The Democrats’ biggest mistakes

Over Twitter, Kevin Drum asked me to identify the Democrats’ three biggest mistakes.


I have mixed feelings about answering that question. When a comprehensively dishonorable and unfit demagogue ascends to the presidency, all the traditional gatekeepers of our political system have failed: Both parties, the media, the electorate itself. Of course with an election this close, any number of things might have turned the outcome. FBI director Comey’s intercession was probably the decisive endgame factor. He’s not a Democrat.

And whatever mistakes Democrats made, the main responsibility resides with the Republican primary electorate who selected the worst nominee in generations, and with the Republican political professionals who enabled that nominee. They knew exactly who and what Trump was. They supported him anyway, often quietly hoping someone else would bring him down. Had Paul Ryan and George W Bush bluntly announced in late October that Trump is unfit to be president, America would have been spared what we are about to endure.

And Hillary Clinton did a lot right, a fact reflected in her clear popular vote victory. She clobbered Trump in three debates. Her policy shop was maybe the best assembled by any candidate ever. Many of her campaign commercials were outstanding. That should have been enough. It wasn’t.

Still, Democrats must be clear-eyed in assessing how this could have happened—and how we can ensure it doesn’t happen again. In no firm order, here are several mistakes we made*:

Creating the email and speech problems, and being brittle and defensive about cleaning them up. Yeah, the email scandal was blown wildly out of proportion. Clinton’s ethical blemishes and potential conflicts of interest are in every way dwarfed by Trump’s brazen behavior as President-elect. Still, she mishandled the email issue, and was brittle and defensive in responding. For all the anger among my fellow liberals about “Clinton rules,” the Clintons’ personal financial dealings did not serve their supporters well. Why on God’s green earth was she giving ridiculously overpaid speeches on Wall Street when she was the obvious heir apparent to the Obama presidency? I proudly supported Clinton over Sanders in the primary, but Sanders was right about the speech issues, and in asking to see what she said in return for a six-figure speaking fee.

That pattern of behavior and defensiveness created huge vulnerabilities for Trump to exploit. It wasn’t right or fair, but it was predictable. Many of us missed that. Because Hillary Clinton shares and would continue President Obama’s policy agenda, we assumed that she would command his voters. In fact, American voters regard these two people quite differently. This partly reflects real and poisonous sexism. But this also reflects the simple fact that President Obama has served the past eight years with an almost complete absence of scandal in both marital and financial realms. That contrast did not serve Hillary Clinton (or Bill Clinton) well.

Overconfidence and complacency across the political spectrum. Right up to Election Day, pretty much everyone across the political spectrum assumed Clinton would win. The ripple effects of that overconfidence greatly increased the probability that she would lose.

The media covered issues such as the Clinton Foundation with the critical eye one would focus on the future president. Donald Trump’s racism and his unethical practices were definitely covered, but for the most part his shortcomings were not treated with the seriousness and immediacy they would have been, had elite media seriously believed he would win. Look at the difference between November 7 and November 9 in the depth and tone of coverage applied to the practicalities of his business dealings. It was always obvious that he would be saddled with myriad conflicts of interest as a sitting president who owns a sprawling business empire. Few of us were particularly focused on that, because most of us were implicitly so sure this would be a moot point on November 9.

The Clinton campaign’s overconfidence was reflected in its huge investments to expand the map to states she didn’t need and wouldn’t get while they neglected rustbelt states she desperately needed and would lose by a sliver. That lack of battleground organizational capacity still puzzles me. On November 6, I had to drive my daughter back to college at Whitewater, Wisconsin. In 2012, I had done many GOTV near there. I saw almost nothing within an hour’s drive outside Madison and Milwaukee. I don’t recall any particular sense of urgency there.

Demography provided one reason for overconfidence. As both Nate Cohen and Ron Brownstein presciently noted, Democrats easily overestimated the demographic power and inevitability of the coalition which put President Obama in the White House. Indeed, Brownstein noted earlier this year that the worst-case scenario for Clinton would be that

Trump’s blue-collar blitz narrowly pushes him past her in some of the Rustbelt states she needs, while she cannot advance quite enough among minority and college-educated white voters to overcome his non-college-educated, non-urban, religiously devout coalition in Sunbelt states like North Carolina, Florida, Nevada, and Colorado, much less Arizona and Georgia. Transitioning between her party’s past and future, Hillary Clinton’s nightmare is that she might be caught awkwardly in between.

That’s exactly what happened.

That overconfidence showed up in other ways, as well. Throughout summer and fall, my Democratic friends constantly speculated about what Clinton should do, what Obama should do, what Sanders should do, to put Trump away, what Clinton was doing right or wrong, and more. Unlike 2008 and 2012, I heard much less about what we needed to do in ensuring a Clinton victory and in keeping Donald Trump out of the White House. Moderate Democrats weren’t particularly active. I didn’t see many Clinton lawn signs or coffee cups. I never got the sense that we were engaged in an urgent common enterprise to stave off catastrophe. Many of us arrogantly placed our trust in the Maginot Line of Big Data, which we wrongly viewed as an adequate substitute for Big Organizing in winning a national campaign.

Many on the left—including people who actually voted for Ralph Nader in Florida–were visibly diffident and passive. Some denigrating Hillary Clinton as a faux feminist and lying neoliberal warmonger, though some begrudgingly allowed that they would hold their noses pulling the lever for her on Election Day  to prevent a greater evil. Clinton’s strikingly progressive policy proposals and her decades of work on behalf of children, the uninsured, women and girls, were somehow redacted from much progressive conversation. In the cruelest turn, Jill Stein got substantially more votes in Michigan and Wisconsin than Trump’s margin of victory. I suspect that many Stein voters—and many of Clinton’s more responsible left critics—would have spoken and acted differently had they seriously considered the possibility that she would lose.

