Democrats still ponder election failure as Trump marks 100th day
America Letter: Clinton was ultimately a victim of something outside her control
Hillary Clinton at a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio, in the final days of the US presidential election in November. Photograph: Carlos Barria/Reuters
As Donald Trump marks his 100th day in office, Democrats are still coming to terms with an election loss that defied the most experienced pollsters and propelled the most improbable presidential candidate in history to the White House.
The title is a barely veiled reference to the glass ceiling that Clinton famously evoked in her 2008 concession speech to Barack Obama. In the end, the Javits Centre in Manhattan – Hillary’s election night venue, which was chosen for its own glass ceiling – lay desolate in the early hours of November 9th, 2016, a symbol of the lost dreams and shattering defeat epitomised by the election result.
Based on conversations with about 100 sources involved in the Clinton team, the book argues that the campaign was on shaky ground from the start.
An inside look at the characters in Clinton’s Brooklyn-based team shows that it was divided between two camps. On one side were younger, ex-Obama advisers who depended on data analytics to make key decisions on resources and strategy; on the other were old-school political operatives including Bill Clinton who favoured more traditional methods of political campaigning.
The dominance of the former was to prove costly. As the election night results rolled in it became painfully apparent that the data analytics that underpinned Clinton’s campaign were proven to be inaccurate, particularly in estimating the surge in blue-collar support for Trump in the rust-belt states.
But the problems for Clinton started much earlier. The book is a reminder that Hillary Clinton in fact fought two bitterly divisive campaigns, the first against her Democratic rival Bernie Sanders.
It recalls how the scandal over Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state overshadowed the early months of her campaign and buoyed Bernie Sanders’s unlikely candidacy. In April 2015, when Clinton announced her candidacy for president, she had 69 per cent support in the Democratic Party, compared to Sanders’s 5 per cent. By September her support had fallen to 37 per cent, with Sanders’s rising to 27 per cent. The bitter recriminations over Clinton’s links with big business and dishonesty over the email issue stuck long after Sanders exited the race.
Even when Clinton finally won the Democratic race, the shouts of protest as she stood on stage accepting the nomination in Philadelphia revealed a deeply divided party.
The length and intensity of the primary campaign took its toll financially and logistically on the Clinton campaign, using up valuable resources before the election proper had even begun.
It also contained warning signs about what was to come, as Clinton lost Michigan to Sanders and just scraped by in Iowa. It was at this point that advisers, including Bill Clinton, began to worry about the campaign’s focus on cities and urban centres and reluctance to engage in on-the-ground campaigning.
Clinton’s focus on maintaining her strong support among African-American voters also led her to neglect white voters, particularly in the rust belt states.
But arguably the biggest fall-out of the brutal primary campaign against Sanders was that it blindsided the Clinton camp about the fast-approaching Trump threat.
Trump in many ways filled the role vacated by Sanders, appealing to a populist, anti-trade white vote that Clinton failed to inspire.
In late August 2016, while Trump was out campaigning in the rust belt states, Clinton was meeting with donors at a $100,000-plus a head event on Long Island with A-list celebrities such as Calvin Klein, Paul McCartney and Jon Bon Jovi. Clinton never visited Wisconsin during the campaign, a state she would ultimately lose.
Shattered paints a negative picture of Clinton and her campaign, criticising her for not taking responsibility for campaign failures and failing to accept the ramifications of her decision to give paid speeches to Goldman Sachs and her own role in the email server scandal.
Numerous officials named in the book have already disputed its contents and arguments.
But Shattered also shows that Clinton was ultimately a victim of something outside her control. One episode describes the “terrifying realisation” in campaign headquarters a month before the election when it became clear that Trump was continuing to garner support, despite the emergence of a 2005 video showing the Republican candidate bragging about what he could do to women.
Clinton’s continuing frustration that she was failing to connect with voters, despite consistently outperforming Trump in the televised debates, rings true. Ultimately, as the votes came in on November 8th, it became clear that Clinton was the wrong candidate at the wrong time.
How Democrats address that failure will be a central question for them as they look ahead to the 2020 presidential election.