Sexism. The media. James Comey.
On a call with surrogates Thursday afternoon, top advisers John Podesta and Jennifer Palmieri pinned blame for Hillary Clinton’s loss on a host of uncontrollable headwinds that ultimately felled a well–run campaign that executed a sensible strategy, and a soldier of a candidate who appealed to the broadest coalition of voters in the country.
They shot down questions about whether they should have run a more populist campaign with a greater appeal to angry white voters, pointing to exit polls that showed Clinton beat Trump on the issue of the economy. They explained that internal polling from May showed that attacking Trump on the issue of temperament was a more effective message.
They offered no apology for the unexpected loss.
On the call, Clinton surrogates who have supported the campaign from the outside for the past 18 months offered their thanks to the Brooklyn-based operatives. The mood was light and supportive, with Podesta and Palmieri expressing gratitude for everyone’s hard work.
But some people on the call were seething.
“They are saying they did nothing wrong, which is ridiculous,” said one Clinton surrogate. “She was the wrong messenger and everyone misjudged how pissed working class people were.”
As the reality of a Trump presidency began to set in on Thursday, there was a growing sick sense among longtime Clinton allies and advisers that the aide who long ago advised the former secretary of state against mounting a second presidential bid, Cheryl Mills, may have been right. In interviews with close to a dozen top Clinton allies and former operatives, who did not want to publicly criticize the losing campaign or candidate, many expressed a deep frustration that the party had pinned its hopes on a divisive establishment candidate and failed to fully embrace the reality that despite President Barack Obama’s soaring approval rating, 2016 was ultimately a change election.
The issues were crystal clear as early as January 2015, but the campaign thought it could overcome it.
“Make a virtue of her longevity,” Palmieri advised in an email that month to Podesta, released by WikiLeaks. “Embrace all the Clinton-ness — the forty years in politics, the decades on the national stage…Maybe folks had Clinton fatigue at one point, now they are just seen as part of the fabric of America. (Hillary won’t go away, she is indefatigable, she just keeps at it, and you can trust her to get the job done.)”
But in a change election, pitching longevity and experience as a positive simply didn’t add up to a resonant message.
Despite being the wrong candidate for the moment, many allies who have helped the campaign for months were still in disbelief that Clinton did not succeed in putting away a man they see as unqualified to serve as commander in chief.
“She got this gift of this complete idiot who says bizarre things and hates women and she still lost,” said one longtime Clinton ally and fundraiser. “They lost in a race they obviously should have won. They need to take some blame.”
Clinton’s advisers have explained to the stunned candidate that she lost the race of her life in large part due to Comey’s October Surprise — they said their plan of winning college-educated white voters and turning out record levels of Latinos was working until Republican-leaning supporters shifted back to Trump in the wake of Comey’s bombshell letter, 11 days before the election, and the necessary enthusiasm among Latinos and African-Americans could not hold. By the time he released his clearance letter on the Sunday before the election, it was too late to re-energize voters.
Most Clinton supporters agreed that was part of it. But it wasn’t just that.
So much of the campaign’s energy was spent explaining inherited issues, they said, like the paid speeches Clinton delivered to Wall Street banks, pay-to-play accusations about the Clinton Foundation, and fallout of Clinton’s decision to set up a private email server at the State Department. “They spent their time protecting her, explaining her, defending her, with all these issues, the speeches, the Foundation, the emails — that became the energy of the campaign,” sighed one longtime Clinton confidante.
The paid speeches and the glitzy fundraisers, they said, did not paint a picture of a woman connected to the real suffering in the country. But that, they said, was just who Clinton was after so many years in the spotlight. “Her outlook is, ‘I get whacked no matter what, so screw it,’” explained one longtime confidant. “I’ve been out here killing myself for years and years and if I want to give the same speech everyone else does, I will.”
There was little the Clinton operatives could do about the “scandals” they inherited when they signed up to work for the former secretary of state. But Clinton allies are also faulting the campaign for failing to develop a credible message for downscale white voters, arguing she could have won by a larger margin on the economy.
And some began pointing fingers at the young campaign manager, Robby Mook, who spearheaded a strategy supported by the senior campaign team that included only limited outreach to those voters — a theory of the case that Bill Clinton had railed against for months, wondering aloud at meetings why the campaign was not making more of an attempt to even ask that population for its votes. It’s not that there was none: Clinton’s post-convention bus tour took her through Youngstown, Ohio, as well as Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, where she tried to eat into Trump’s margins with his base. In Scranton and Harrisburg, the campaign aired a commercial that featured a David Letterman clip of Trump admitting to outsourcing manufacturing of the products and clothes that bore his logo. And at campaign stops in Ohio, Clinton talked about Trump’s reliance on Chinese steel.
But in general, Bill Clinton’s viewpoint of fighting for the working class white voters was often dismissed with a hand wave by senior members of the team as a personal vendetta to win back the voters who elected him, from a talented but aging politician who simply refused to accept the new Democratic map. At a meeting ahead of the convention at which aides presented to both Clintons the “Stronger Together” framework for the general election, senior strategist Joel Benenson told the former president bluntly that the voters from West Virginia were never coming back to his party.
Clinton’s closing message in the final weeks of her campaign was focused on Trump’s temperament, and the fact that he was unfit for office. But the campaign’s theory that simply making Trump unacceptable was enough to win turned out to be wrong because of the unique factor that both candidates were so widely disliked by the public. “They lost the reality of what their opponent was doing,” said one longtime Clinton adviser. “They went for a target and they got their target, which was too narrow.” The closing picture of the campaign was an image of Clinton sharing a stage with two presidents at a rally in Philadelphia. The message was about continuity, not change.
Others blamed a grab bag of marginal problems that depleted a candidate who had no wiggle room for error: The soaring Obamacare premiums announced last month hurt Clinton, some said; others questioned the campaign’s decision to try and expand the map into red Arizona rather than simply defend the most likely, narrow paths to 270 electoral votes; others blamed Bernie Sanders for “poisoning” millennial voters who never came back on board. (Exit polls showed that Clinton won 56 percent of voters ages 18-24, compared to 66 percent of the same age group who voted for Barack Obama eight years ago).
The sense inside Clinton headquarters on Thursday, as aides packed up their desks and munched on free tacos and brownies, was that the Democratic nominee did not deserve to lose to a man that only 30 percent of the country thought was qualified to be president and that it ultimately came down to white working class voters rejecting her because she was a woman.
At Brooklyn headquarters on Wednesday, Podesta expressed his gratitude and support for the team, and for Mook. “We have the No. 1 campaign manager,” he said, in a staffwide gathering in the afternoon. “I’ve been doing this since 1968, and I’ve never seen a culture and a spirit like we created in this campaign.” On the conference call with thousands of staff across the country, Clinton also called in and thanked her team for their dedication.
Mook tried to end the campaign on a high note.
“What you’ve created is going to live on,” he told his troops. “Leaders all over this country, local networks around the nation, future candidates who are going to step forward. Someone in this room is going to manage a presidential campaign one day.”
Powered by WPeMatico