around the country would have shown the lack of enthusiasm for the 2016 campaign and in particular for Hillary: contrary to 2008 and 2012, there were very few campaign signs around and the few were predominantly Trump’s.
Waiting for the hard data to come in, here are a few reasons why Hillary lost the race.
First, the “Clinton brand” is not valuable anymore as it used to. The first sign was when the Clintons’ in-law, Marjorie Margories, run in the Dem primary in Northern Philadelphia in 2014: an inspiring and gifted former Congresswoman, Margories’ campaign heavily relied on the Clintons’ support and they expected to win easy; instead they badly lots to an unknown young State legislator, Brendan Boyle, reelected to Congress this year.
Second, the ill primary process and the way competitors were pushed out. The first victim was, in October 2015, Vice President Joe Biden. Still grieving for the loss of his son Beau, he abruptly renounced to enter the race, with a speech that seemed in fact one prepared to launch a campaign for the Presidency. As Bernie Sanders grow from underdog to a dangerously competitive candidate, the Dem establishment maneuvered against him, too. Though Hillary would have probably won the primaries anyways, Bernie supporters felt cheated, adding frustration to already angry feelings. The Democratic Party leadership overlooked these feelings, they even mocked them and when all this became public thanks to Wikileaks, they did not even properly apologize. As Debbie Wasserman was forced to resign from the party presidency, Hillary could not see any better than offering her top position in her campaign. Dem leaders’ arrogance was to just assume Bernie’s followers would vote for her anyway, come November. Yet, and despite all of Sanders’ efforts, many apparently did not.
Another issue was the strategic mistakes made in shaping the campaign’s messages. As Hillary’s candidacy was gearing up, a Bush-Clinton race seemed probable; one in which, as she told Brookings, she was “looking forward to a robust debate about foreign policy”. Her people thus started working at highlighting her achievements in the field. Unfortunately, all the major successes of the Obama Presidency – Iran, Climate Change, Cuba, TTP – had been sealed by John Kerry, leaving Clinton with the failed Libya intervention and the continued Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The campaign thus started developing a narrative under which, had Clinton been Commander in Chief, she would have been tougher than President Obama. A case in point was arguing in favor of arming Ukraine. As Sanders pushed Hillary to the left and Biden made it clear that Democratic candidates running against the White House would not be supported, Hillary again had to shift strategy, ultimately playing an American classic: Russia. Foreign policy is a complicated matter, even more so in today’s globalized world. Russia however is an enemy Americans internalized during the Cold War, helped by the movie industry. It is thus an easy sell – or so the campaign thought -especially given Trump’s conciliatory attitude towards President Putin. However, in shifting again her position, Hillary unintentionally proved the point of those, including many Sanders supporters, claiming that she would say anything just to win.
The hyper aggressive stance on Russia led people fear new wars and even Americans cannot take them anymore. They instead want money to be invested domestically. It is not by chance that in his acceptance speech Donald Trump focused on one message: we are going to invest at home, we are going to invest in infrastructures and make the nation great again: the equivalent of “it is the economy, stupid” that lead Bill Clinton to victory in 1992.
Outside the Beltway, Americans are upset; even Democrats cannot properly see all the amazing good and recovery the Obama Presidency brought to the country. All they see is the American Dream dead and not much hope for the future.
The worst was yet to come. As the level of anti-Russia hysteria escalated inside the Beltway, Clinton’s foes accused Russia to attempt hacking the US elections. Now, the first rule of communication is that there are always both a direct message and a subliminal one, which is often more powerful than the first. Saying that Russia was hacking the US elections, subliminally implied that the US is so weak that even its very heart – its democratic system – could be harmed and that a strong leader is thus needed. As the US is still fundamentally a misogynous country, “tough” is unfortunately synonymous of male…
Which leads to the finally issue: women. There is no doubt that for women, Clinton’s loss is extremely bad news, likely to turn the clock back of decades. According to preliminary data, 54 per cent of women backed Clinton compared to 42 per cent for Trump; in 2012, 55 per cent of women backed Obama while 44 per cent backed Romney .
Distressed democrats are asking: how could women vote for him? wrong question, they should rather ask why women did not vote for her.
The answer is complex. In a nutshell, the answer could be that many women do not recognize themselves in Clinton’s brand of feminism, which they perceive as outdated. There are two main aspects in this.
First, Hillary’s relation with Bill. The Dem campaign spent a lot of energy and means on Trump’s ill relation with women, in the effort of securing the female electorate, on the presumption that anything sexual-related is still much more of a taboo in the US, than it is in Europe or Latin America. However, that backfired: each time the women issue was brought up, it subliminally also reminded people of Hillary’s husband notorious ill-relation to women and of her actions in such contexts. When Bill infidelities came up, over and over, Hillary in fact did not leave him: she actually defended him. Many women admire her for this resilience – though some say it the price she paid to secure her own political career – but others find this unforgivable. Had she left her humiliating multi-infidel husband, Hillary would have set a very strong precedent that would have inspired and helped women – especially minorities ones – to exit their own infernos. Incidentally, this may also help explain why, despite all of Trump’s comments, things didn’t go as well for Clinton among minorities as she would have hoped. Row data in fact show that her support among Hispanic voters was just 65 per cent – down from Obama’s 71 per cent in 2012 – while among black voters, support was down from 93 per cent to 88 per cent. Support among Hispanic voters was on the contrary higher for Trump, at 29 per cent, compared to the 27 per cent Romney secured in 2012.
Last but not least, her femininity. Back in the day, Hillary made history wearing pants. Pantsuits became her symbol, as the overwhelming success of the “secret” Facebook Pantsuit Nation page showed. That was, however, over a quarter century ago.
It is Michelle Obama, with her beautiful, provoking, sleeveless official portrait, who helped bringing American women into a new dimension. She is the one symbolizing modern feminism: the way she owns and feels comfortable in her own body, her way she can be assertive and yet not aggressive; she is the best symbol of today’s modern, active, elegant American women. Despite all her efforts, all her trying, poor Hillary has never been comfortable in her own skin – a problem of many in her generation – and this shows. To many, her body language and her pantsuits represent the old way of being women leaders, one in which women had to be like man to succeed. Women are now rejecting that, claiming to forge their own path to leadership.
As it often happened in history, the innovator was swept away by those who follow on her path. It will be up to one of them to become the first Mme President. Because we will have a Mme President.
Goodbye Pantsuit Nation. Goodbye Hillary, thank you for your service.