At some point, Hillary Clinton’s primary voters and the Democratic party have to accept that they nominated someone who would go on to predictably lose the Rust Belt.
She was persistently hounded by recurring allegations of misconduct with a private email server, blame for her husband’s escapades in the 90s, a struggle to relate to ordinary Americans and her ties to Wall Street interests. Her opponent, meanwhile, sailed through multiple allegations of sexual assault, a leaked tape revealing him recounting exactly that and opening his campaign by labelling Mexicans “rapists” as his party flailed feebly to try to stop him.
It’s hard to miss the obscene double standard and yet the Democrats should have seen this coming. Fundamentally, Clinton had no central policy message — if there was one, it was: “get excited about more of the same”.
Instead of trying to win over white working-class swing voters, she showed hubris by trying to follow the far narrower path Barack Obama took to victory — a grassroots campaign that generated historically unprecedented enthusiasm and turnout.
How highly-paid Clinton operatives missed these core campaign strategies, which undoubtedly cost her the election, is astounding. Leaked emails from campaign chairman John Podesta reveal an internal scramble to craft a central message well into the campaign. Even high school students planning on attending four-year private college have to know who they are before they apply.
It’s as if the Clinton camp planned for a competition with a bland face like Jeb Bush — an operation so languid his people added an exclamation mark to his name. Way after it was clear Bush was out, Clinton told an Ohio town hall audience that “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business”. You can practically hear Donald Trump strategists gloating; these were crucial swing voters.
Less widely reported on was what she added afterwards. “We don’t want to forget those people. We’ve got to move away from fossil fuels, but I don’t want to move away from [them],” Clinton said. She’s right; coal is inexorably growing obsolete but solar initiatives clearly don’t create job openings for coal miners nor have many of these voters expressed interest in retraining programs.
Still, Clinton had a six-page job retraining plan worth $30 billion covering everything from education, infrastructure to tax credits. But Trump won them over with bluster and fiery ads with the incriminating soundbite.
In March 2014, future Trump advisor and then-pollster Kellyanne Conway told key Republican donors that her analysts discovered “a new open-mindedness to populist approaches, regardless of partisan or ideological preferences.” The New York Times reports that the donors responded “tepidly.” The donors favoured trade deals and immigration — “labour and votes” — as they put it. As it turns out, the Republican establishment might have more in common with Hillary Clinton than Trump.
Trump and Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, talked American manufacturing, embracing anti-global trade policy, even prompting Clinton to reverse her stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a fight which the Obama administration just conceded.
Despite the bubbling imminence of a new kind of frustration with Washington, the Democrats misread the electorate and prematurely embraced Clinton. “For two years, Mrs Clinton has been the prohibitive favourite, keeping the party’s strongest alternatives on the sidelines and depriving those who remain of potential donors and staff,” The New York Times reported a month before she went public with her candidacy.
A smarter party would have seen that Americans are weary of the Clintons. It wouldn’t have ignored that an internal audit of the Clinton Foundation by its own lawyers determined that many of its donors expected quid pro quo arrangements while Clinton was Secretary of State. Americans are weary of the Clinton who used a private server at home to facilitate her government communications, not because of the arguably small crime itself, but because of the hubristic certainty that she could get away with it.
But instead, top Democratic National Committee staffers pilloried Sanders while publicly emphasising the party’s impartiality during the primary. All along the way, the media predicted an apocalyptic schism tearing apart the Republican party; we seemed to especially relish running those wire service photos of a sad Reince Priebus — Chairman of the Republican National Committee. But the loudmouthed bully who had become such an anathema to Mitt Romney and John McCain led them to success, while the Democrats tore themselves apart.
America has told the Democrats twice that it’s got Clinton fatigue. Half the country would rather elect a man with zero days in public office behind him who said he would deal with the federal government’s financial obligations by defaulting on the national debt over a highly qualified woman, a policy wonk, a two-time senator and Secretary of State.
The other half voted for her because she wasn’t the one who unleashed a cry of flagrant racism and sexism upon us; because the alternative was a vulgar, sleazy man so repellent that electing him as the face of the United States qualifies as an act of collective intellectual and moral violence.
To me, a Muslim writer, “I’m not Trump” was a compelling enough message. Objectively speaking, it’s feeble. And clearly, it was feeble to Jill Stein and Gary Johnson supporters, who arguably swung an already narrow race in Trump’s favour.
There are two sides to America. The ugly America, the side the world so often sees, prevailed and the world has received a roaring endorsement of that understanding from none other than the Americans themselves. The Democrats better be ready for 2018 and 2020 and Chelsea Clinton’s alleged upcoming Congressional bid isn’t the way to do it.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 24th, 2016.