Signaling to older rural white voters that we didn’t want them, and indeed would leave them behind. Since Election Day, much has been written about how Democrats need to craft an economically populist message that reaches white working-class voters. Indeed we do. A majority of white voters—even women—shamefully embraced a bigoted demagogue who questioned President Obama’s citizenship, disparaged Muslims and Mexican immigrants, and bragged about assaulting women. There’s no way to excuse or explain away this huge moral failure of the American electorate. Democrats must also defend the values that underlay our diverse, multi-racial coalition, which expresses much of what’s best in America, and represents the future of this country.

That said, I share Bernie Sanders’ shame that Democrats didn’t engage older white working-class voters more effectively, that we weren’t more a part of their lives, that we didn’t build more of a relationship with people whose rural and post-industrial communities face such punishment in our new globalized economy. Many progressive voters have moved out of these communities. Democrats have been hammered in many local races in these areas. Democrats and liberals are no longer a daily organic presence. Conservative churches, veterans’ groups. and other Republican-friendly institutions civil society are still there, touching people’s lives and earning people’s trust.

Throughout 2016, our party triumphantly presented itself as the embodiment of America’s multi-cultural, multi-racial demographic future. Of course, our national convention was the peak expression of that triumphalism, featuring Mothers of the Movement, the electrifying speeches by Mr. Khan and the First Lady. I loved every moment. I believed that organizationally tight and incredibly moving convention sealed Clinton’s victory.

Looking back, though, I’m troubled when I imagine watching that convention through the eyes of my own late in-laws. They lived on a modest income caring for their disabled son. Janice was a bookkeeper, and Greg worked in a construction company in central New York. Both would have regarded Donald Trump as a personally disgusting con artist. But I’m not sure they would have seen much at that Democratic convention that spoke directly to them, that addressed the economic devastation in central New York that they and their neighbors had to witness in slow-motion, whose effects they deeply mourned. This was a real failure of messaging and engagement.

Many of the messages used to such effect against Mitt Romney might well have been deployed in 2016. To provide one small but telling example, the Republican platform’s economic components provided a target-rich environment. I heard virtually nothing about it. Republicans are now discussing Medicare vouchers and changes to ACA that would raise insurance rates for near-retirees. I heard almost nothing about that in the beautiful ads lambasting Trump’s character flaws without calling him to account on Republican policies.

They would have been unimpressed by Clinton’s hobnobbing with Wall Street moguls. My father-in-law imbibed of conservative talk radio. He was primed to believe that liberals looked down on rural, socially-conservative folk. Had they been the slightest bit Trump-curious, they would have been infuriated by Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” comment–doubly so since the comment was delivered speaking about them to an upscale audience rather than to their faces. In the end, I doubt they would have voted for Clinton, disgusted as they would have been by Trump’s depredations.

As a matter of policy, Donald Trump has little to offer the rural communities he won. Although elite media ignored the substance, Hillary Clinton offered them far more. As a matter of human connection, we must acknowledge that these voters had reason to feel condescended to, that we were leaving them behind. That’s a dangerous combination. To their shame and ours, these voters retaliated in a bitterly racialized election.

Listening on election night to disturbing data trickling in from rural Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, I was taken back to my high school English class, when Mercutio’s recounted his fatal wound: “Tis not so deep as a well nor so wide as a church-door, but ’tis enough.”And I wept.

*Addendum: Only hours later, I would add two inter-related errors. 

First, Democrats underestimated the power of partisan polarization to bring Republican voters back to Trump.  At the end of the campaign, Trump showed just enough message discipline to hold the Republican coalition together, particularly after James Comey provided unexpected help. Appealing to Republican women gathered fewer votes than Clinton had hoped.

Second–and related–the Clinton campaign never was able to break through with a compelling economic policy narrative that ordinary voters could understood amidst the clutter. The Clinton campaign certainly tried, and they had good detailed plans to improve people’s lives. Yet they were never properly able to reach the broader public.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

63 thoughts on “The Democrats’ biggest mistakes”

  1. It seems to me that the greatest error was nominating Hillary Clinton in the first place. This was someone who was vulnerable to attack on her morals, on her cupidity, on her acquiescence (at the very least) to Bill Clinton's misbehavior. It may well be your view that this wasn't fair – it's not mine – but the vulnerability clearly existed. The Clinton Foundation looked dreadful – ten per cent for actual charitable work, and many donations from foreigners with an interest in being well thought of by a future president.
    So, you nominate someone with a glass jaw, it's not surprising that the opponent shatters it.
    Second greatest error was probably 'deplorables'. Boy, that made tee shirts fast. Crystallized the dismay of working class whites about her view of them.

    1. This comment is so factually wrong in some parts that I can't credit any of it. Far from allocating only 10% of donations for "actual charitable work," the Clinton Foundation consistently gets the highest marks from charity watch dog organizations; it's actually the other way around: the Foundation spends about 88% of its revenues on charitable activities.

      And this is the problem with the comment in general: it assumes that the Republicans wouldn't have used blatantly false attacks to shred any candidate the Democrats had put up. Kurt Eichenwald of Newsweek has written about having seen the GOP's opposition research file on Bernie Sanders, and it wold have been devastating. Sure, a lot of the attacks would have been bogus and/or grossly oversimplified, but they would have worked. Trying to choose our nominee based upon who hasn't been unfairly attacked yet is a fool's game.

      1. The difference between the muzzled and biased media and Wikileaks is that if Wikileaks had seen the opposition research file on Bernie Sanders, they'd have published it so everyone could decide for themselves. Leave it to the Russkies to be the ones who tell the truth.

        1. I'd have more confidence in that if they had either spent as much time trying to hack the Republicans or (more likely in my estimation) they had released what they hacked over there. Both the Russians and WikiLeaks put their thumb on the scales in this election.

          1. It's been fun to see "progressives" who once LOOOOOOOVED Wikileaks do a 180 degree turn. So tell me, is Eastasia our friend or is Eastasia our enemy? I always forget.

