Three competing theories as to why Hillary Clinton lost and Donald Trump won

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Coincidentally, in the last week we’ve had two competing theories emerge in the USA. Theories, that is, as to why Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 Presidential election and Donald Trump won. First, we had this from Hilary Clinton in her new memoir:

I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t realize how quickly the ground was shifting under all our feet… I was running a traditional presidential campaign with carefully thought-out policies and painstakingly built coalitions, while Trump was running a reality TV show that expertly and relentlessly stoked Americans’ anger and resentment.

In conversation with CBS’s Jane Pauley, Hillary Clinton added that her biggest mistakes were to use a private server for her email and accept paid speaking engagements from bankers.

But it is Steve Bannon, in a spellbinding interview with Charlie Rose on “60 minutes”, who appears to offer the most compelling narrative on the historic Trump win/Clinton loss. He says that he is a “street fighter” – to which late night host Seth Myers quipped “Looking at him, I’d say the street won”. But putting aside his rather unprepossessing appearance and that the fact that he is, essentially, a glorified Paul Staines, Steve Bannon’s theory appears to be pretty coherent and plausible. He says that Donald Trump was/is a charismatic speaker who focussed on a populist, nationalist economy agenda. He presented an insurgent message (while Clinton offered the corrupt ‘same old same old’) and faced down the Billy Bush Saturday and other diversions by “doubling down” at every turn. Er, that’s it – although I recommend watching the full interview as it is absolutely fascinating.

To those two theories, I add my own. For what it’s worth, using my well-exercised retrospectogram, I would focus the blame for the Clinton defeat much more geographically. If 38,872 people in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan had voted for Clinton instead of Donald Trump, then she would have won. Investing more in those states during the campaign could have easily have brought her victory. If she had made just one visit to Milwaukee in the campaign, it is relatively plausible to suggest that she would have won Wisconsin (she didn’t visit that state during the campaign and lost it by 22,748 votes. Her margin in Milwaukee was 27,000 less than Obama’s.)

She lost Michigan by 10,704 votes, yet “in the closing weeks of the presidential race, Hillary Clinton’s campaign — and the outside groups that supported it — aired more television advertisements in Omaha than in the states of Michigan and Wisconsin combined” (Washington Post).

And remember that in the weeks before election day, the Clinton campaign was pouring resources into Arizona for pity’s sake! If only some of those resources had been thrown at the northern rust belt states! And one can only conclude that it was sheer arrogance and lack of awareness of what was going on, on the ground, that led to such crazy campaign decisions.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Robert Stallard 12th Sep '17 - 3:08pm

    There is always post-election analysis as to where campaign attention should have been paid. To be fair, the Republicans could probably point to areas they might have done better in as well, so that aspect probably pretty much balances out.

    Whilst the reasons you cite are all probably true to some extent, Mrs C was simply just the wrong candidate. You mention the “corrupt same old, same old” but there was also the shady Clinton Foundation with huge sums mysteriously going in and out, her conduct in the Benghazi affair (Americans always rate their serviceman very highly and a politician leaving them in the lurch doesn’t go down well), and a right old muddle regarding “charitable” donations to her campaign from questionable foreign sources.

    With all this plus lies about emails etc, there is basically a major breach of trust that rendered Mrs. Clinton unfit for any public office, let alone that of POTUS!

  • Floating voter 12th Sep '17 - 3:43pm

    “Rust belt” not a very nice phrase , shouldn’t be allowed here. Leave it to the likes of Obama and Clinton

  • Trump didn’t “win it”. Clinton lost it.

    She was tainted by association with Wall Street combined with her own complacency and lank of spontaneity. She also failed to recognise that Bernie Sanders was appealing to the idealistic young (almost as Corbyn did in the UK. If the Democrat Party had paid attention to the polls and picked Sanders instead they would have beaten Trump.

  • There are so many theories and reason as to why Clinton lost to Trump. A lot of it people seem to appreciate the way Trump talks about american business. I always wonder what it would be like if Clinton won.

  • Andrew McCaig 12th Sep '17 - 4:33pm

    “If the Democrat Party had paid attention to the polls and picked Sanders instead they would have beaten Trump.”

    Probably true… The problem was that Sanders would not have beaten the more mainstream Republican contenders that everyone assumed would get the nomination..

    It was the Republican “turn” to get the Presidency so the Democrats were always swimming against the stream. Obamacare was sabotaged sufficiently to be REALLY unpopular, and was a central issue. The Republicans won in spite of Trump, not because of him – but of course he appealed to a very different demographic from the usual Republican politician and voter loyalties changed dramatically and that threw the Democratic machine out of its stride.

    Big changes in voter loyalty have also happened here, where Labour are now more a middle class party than a working class one (and Corbyn has adjusted his policies very cleverly to this new reality, favouring middle class graduates over those on benefits). It is those middle class voters who have switched from us to Labour, while many working class voters have moved to the Tories via UKIP

  • Red Liberal 12th Sep '17 - 4:49pm

    It was Russian interference which delivered this election to Trump. Nothing else, nothing more.

  • Tony Dawson 12th Sep '17 - 5:20pm

    Firstly, please remember that the Democratic Party working for Ms Clinton won the popular vote by a substantial margin. But that is no use in a FPTP constituency system. This is like the British Labour party in 2017 9and indeed in 2015) racking up extra majorities (87 per cent of the vote in Liverpool Walton) in their heartlands which woon them not a single seat.

    Secondly, quite a lot of Americans are sexist – though probably not as many who didn’t vote for Obama because of being racist. Still could have made the difference.

