I originally wrote this article for UNC Asheville’s student newspaper, The Blue Banner. It was published February 7, 2017. Digital scan of the issue unavailable.
By Cody Jones, Opinion Staff Writer
Hillary Clinton lost the election through a series of strategic failures, uninspiring and hopeless messaging and an overall incompetent candidacy.
Clinton arrogantly neglected the industrial Midwest and assumed support for her was secured in those states. Michigan in particular has been placed under the microscope since then in order to better understand what happened, and it exemplifies how her campaign floundered on a larger scale across the country.
Virgie Rollins, a Democratic National Committee member on the ground in Michigan, told Politico she had “never seen a campaign like this.” She described to Politico how Clinton’s campaign failed to pay attention to the collapse she was watching unfold in slow-motion among women and African-American millennials. Rollins said her requests for organizational and monetary assistance from Clinton’s campaign were ignored.
The ineptitude is staggering: Clinton raised $350 million more than Donald Trump and still managed to drop the ball. Her campaign had 489 field offices nationwide; Obama’s campaign had 789 in 2012.
One-third of nearly 700 counties in the industrial Midwest that voted for Obama in both elections decided to support Trump this time around, according to the Washington Post. Out of 207 counties that voted for Obama in either 2008 or 2012, 194 sided with Trump.
Their decision to vote once again for the candidate promising hope and change should come as no surprise. What should be surprising is the astounding incompetence demonstrated by the Clinton campaign — the campaign that lost for the second time to a populist candidate. To be sure, progressive and right-wing populism are not the same, but populist rhetoric seemed to be the driving factor in getting voters out in an election that favored the anti-establishment candidate. Obama ran on hope and change and Trump promised his own brand of it. One would assume Clinton and her staffers might learn a thing or two over the course of eight years.
Instead of learning anything, Clinton portrayed herself as a pragmatist: a “progressive who likes to get things done.” She offered a message not of hope, but of settling for less. She promised potential voters universal health care would “never, ever come to pass.” As her challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigned on a minimum wage of $15 — as well as universal health care — Clinton apparently thought it wise to tone down the ambition: she suggested voters settle for $12.
Clinton has a history of coziness with banks and an incredibly hawkish record compared to other Democrats. In an attempt to combat Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, Clinton’s campaign reacted predictably: they began to use the phrase “America is already great.” None of this was inspiring.
One crucial takeaway from this election should be that people need something to vote for, not something to vote against. The average voter did not and will not base their vote on political calculation. The average voter does not participate in the same electoral stratagems campaign staffers and policy wonks do. It was up to Clinton and her campaign to reach the average voter, and they failed to do so. That she won the popular vote and still lost the election should speak to how terrible of an operation she and her campaign ran.
Clinton — and many of her staffers, voters and supporters — thought she was entitled to Obama’s voting blocs from 2008 and 2012 simply by virtue of her experience and existence. Their hubris proved to be a mistake.
The Democratic Party overall warrants critique and contempt for their impotence — particularly their failure to win legislative seats, ongoing since 2010 — but any and all scorn directed at Clinton and her campaign is absolutely deserved. The Clinton campaign is to blame for its loss, not the voters. It is the responsibility of a campaign to give the electorate a reason to vote for its candidate; votes are earned, not owed. It is vitally important for Democrats to recognize and embrace this now unless they want to lose again.