          2. I never loved WikiLeaks. I have sympathy for Chelsea Manning, even if I don't agree with her actions, and the way WikiLeaks hung her out to dry eliminated any chance that I might view them favorably.

          3. He's not a woman. I realize that "progressives" think "identifying" as whatever makes you whatever, but it's not true. Bradley Manning can change his name to whatever he wants, but he's male even if he doesn't like it.

            p.s.: I guess it's okay for "progressives" to do the big reversal on Wikileaks, but God help you if you fail to buy into the weirdo transsexual "identity" idea.

      2. Part one of response which the software said was too long:
        As you point out, the Clinton Foundation has a far better ratio of money spent on actual charity to administration than I had claimed in my original response. One of the interesting things about this non-fact is that I was told it by an associate who was so eager to keep Mr. Trump from the Presidency that she gave the Clinton campaign a thousand dollars. But the idea that you can ignore the rest of what I said because I was wrong on the Foundation is something you ought to rethink. I mean, for Godsake, she just lost to Donald Trump.

        Mark Twain said “There are some things that can beat smartness and foresight? Awkwardness and stupidity can. The best swordsman in the world doesn't need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn't do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn't prepared for him; he does the thing he ought not to do; and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot.” This has some obvious application to our recent race! But I think Donald Trump ran a remarkably strong campaign for a guy with his obvious weaknesses.

        Now, Hillary Clinton as a bad candidate, and who it was a mistake to nominate. As Bill Clinton didn't say, it depends on what the meaning of 'bad' is. I see three major possibilities:

        1. Did a bad job running for President
        2. Had a history which would alienate many voters
        3. Wouldna been a good President.

        Evidence for 1 would be: lost to someone who had no government experience (check) and himself had a checkered personal history (check). Failed to respond quickly and adequately to many of her opponent's calumnies (check). Did not foresee the reaction which would ensue if she called a large number of voters 'deplorable' (check). Concentrated her campaign on telling voters what a jerk her opponent is, rather than putting up a vision of the future which would build enthusiasm (check, check, checkitty-check-check check).

        1. I think we need to get over the idea that Donald Trump was a terrible candidate. Sure, it seemed that he ought to be a bad candidate, but the fact that you are listing all of his faults which turned out not to hinder him with the electorate ought to be telling us something. There are vastly more people telling us now about all of the tactical errors Clinton made over the campaign than there were while it was happening, which means that they weren't so obviously mistakes. If Trump was so terrible, then Clinton focusing on how terrible a president he'd make would have been effective. You can't have it both ways, though you're trying very hard, seeing as how you list one of her faults as not responding "quickly and adequately to many of her opponent's calumnies" and also that she spent too much time "telling voters what a jerk her opponent is." That you don't understand how your points contradict each other is another reason why I don't take your arguments very seriously.

      3. Part two of a response which the software said was too long:

        Evidence for 2 would be: had a hundred-to-one yield on a commodities investment she 'made' through a company which needed favors from her then-Governor husband (check) had no effective response when her opponent accused her of attacking the women whom her husband had pressured into sex (check) had not foreseen the reaction to 'at this point, what difference does it make', was so identified with cupidity and self-dealing that even her backers were disposed to believe ill of the Foundation… there was a lot, she had been in public life for many many years.
        Now, it's perfectly plausible to say 'false equivalency' here, that Mr Trump was more and worse, etc. But these things existed, and they damaged her badly. So I will claim 'bad candidate' for reasons 1 and 2. I mean, she lost, to Donald Trump. What more evidence do you need for 'mistake'?

        As for 3, very hard to know. Whether you think the server business was minor or not, it was certainly stupid and made her vulnerable to attack. Dreadful judgement. Her failure to respond quickly and appropriately to her opponent during the campaign is not reassuring in thinking how she would do in the infamous 3 am phone call. Not quick on her feet. The failure to think through how bad the Clinton Foundation would look, with its large foreign donations and its apparent function as a refuge for Hillary loyalists waiting for the ship to come in also suggests poor judgement. On the other hand, she was running against Donald Trump, who has many very major flaws. Totally unqualified in so many ways. So, I think she was a bad candidate on the #3 definition, too, but that he was a substantially worse candidate on the #3. So that called for a 'hold-your-nose-and-vote-for-her', and many many people did, but not enough (I myself held my nose and voted for Johnson). There was a time when the grownups in the DNC would have tried to quietly nudge a candidate with her weaknesses out of the race. Didn't happen this time, even with the infamous superdelegates.

        He certainly did a spectacular, amazing job of #1. For a guy who was so bad on criteria 2 and 3 to actually win is phenomenal.

        Did the Dems have anyone else plausible to run? Biden would have faced continual trouble on plagiarism and age issues. Sanders is old old old and is a long ways to the left of anyone I would have thought plausible (though my college freshman son adored him, and still nurses a grudge against Clinton). Warren would have had the ‘Princess Fauxcahontas’ thing thrown at her day after day and the Wall Streeters who backed Clinton would have been absent from her campaign. Brown and Pelosi and Feinstein are far too old. Dem House leadership is generally gerontocratic, not a place to get a candidate. Big state governors who would be plausible is one place to look, but the Dems really didn’t have any – O’Malley is from a medium state and clearly hoped lightning would strike during the primary, but never caught fire with anyone, it’s a misfortune for the Dems that Jersey and Massachusetts and Ohio and Illinois and Texas and Florida have Republicans, and that Terry Mac is a Clinton loyalist. So, maybe the Dems really didn’t have an obvious better candidate. Mark Warner? But he barely got reelected last time. Gillibrand was a Clinton loyalist, and also maybe not enough national profile.

        1. Sigh. Again, people really ought to learn more before they trot out all of Clinton's past scandals. The whole cattle futures thing loses a lot of its traction when you understand that she also lost a lot of money while making investments through the same person, which drastically reduces the likelihood that there was corruption going on. If you didn't hear an effective response to the claim that she attacked the women who accused her husband, it means either that you didn't try to learn what actually happened. And, frankly, the fact that no one has ever paid much attention to Clinton's denials despite the facts being on her side is a large part of why she doesn't bother trying to refute things. And, as I said above, if you think that the exact same thing wouldn't have happened to anyone else the Democrats had nominated, you're deluded.