    Thirdly (as Paul identifies) the Democrats were fighting the wrong election. They insisted on ignoring the clear concerns of the ‘rust belt’ and did not appear to even try to hard to make the voters in these ‘swing states’ switch from that agenda – opposed to virtually everything you could possibly identify with Hilary Clinton – switch to considering other agendas where Democrats might do better with these particular voters.

    Everything about the Clinton campaign (I was in Colorado for several weeks before the November poll and previously canvassed for Obama in the rustbelt) stank of superiority and arrogance even without the gaffes (private servers etc) which hindered them whenever they seemed to get going. Hilary wasn’t particularly worse than Bill. But big parts of the US nation was not prepared to be so generous to her as they had been to her husband. Another point is that the Democrat candidates for all the elected places ‘down the ticket’ have not really set the world on fire in their states, districts and neighbourhoods. Without that depth, as well as a clear platform understandable by ordinary people which is not just ‘anti-Trump, the Democrat Party in the USA will not succeed again to any significant extent whether or not the Russians conspire against it or whether or not its officers cheat again to fix the Democrat presidential candidacy by fraud.

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 12th Sep '17 - 6:22pm

    Interesting, Paul: I think there is truth in all three explanations.

    Although underlying them all to an extent is that Clinton was simply the wrong candidate. The Democrats knew of the problems she had, particularly on trust (not without justification), yet selected her anyway.

    If a successful election is formed of: good candidate + resonant message + well-executed strategy, then the Democrats fell at the first hurdle.

  • @ Nick Thornsby “If a successful election is formed of: good candidate + resonant message + well-executed strategy, then the Democrats fell at the first hurdle.”

    You could have usefully inserted the word ‘Liberal’ in front of ‘Democrats’ for equal resonance, Nick..

  • Simon McGrath 12th Sep '17 - 9:27pm

    Interesting – HC still doesn’t really accept her responsibility . She should have stood down after the email story came out. her real problem was that people simply didn’t like her or trust her . I did a days calling for her when we were on holiday and people would say they were voting for her but very reluctantly. The ‘basket of deporables’ summed up her attitude towards many traditional Democratic voters

  • I don’t have a dog in this fight, as the Americans would say, but I studied the situation as an objective observer.

    I think that Clinton was perceived to represent the establishment and the elite. Such people were regarded as out of touch with ordinary Americans. More than that, they didn’t care about them.

    In addition, the Clinton dynasty and its charitable foundation were thought to be corrupt by some people and this included the FBI. I do not know the truth or the details but the mistrust ran very deep indeed. In short, Clinton was regarded as toxic by a portion of the electorate.

    Trump had a whole new range of faults that are too numerous to list here but it seems that to the majority of Americans, anything was going to be better than the status quo.

  • Perhaps a much more difficult and controversial assignment is to look at Trump and ask why he won. I think the liberal backlash against his election was overdone. Yes, he is a boorish, misogynistic, unsophisticated non-establishment figure but that is what differentiates him from the smooth establishment characters who were rejected. A comparison between Trump and Bill Clinton in terms of sexual wrongdoing is no contest.

    The hysterical rejection of Clinton was so contrived and politically correct that it was almost a pleasure to witness. His initial appointments were crass but more recently they are respectable people of talent. He faces many serious challenges, let us give the man a chance.

  • David Pocock 13th Sep '17 - 1:56am

    Hmm. It is a tough one. I don’t have the stats but my impression from talking to a lot of people was it was

    1 people don’t want the status quo. Things have been tough for a lot of people since 2008 and frankly they know what the status quo will mean for them. There is a general feeling of decline in the west which pushes towards a leader like trump.

    2 this one counts for us in UK too. A sense of entitlement regarding power. If Hillery had won then the presidents of my life time would be bush Clinton bush Obama Clinton. Both sides of the pond there is hereditary democracy where second and third generation MPs and senators take seats frankly “we the people” will never get. In such a situation why not trump. A billionare businessman who is an outsider like the people.

    3 feeding from 2 and also absolutely appropate for UK to. The old weapons no longer work. Maybe some within our party have used these weapons in a debate. Everyone is racist. That’s offensive. White privilege. As an outsider looking in to the american election I can’t say I agree with Hillery. I had no idea what she stood on for election other than her gender. Listening to my democratic leaning american friends I game with it was much the same. And the response to criticism is to cry sexist or mysogany or racism if you do not agree with Obama. It is way over played now to the point that an actual mysoganist is president.

    Truth is not that most people are these things, most are not. But if you keep beating people, in particular working class people with these sticks that will turn their backs. My friends who voted brexit and voted or supported trump tell me mostly they are fed up of being demonized.

    Oh and 4 Russia. Proud patriots taking Putin’s money and doing his work.

  • I thought Clinton was a good candidate. However, in retrospect electoral patterns suggest it was always more of a struggle for the Democrats than many commentators were suggesting. So many people wanted Clinton to win that it became a truism that she would. This lead to over confidence and a campaign that alienated too many voters in key states. The male, pale and stale shtick might play well on a college campus or in some newspapers, but why would you expect it to attract a wider electorate? Maybe, a different candidate could have beaten Trump. Then again maybe not. I suspect, a better Republican candidate would have walked it and that the Democrats fell into the trap of seeing it as H.C’s turn. Who knows? Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but what happened is what happened and the debate is really just refighting a lost war as an exercise in alternative history.

  • Richard Underhill 30th Jan '19 - 7:27pm

    Republican President Ronald Reagan said “Mr. Gorbachev: tear down this wall”.

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