The Democratic Party is stuck in a moment that it can’t get out of. That moment is 2:30 a.m. on November 9, 2016, when Donald J. Trump took to the podium at the Hilton Midtown in Manhattan to deliver his victory speech, having just won the presidency of the United States. Since then, Democrats have been reliving the shock that was the day before, aware they have to most past the trauma of a devastating loss but unable or unwilling to do so.
Seven months later, they remain stunned, their questions ultimately focused on a fundamental inability to explain how they could blow a 50-point late-fourth-quarter lead, in a contest that had them holding every advantage. If “she-didn’t-campaign-in-Wisconsin” became a popular refrain in the days and weeks after the election, it is only because people needed some means to explain away the inexplicable.
Since then, other explanations have emerged, including from Hillary R. Clinton herself. They suggest that even as the political class begins to look to 2018, much of the Democratic establishment remains stuck in 2016.
The latest round of recrimination came from Van Jones, the CNN commentator who was previously a green energy adviser to President Obama. Speaking in Chicago on Saturday, he harshly criticized the Clinton campaign of squandering its $1.2 billion war chest.
“The Hillary Clinton campaign did not spend their money on white workers, and they did not spend it on people of color,” Jones said according to The Hill. “They spent it on themselves. They spent it on themselves, let’s be honest.”
Jones seemed to be exploding the debate over which demographic Clinton had failed to attract: What is it the Midwestern whites who’d voted for her husband Bill in ’92 and ‘96, or the racially diverse millennials who went for her onetime rival Obama in ‘08?
Neither, Jones said at the outset of his remarks: “This is the stupidest false choice I’ve ever heard,” he said to loud applause.
“They took a billion dollars, a billion dollars, a billion dollars, and set it on fire, and called it a campaign!” He continued, “A billion dollars for consultants. A billion dollars for pollsters. A billion dollars for a data operation, that was run by data dummies who couldn’t figure out that maybe people in Michigan needed to be organized.”
Jones’s diatribe may have been a dig at her young campaign manager Robby Mook, who reportedly rejected investing more money in the upper Midwest, where the famed Democratic “firewall” collapsed on Nov. 8, paving the way for a Trump victory.
Did the Clinton campaign waste the enormous amount of money it raised? Yes, but only because the efforts of any losing campaign seem wasteful after the fact. If you wake up with a hangover, you’re bound to lament the choices you made the night before. Did I really need that seventh bacon-tini?
More substantively, it is true that Clinton’s campaign was an expensive enterprise, especially when compared to Trump’s threadbare operation, which was largely predicated on free press coverage for his daily outrages.
For example, in early 2016, Clinton reportedly spent more than $700,000 in one quarter on polls; in an earlier quarter of 2015, she’d spent $1.9 million, vastly more than any other candidate of either party. During the summer before the general election, she was spending $500,000 per day on television ads, while Trump was shelling out nothing for the same.
Clinton has her own ideas about why she lost, and these have nothing to do with resource allocation. As she has been more vocal about her views on the election, many observers have noticed a lack of contrition on her part, a willingness to blame anyone but herself.
For example, at a tech conference in California in May, Clinton blamed the Democratic National Committee: “It was on the verge of insolvency. Its data was mediocre to poor, nonexistent, wrong. I had to inject money into it,” she said.
A former data director for the DNC answered on Twitter with the following rebuke: “DNC data folks: today’s accusations are fucking bullshit, and I hope you understand the good you did despite that nonsense.”
Many have marvelled at Clinton’s ability to manufacture excuses. The right-wing Washington Times, for example, noted in an editorial that Clinton had come up with nearly 20 reasons for her loss, including “Facebook, Twitter, the Russians, the Democratic National Committee, racism, misogyny, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, voter suppression, The New York Times, Steve Bannon, Google, and ‘the media.’”
The Rev. Al Sharpton had his own ideas on why there’s no President Clinton today: “Her mistake was she did not mobilize in the black community,” he said last month. Though according to a much-discussed New York Times op-ed by Mark Lilla, she actually lost because she’d too often “slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop.”
The unceasing relitigation of November’s election isn’t likely to help Democrats in 2018, which they hope will be a “wave election” that allows them to retake the House of Representatives. If there are lessons to be learned, they plainly haven’t learned them yet. That Democrats are still pointing fingers and picking at scabs a half-year after the polls closed is a sign of just how lost the party is, torn between competing nodes seemingly unable to reconcile their differences.
Of course, it doesn’t help that President Trump continues to gloat over his victory in the election, routinely tweaking Clinton on Twitter, in a manner many consider unbecoming of a president. “Crooked Hillary Clinton now blames everybody but herself, refuses to say she was a terrible candidate,” he said in a May 31st tweet. “Hits Facebook & even Dems & DNC.”
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