          In fact, your last paragraph makes exactly that point, but you don't seem to grasp its significance. How about you come back when you can structure your arguments in a way that they don't trip over each other?

          1. "Progressives" LOOOOOOOOVE the corruption as long as they think the perpetrator is their "friend." You are EXACTLY the same as every corrupt wingnut. There is no difference whatsoever.

  2. Harold:

    I have a slightly different take on your third point.

    As I reflect on the campaign, Clinton in the most public statements by her and her surrogates, made this a campaign about character. Her core message was that Trump was unfit to be President. That's true, but it doesn't speak to the voters and what they wanted and needed. And as it turned out, a majority of the electorate in the Midwest, Florida and North Carolina didn't care. The Republicans came home, and were not swayed by the unfitness of Trump. The small group of swing white voters in rural areas as you note came out strong for Trump because they believed, however incorrectly, that he was committed to their economic future and the future of their communities.

    Clinton had extensive policy proposals, generally sound, but did not create a frame that spoke to the needs of these voters for good paying jobs and their desire to earn a decent living while remaining in the communities where they grew up. Trump created villains – immigrants, lawbreakers, terrorists, greedy companies – and said he would defeat them and return jobs and safety. It was crap but a clear story. Clinton didn't create her own story of the recovery from a near Depression against Republican policies that brought us there and Republican obstruction that slowed and blunted the recovery. She didn't create a narrative of moving forward against these forces by defeating them, or the threat that the gains would be taken away. She didn't make the case that Trump was not just unfit but that he and the Republican power structure were not on their side. And as a result, her policy proposals, when allowed air time at all, had less coherence and power. And too many voters reacted to Trump's dystopic vision of America today and its brighter future with him by being convinced he was the vehicle for the change they wanted.

  3. Dang it, would you please quit it with the comedy? I just shot sushi through my nose laughing at this posting, and that's not funny!

    I suppose I could rebut this foolishness point by point, but why bother? Instead, let me cut to the chase and tell you why the sushi came out of the wrong orifice. Your attempt to wrap this turd in a blanket of Republican sins was intensely laughable. Children, you should be asking a very different question, but one that you are just too damn deathly afraid to ask:

    Given what a manifest whackjob Trump is — something that the majority of his voters knew, and have told anyone who might bother to listen — just how is it that the Democrats lost anyway?

    There is always a core of 1/3 who will vote for their tribe no matter what. Trump shouldn't have gotten more than that, but he did. Kids: WHY? It's not because his voters liked the antics, at least not in the general election. It's because the Democrats nominated a corrupt liar, and because the underlying "progressive" tribe made itself thoroughly distasteful and obnoxious. Your "friends" in the media? The more they piled on Trump while taking Hillary Clinton at face value, the more Trump voters they created.

    "Reality Based," you say? Ha! Not hardly.

    Just wait until 2018. The Democrats are going to be a bloody streak on the highway in that election. At that point, I doubt you'll even be trying to lie to yourselves. Why not get a two-year jump start? It's the only hope.

    1. "…and because the underlying "progressive" tribe made itself thoroughly distasteful and obnoxious…" It's my guess that most of the commenters here don't have Instapundit in their daily reading list, and that that has contributed to our surprise at the election results. We live among eloi, and wonder why the morlocks hate us.
      Today on Instapundit, a suggestion that ANOTHER Donald was important: "…one of these incidents, the time the solicitor general of the United States acknowledged that religious institutions that oppose as a matter of internal policy same-sex marriage may lose their tax exemptions. At oral argument in the Obergefell same-sex marriage case, there was the following colloquy:

      Justice Samuel Alito: Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax­exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same­ sex marriage?

      Soliticitor General Verrilli: You know, I ­, I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. ­ I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is ­­it is going to be an issue.

      With the mainstream media busy celebrating the Supreme Court’s ultimate recognition of a right to same-sex marriage, this didn’t get that much attention in mainstream news outlets. But in the course of researching my book, “Lawless,” I noticed that Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr.’s answer was big news in both the conservative blogosphere and in publications catering to religiously traditionalist audiences"

  4. Although for the most part HRC did very well in the debates, she had feeble replies to the "30 years in Washington" attack, which Trump then used in his un-answered closing ads. It seemed odd at the time that she didn't clearly make the point that the inadequate stimulus, the rickety structure of ACA, etc. were caused by Republican obstruction. Gradually it became apparent that not only was she trying to make the presidential election entirely about Trump's weird and repulsive character, she had decided never to risk explicitly attacking what the Republican party has been up to- Ryan and the whole crew. Things started to make sense: the bizarre early moves of repeatedly praising Kissinger during the New Hampshire primary, of publicizing lists of Republican war criminals who backed her and who almost no one had heard of except leftists who were trying to decide between her and Stein,…Everything was staked on not offending those suburban Republican crossover women, but there weren't very many of them. There were a lot or down and out workers who heard no big vision about jobs, except for the monosyllabic boasts from Trump. Because getting that message out would have offended Republicans.

    1. It's just hilarious to watch "progressives" here lie to themselves. You are the mirror image of the wingnuts. They think they've got a corner on God and patriotism, and you think you are smarter and better than everyone else. No wonder the general public finds both of your tribes distateful and was willing to vote for the pig in the china shop. May Satan help you if the Rs have ideas and all your tribe can do is sit there and spout your frustrations.

      1. That's pretty vague. Do you disagree that the attempt to appeal only to suburban Republican women didn't get many votes, and lost many votes from people who were focussed on jobs? Or is it something else that seems like a lie to you? At any rate, it's certainly good to hear from someone as modest and unassuming as you, not like one of those internet smartypants.

