Taking the Measure of Clinton’s Poor Performance

A few days ago the wife and I were discussing our primary votes. I confessed I had decided to cast what I called a “naïve” vote for Hillary Clinton. In using the word naïve, I meant I had made a deliberate choice to put aside strategic concerns and simply vote for the candidate I preferred.

I knew Clinton was harried by scandal, but I personally thought the scandals were arcane and overblown.

I knew Clinton was considered unlikable–and I, certainly, don’t find her appealing–but I thought crowd-pleasing charisma was overrated.

I knew Clinton was a hawk, but I decided I could live with it–especially since the Middle East is such a mess that I’m not sure isolationism or pacifism would work better.

I knew Clinton was an establishment candidate, a guarded insider, a Washington fixture saddled with decades of political baggage, but I admired her professionalism and poise.

In an era of angry revolution, I gravitated to a candidate who represented the converse of angry revolution.

That seems to have been a bad gamble.

It has to be said that Clinton performed very poorly. She fell behind Obama’s totals in just about every category. She lost young voters, black voters, Latino voters, Asian-American voters. She lost almost as many votes among black women as she did among white men. She never managed to boost Democratic turnout, even against an enemy like Trump. And she never inspired the anticipated surge among women.

Think about that. One month after the Hollywood Access leak, Clinton underperformed among women. That’s just terrible.

I’m not sure this can be blamed on Clinton or her team. In retrospect, they ran a campaign that played to her strengths and her opponent’s weaknesses. They raked in money from big donors, banked on Obama’s popularity, relied on celebrities to reach out to young voters, harped on Trump’s bad character, and baited their opponent into frequent crazy displays. The last in particular was probably a good strategy. Every time Trump launched one of his bizarre vendettas, the polls swung against him.

But an attack-driven campaign is inherently risky, and the timing didn’t work out. If the sexual harassment scandal had broken when the Comey announcement did, we might have been looking at a Clinton presidency. Yet the furor died down. Disgust with Trump simply didn’t translate into enthusiasm for Clinton.

I know, I know. Clinton’s campaign ignored the working class. She didn’t pay enough visits to Wisconsin. She took the Democratic base for granted.

But would she ever have won those people? I’m not sure this problem could have been fixed by shuffling around a few campaign stops.

One trope that bugged me throughout the campaign was the depiction of Clinton as a kind of granny president–warm, fuzzy, maternal–an ubermom who was going to bustle into Washington, soothe everyone’s anxieties, and clean up the country’s messes. It was infantilizing, it smacked of desperation, and it made for a grotesque mismatch with Clinton’s actual record. (That’s our Hillary–the lovable old babushka who bakes cookies for Goldman Sachs bankers and bombed the bejeezus out of Libya.) I’ve often heard that Clinton is more charismatic in person than onstage. But how many union blokes was she supposed to shake hands with? How many disgruntled Flint women could she hope to take out for coffee?

No, the problems with Clinton’s candidacy were there from the start. We knew what they were. Clinton did too. She tried to compensate by clinging to Obama’s coalition. It didn’t work.

Would Sanders have done better? Perhaps he would have been tainted by his socialist sympathies. Perhaps the inevitable third-term hurdle was too high for any Democrat to clear. Perhaps something unexpected would have sunk his unorthodox candidacy. We’ll never know.

I still believe Clinton, of the available candidates, would have done the best job as president. We’ll never know that, either.

But we do know this. Clinton’s candidacy failed in all the ways that matter. She didn’t boost turnout among Latinos. She didn’t energize young voters. She didn’t excite the base. She didn’t win over significant numbers of vacillating Republicans.

She did all the things, in essence, that were expected of her. And it didn’t work.

She was my first choice, my personal choice, and in that sense, a naïve choice. But I have to admit, she seems to have been a bad choice.

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