        1. I'm watching "progressives" here doing everything they possibly can to dance around the actual issues. The Ds are in their worst shape in nearly 100 years, and after 2018 they'll be wiped out except in about 10 states, if that. Their leaders are in their 70s, and have mortgaged their tribe to a handful of billionaires who mutter "progressive" noises. It's pathetic. Even though I'm not a D, nor am I a R, and I think we need genuine competition. That's about to vanish, and none of you seems to know it.

          1. We really don't know quite how things will be after 2018. And yes, the dependence on billionaires is a big part of why the leadership thought that endorsements from John Negroponte et al. were big pluses and loudly pounding on the infrastructure theme was a risky optional extra.

  5. Trump's vision of America was still rejected by a sizable majority of the American electorate. Since he is promises to govern from farther to the right that even George W Bush, that spells both trouble and opportunity.

    From this distance, it seems to me that Hillary Clinton did have policies to help working class people left behind by globalisation. Trump just promised everyone a white pony for Christmas. You can over-think it.

    Something similar happened in the UK Brexit referendum, except it now looks like the Brexit pony has only three legs. The Trump pony may have no legs at all.

  6. Big Organizing is spot on. I was fooled by the Big Data too, but living in the other side of the Atlantic I didn't have much else to go on.

    It's important to learn the lessons of the win in Nevada against the tide. Cortez eked out a victory with the help of an old-fashioned registration drive by the Culinary Workers Union, a heavily Hispanic body that has expanded into other segments of the hospitality industry. The future of organised labour has to be in services. There will always be jobs for cooks and strippers.

  7. The Clinton campaign’s overconfidence was reflected in its huge investments to expand the map to states she didn’t need and wouldn’t get while they neglected rustbelt states she desperately needed and would lose by a sliver. That lack of battleground organizational capacity still puzzles me.

    I agree that this was a major and obvious blunder. Why it was made I don't know, but surely overconfidence was a factor.

  8. Let's not leave out the Pied Piper stragedy, which explains the fatal focus on candidate character over party policy. The Dems wanted to run against Trump because they were damn well going to run Hillary no matter what and he was seen as soooo much worse than her perceived flaws. It should have been more obvious how ineffectual this would prove to be in a culture-war contest between the two most despised candidates in American history. The Republican primary electorate wasn't the only one who selected the worst nominee in generations. She simply wasn't clean enough herself to campaign primarily on character, and neither are Democrats in general.

    While I won't defend TruIndependent's comments regarding Chelsea Manning, with which I disagree, from the perspective of a lifetime independent I do agree with the points about mirror images, thoroughly distasteful and obnoxious tribal behavior, and the possibility of things getting even worse in 2018.

    Hillary wasn't the only one lumping the other side into a basket of deplorables, itself a manifestation of bigotry, which is of course not limited to racial divisions. And the culture war, having plenty of hawks on both sides, rages on: Mr. Pollack sits in judgment of "A majority of white voters—even women—[who] shamefully embraced a bigoted demagogue who questioned President Obama’s citizenship, disparaged Muslims and Mexican immigrants, and bragged about assaulting women". Did he expect them to embrace his side's bigoted demagogue who disparaged THEM, questioned THEIR morals and intelligence, and pointed her accusing finger at others' treatment of women while having a long history of downplaying that of her husband? He goes on to describe his side's loss as a huge and inexcusable moral failing of the American electorate. Keep that up for two years and see what the American electorate has to say in the mid-terms. And in the same paragraph acknowledging "that these voters had reason to feel condescended to" he condescendingly (mis-)judges them again: "To their shame and ours, these voters retaliated in a bitterly racialized election." You acknowledge that retaliation was about culture-war behavior, yet you insist on a deflecting maneuver, playing the race card in a weak attempt to score some kind of blame-and-shame point? Note to progressives: The racist accusation is no longer effective due to ridiculous over-use and downright misplacement, such as this example. Y'all make yourselves an easy target up there on them high horses.

    The left, having lost the House, Senate, and Presidency in the last few years and now down to fifteen state governorships, seems to be blissfully unaware of their trajectory, and based on their history are probably already assuming the next mid-terms will provide balance to a one-sided government simply because it usually has before. I wouldn't count on it this time. The right smells blood, seeing obvious opportunities to build on their recent success next mid-term putting them in position to rule the nation for generations, and I've never seen them more fired up out here in the Great Plains. There is a lot of enthusiastic talk about rural turnout in 2018. The way I see it, you've got two years to wake up and turn things around or lose it all for a long time. Better start right now figuring out how to reach out to those outside your tribe as equals without hammering them over the head with self-mis-perceived intellectual and moral superiority all the time, because such shifts of culture so deeply embedded that its practitioners can't even recognize it don't happen overnight.

    1. It's a kind of dark comedy, isn't it? Even if Clinton had won, the 2018 elections would've been very tough. Now, with Trump and the Rs pulling the levers, the Ds will be facing a stark future. What are the "progressives" doing? Rearranging peas on the plate. I suggest that they have a look at the 1932, 1934, and 1936 election results that cemented Democratic political dominance that lasted through the 1970s, and didn't really end until the 1990s.

      That fate is what awaits the Democratic Party.

      1. Yes it is. Rural voters who have felt politically voiceless and powerless for a long time have made a strong impact in a national election, and that's a very powerful thing they are very eager to replicate. But never fear! Those of us leery of one-sided government can take solace in the prospect that, if the left are half as smart and righteous as they imagine themselves to be, they'll figure things out in time to avoid further catastrophe.

        Lookout below: the latest strategy seems to involve doubling down on the "racist suckers" remarks while strutting around like winners, confident that circumstances will work themselves out in two more years given nothing more than time. All-righty then. I'd better get right back to work on my fallout shelter and stock up on more AR-15's and ammo.

    2. The "deplorables" comment came right after Trump hired a white nationalist as his campaign CEO and long after he made racism and misogyny central parts of his campaign. Polls consistently showed that two-thirds of his supporters agreed with his racist birther nonsense. It may have been a tactical error, and "half" may have been inaccurate, but I fail to see how calling a large chunk of his base deplorable in any way constitutes bigotry.

    3. Are you saying that more emphasis on policy and less on personality/character would be useful? Well, I would like to see that, but am not sold that it makes a difference, for a number of reasons.

      First, it's easy to lie. Policy is messy, and unless you want to dig into the proposals and ideas it's easy to be misled. This accounts, in my opinion, for the prominence of a conman like Paul Ryan.

      Second, voters don't pay attention. Right there in your midwest you have Kansas. Are you telling me they vote on the basis of good policy vs. bad? That if Clinton had hit Trump hard on climate change, the incoherence of his fiscal proposals, the foolishness of huge tariffs, she would have carried those midwestern states?

      Third, a good part of the voters' inattention is due to the negligence of the press. How exactly did we get through a town hall, a VP debate, and three Presidential debates without the words "climate change" being uttered? How many column inches were devoted to emails, compared to tax proposals?

      Finally, as to culture wars. Yes, the "deplorables" remark was poorly judged. But what, more broadly, should change? What is the proper reaction to Bannon? Should Democrats not stand up for individual rights? Should they not object to blatant suppression of minority votes, or the establishment of a registry of Muslims, or a "deportation force?" Tell me what reasonable, honest, lines of retreat are available.

      1. Well I think we'd all like to see that. JackNeedleman made a very cogent argument above for policy over personality, which I was obliquely referring to, but my point was more about the authority to cast stones, which the good book's parable reserves to those without sin and modern parable warns against doing in glass houses where ones behavior is visible to all. One must have squeaky-clean character and be widely perceived that way to embark upon a character-based negative campaign, else the argument is moot and you'd better be prepared with something more substantial. Crooked Hillary vs. Disgusting Donald was only playing to the draw we experienced, and doubling down by projecting Trump's character flaws onto his supporters only proved counter-productive where it mattered in the electoral college. The educational opportunity here is that political support for a candidate does not signal blanket approval, much less mutual possession, of all the worst character traits one can assign to the candidate, and we shouldn't judge voters like it does if we want their support.

        Culture wars: What is the proper reaction to Henry Kissinger? Everyone should stand up for individual rights and object to racial and religious discrimination. And the last thing Dems should be looking for right now are lines of retreat when they need to be attracting and nurturing a stronger voting force to fight back with and finding more vulnerable flanks to attack. Instinctual retreat is part of the problem independents have with Democrats. Prime example: Obama's rightful Supreme Court pick, taken hostage and now stolen by the opposition party using the most transparently bogus "will of the people" argument in modern history, with nary more than a whimper in response. Yes, there were intellectual rebuttals available to those who sought them out, but imagine if, instead of publicizing Trump's copious character flaws, which he was inadvertently doing plenty of himself and nobody needed reminding of, all that wasted effort had been spent hammering away over and over with prominent powerful persistent authoritative messages about democracy and rule of law having been subverted and the need to send a message to an obstructionist party about honoring the expressed will of the people instead of thwarting it. "You thought your vote in 2012 would count for the entire term like the Constitution demands, but the Republicans have effectively stolen it, subverting the Constitution, Rule of Law, and the Will of the People. Only you have the power to take it back. Are you going to let them get away with it?" is much more compelling than "Trump is a racist and so are you if you vote for him".

        1. I take your point, but I hardly agree that attacking Trump's fitness and character were a mistake because of Clinton's vulnerabilities. The Republicans are going to attack the character of any Democratic candidate. And it's going to draw votes.

          Have you forgotten the "swift boating" of Kerry, or the mockery of his purple heart, or attacks on him for windsurfing, or whatever? Have you forgotten birtherism, claims that Obama is secretly a Muslim, and so on? These were, and in fat remain, widely accepted beliefs in conservative circles. So I doubt that any reluctance to attack on character grounds, wise or not, would change GOP tactics.

          1. The party plotted to goad the opposition into nominating a pied piper candidate in order to gain an advantage with which to attack on character and qualifications, succeeding beyond their wildest dreams when, for whatever reasons, the R's nominated Trump. Besides the imprudent "what if he wins" risk of such a strategy, the mistake was making the attacks too prominent in the campaign and relying on them too heavily, blasting away at an enticingly target-rich environment far past the point where they were just making the rubble bounce and causing collateral damage. Clinton's vulnerabilities left her character besmirched nearly as badly as Trump's, leaving swing voters to choose along other factors that apparently didn't favor D's.

    4. A nice line from Walter Russell Mead is " “Donald Trump won the Republican nomination because the GOP elite’s control over their party was weak. But he won the presidency because the Democratic elite’s control over their party was strong”—so strong that it didn’t need to listen to heed the warning signs about its preferred nominee. "

  9. What do you suggest?
    1. Not running Clinton again. Done. There is no point in re-litigating her history.
    2. Pretending to a bunch of racist suckers that their racism is OK, in the name of class solidarity. Get lost. Racism is not negotiable. Being suckered was their choice, but that should be forgiven when they see the light. Give it two more years of continued decline in mining and manufacturing jobs.
    Clinton won the election, and was cheated of the Presidency by the stupid Electoral College system. Winners don't apologise.

    1. It's too bad that Clinton wasn't aware of the Electoral College System. She probably spent too much time interning with a group of radical communists and missed that section of the Constitution. After all it is like leap year, only happens every 4 years.

      1. The last time she ran, she was inexcusably careless on delegate selection mechanisms. This time, she got as far as the general, and didn't pay adequate attention as you note to the Electoral College. Sometimes I am unsure that doing a good job running for President is a sign that you will be a good President – this election is one of them – but it is certainly a bar you have to clear to become President.

    2. You're changing the question: "What do you suggest?". The question you posed was, what were the three biggest mistakes Dems had made, not what to change going forward. Biden has just agreed that his failure to run was a mistake:
      and I think the other biggie was Bill Clinton encouraging Trump to seek a bigger role in Republican Party affairs. Boy, was THAT ever a false-flag operation gone sideways!
      The other big mistake was disdain for working class whites. 'Deplorables' in itself was very damaging, but it came on top of 'bitter clingers', both tee shirt material.

  10. Mistake #1: Not having a clear, relatable, and compelling narrative of where we are today, how we got here, and where we went astray.

    Mistake #2: See Mistake #1.

    Mistake #3: See Mistake #2.

  11. Somehow most Americans have come to believe that the President is an elected dictator and all those other races on the ballot – Congress, state government, etc. – don't matter at all. And in particular, Democrats believe this more than Republicans. This lead to both the lack of tangible accomplishment in Obama's second term and the inability to explain how this happened or why you should still vote Democratic despite it.

    What I'm saying is, the 2016 election was lost in 2010.

    1. Let me add: like many of you, I was expecting a Clinton win. But I figured current trends would continue, and Hillary's first term would just produce even more obstruction and even more downballot losses in 2018, making her administration an obvious failure and setting the stage for a landslide Republican win in 2020. That would in turn lead to the rollback of a generation or more of progressive policies. Well, that last one is going to happen, but without a landslide (not that margin of victory matters in our system) and four years sooner than I thought it would.

  12. 1. Yes. Don't run another Clinton again. Chelsea's out. Sorry, she's a sweet wonderful woman and I know it isn't fair, but that's life. I'd give the same advice to R's about running another Bush, for the same reasons. Let's not even contemplate BB vs. CC, shall we?

    2. It's fine, honorable even, to take a non-negotiable stance against racism, but you can't effectively fight bigotry with bigotry. Stop pretending everyone who voted for Trump are "a bunch of racist suckers". Enough of the same group to make a difference voted twice to elect Barack Hussein Obama (who happens to be black with a Muslim-sounding name, you might have heard) against very white candidates far less objectionable in every way than Trump. Given the opportunity to select a more palatable candidate, there's no reason to believe they won't vote your way again unless you keep telling them not to.

    3. Don't sit back expecting the next two years to do all your work for you. Mid-terms are just like the electoral college in the sense that each state elects its own national representatives. There is much at stake, and much to be done. Claiming to be Winning! when you're clearly losing it instead of correcting course probably won't work out any better for your side than it did for Charlie Sheen.

    1. Actually I am sitting back in the Costa del Sol waiting for the apology, to me, my grandchildren, and 7 billion other victims, from everyone who voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016. If they weren't racists, that does not make the folly any less culpable. Look, even if the Clintons had been videoed selling the names of CIA agents to the ayatollahs in exchange for suitcases of cocaine and planeloads of underage Somali slave girls, it would still have been no contest against giving a spoiled rich brat with the moral compass and policy knowledge of a delinquent eight-year-old the keys to 4,500 nuclear warheads. The idea that the unconsidered feelings of white Midwesterners should count for more than the justified fears of American DREAMers and black teenagers is itself a form of racial bias.

      Probably the best I can do is to keep a running chart of the continued decline of manufacturing and mining jobs, headed We Told You So. It will be up to Booker of Warren or Sherrod Brown or Cortez or Patrick or Warren or Harris (…) to find a two-tongued message that will welcome these lost sheep back to the fold, without betraying their victims. Harold Pollack is a better man than me and may find forgiveness and the right language. Just now, I cannot.

      1. Suit yourself. You can count me among the 7 billion victims disappointed that the American left couldn't field a candidate and rally voter support sufficient to defeat such an utterly unqualified opponent with so much at stake in what should have been a blowout because their feelings of smug superiority count for more than the justified fears of American DREAMers and black teenagers. I have grandchildren too, which burdens me with an interest in seeing that the opposition party does more serious work to stabilize a dangerously unbalanced government than running around pointing fingers and shouting RACIST!

      2. You are far more forgiving than I, James.

        I also wait, in vain I'm sure, for an apology from the "respectable Republicans" who stuck with their party as it descended into Trumpian madness.

        Through birtherism and even worse claims about Obama, tea party shenanigans, anti-immigrant bias, racist voter suppression, know-nothing attitudes to climate change, innumerate and outright fraudulent budget and fiscal proposals, endless tax-cutting for the wealthy, Palin, obstruction for its own sake, they rode the tiger. Why? I don't know. Personal ambition, ivory tower notions of what the GOP stood for, federalism (we see what that idea has belched out) and the wonders of the states, etc.

        I don't know how much the veneer they supplied helped create Trump directly, but it surely helped create the climate in which he could rise.

    2. I'm sorry, but the best that can be said about Trump supporters is that they are inexcusably tolerant of racism and misogyny, and it is not bigotry to point that out. If you don't want to be mistaken for a racist, there's an obvious option: don't vote for the flaming racist.

  13. What's the right message for people who would vote for a man who bragged he "grabbed them by the …?"

    1. I dunno, an offer to sell them Lewinski cigars? Perhaps the more pertinent question is what's the right message for their neighbors who would not vote for such a man, of which there were far more than enough to tip the balance.

      1. You do understand the difference between consensual, if inappropriate, sexual conduct and sexual assault, right?

        1. Damn I hate to get drawn off topic. High horses easy targets and all that.
          You do understand that consensuality is muddled at best in boss-employee power imbalance situations, and hoo-boy find me a more egregious example of that!
          You do understand the difference between the proven beyond reasonable doubt ridiculously inappropriate actions of the highest office holder in the land and the boasts of a second-rate reality TV braggart.
          You do understand the whole world knows that if it had been President Ailes every last Senate Democrat would have found it easy to honor their deeply held values by voting for conviction and removal of the perjurer who sullied the office and flat-out lied about it.
          You do understand that Trump will not be the first groper-in-chief to occupy the White House.
          You do understand that my point has nothing to do with Clinton.


          So how about it? What's your mid-term message to Heartland voters who helped you elect Obama going to look like? How's that "we don't need a bunch of ignorant racist Trump-voting hillbillies" working out for ya?

          1. Your point had nothing to do with Clinton? Then what, exactly, was a "Lewinsky cigar" a reference to?

            The rest of your points aren't much better.

          2. His point certainly ought have had something to do with Clinton. That Bill Clinton's sexual history worked to immunize Trump against his own history was a huge hill for the Dems to climb, and another reason Hillary Clinton's nomination was a mistake.

          3. My point is that we need a strong effective opposition party now more than ever, and Democrats are letting us down big time. Momentum is working against them as Republicans continue to make inroads into contested demographics while Democrats make sour-grapes excuses for losing them, further weakening their already struggling party at a time when the country urgently needs it to be stronger.

            My comments about Clinton are arguments in support of that point, which has nothing to do with the past and everything to do with the future. Partisan bickering solves nothing and only alienates the 1/3 of voters who are unaffiliated with either party, another growing trend demanding attention. Prancing around on high horses pointing fingers at his supporters and their neighbors while pretending that Trump will be the first groper-in-chief to occupy the White House cannot be expected to win crucially-needed support from outside the tribe that continues to defend the most recent POTUS to take unfair sexual advantage of a position of power and then point his finger into the camera and lie about it to the world.

          4. I think you and I are actually singing from the same hymn book. I fairly regularly think that damn fool actions by organizations result from functionaries within those organizations preening and seeking favor within those organizations, and having no sense what-so-ever that the barbarians are at the gates. I think this is what has happened within the Dems, and that they show not very many signs of coming to their senses.
            This is an analytical frame which I formed mostly from reading March of Folly, of which Amazon says

            "Barbara W. Tuchman, author of the World War I masterpiece The Guns of August, grapples with her boldest subject: the pervasive presence, through the ages, of failure, mismanagement, and delusion in government.

            Drawing on a comprehensive array of examples, from Montezuma’s senseless surrender of his empire in 1520 to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Barbara W. Tuchman defines folly as the pursuit by government of policies contrary to their own interests, despite the availability of feasible alternatives. In brilliant detail, Tuchman illuminates four decisive turning points in history that illustrate the very heights of folly: the Trojan War, the breakup of the Holy See provoked by the Renaissance popes, the loss of the American colonies by Britain’s George III, and the United States’ own persistent mistakes in Vietnam. Throughout The March of Folly, Tuchman’s incomparable talent for animating the people, places, and events of history is on spectacular display."

            If you are interested – it's a Hell of a read – it's available in nearly every used book store in the country, I think it was BOMC.

          5. March of Folly sounds like a great read, though I fear reading it at this particular folly-rich point in time may scare the hell out of me. One line from the publisher's remarks struck a chord with me: "Folly is a child of power. The power to command frequently causes failure to think." Humility is such an overlooked, yet important attribute.
            Thanks for the recommendation!

  14. Another possibility, Americans regularly don't vote for the Washington insider v Washington Outsider.

    1976 Carter (outsider) beat Ford (insider incumbent)
    1980 Reagan (outsider) beat Carter (insider incumbent)
    1984 No outsider
    1988 H.W. Bush (insider) beat Dukkakis (outsider)
    1992 Clinton (outsider) beat H.W. Bush (insider incumbent)
    1996 No outsider
    2000 W. Bush (outsider) beat Gore (insider)
    2004 No outsider
    2008 Obama (ran as an outsider, somewhat credibly) beat McCain (insider)
    2012 Obama (insider incumbent) beat Romney (outsider)

    Clinton was the ultimate insider who wasn't an incumbent running against the biggest outsider since 1940.
    Sanders and Warren are also Washington insiders.
    The problem is that the Democrats don't have many outsiders. They have so few governorships at this point, not sure who is going to run effectively as an outsider.

  15. One small and simple mistake is being made now with respect to Trump's and his surrogates' allegations that millions of people voted illegally for Hillary. I have heard very little of the argumentation in the media, but to my knowledge, no one has spoken to any of the alligators thus:

    "You say that millions of people voted illegally for Clinton, accounting for her popular vote lead. Name one. I can name two people who have been arrested for casting fraudulent double votes for Trump: Terri Lynn Rote of Des Moines, Iowa, and Phillip Cook of Richmond, Texas. Your turn now. Name just one. "

    This would need to be done on national TV in front of millions of viewers to have an effect. Has it been done? Have I missed something?

    Saying "There is no evidence" is ineffective. I suggest that asking for names of people actually arrested for vote fraud would cause these people to stumble and be revealed for what they are.

  16. Diane Hessan had an oped in the Globe, which supports my view that the greatest error was nominating Hillary Clinton in the first place, here is a quote: "Last week, I reread all of my notes. There was one moment when I saw more undecided voters shift to Trump than any other, when it all changed, when voters began to speak differently about their choice. It wasn’t FBI Director James Comey, Part One or Part Two; it wasn’t Benghazi or the e-mails or Bill Clinton’s visit with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the tarmac. No, the conversation shifted the most during the weekend of Sept. 9, after Clinton said, “You can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.”

    All hell broke loose. George told me that his neighborhood was outraged, that many of his hard-working, church-going, family-loving friends resented being called that name. He told me that he looked up the word in the dictionary, and that it meant something so bad that there is no hope, like the aftermath of a tsunami. You know, he said, Clinton ended up being the biggest bully of them all. Whereas Trump bullied her, she bullied Wilkes Barre.

    Things were not the same after that, at least with my voters. I remember wondering whether that moment was like Romney’s 47 percent: a comment during a fund-raiser from which the candidate would never recover, proof that, like Romney, Clinton was an out-of-touch rich person who didn’t really get it."

  17. Here's a suggestion that Charles Delevan did it:…. But, there's the great line, 'victory has a thousand fathers, defeat is an orphan' – in this case it's defeat which has a thousand fathers, so many things went wrong for the Dems. I still think nominating Hillary in the first place was the greatest error.

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