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The Autopsy: What Went Wrong For 2016 Democrats

Now more than a week after Election Day, Clinton’s loss (and Democrats, more generally) is coming into clearer focus…

Clinton Loss Autopsy

While the failure of an organization the size of the Clinton campaign is naturally multifaceted and complex, the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein wrote a piece that focuses on some of the campaign’s more surprising failures: Michigan and Wisconsin.

In Michigan alone, a senior battleground state operative told HuffPost that the state party and local officials were running at roughly one-tenth the paid canvasser capacity that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) had when he ran for president in 2004. Desperate for more human capital, the state party and local officials ended up raising $300,000 themselves to pay 500 people to help canvass in the election’s closing weeks. By that point, however, they were operating in the dark. One organizer said that in a precinct in Flint, they were sent to a burned down trailer park. No one had taken it off the list of places to visit because no one had been there until the final weekend. Clinton lost the state by 12,000 votes.

A similar situation unfolded in Wisconsin. According to several operatives there, the campaign’s state office and local officials scrambled to raise nearly $1 million for efforts to get out the vote in the closing weeks. Brooklyn headquarters had balked at funding it themselves, arguing that the state already had a decent-sized footprint because of the labor-backed super PAC For Our Future and pointing out that Clinton had never trailed in a single poll in Wisconsin.

In short, the Clinton campaign was a victim of its own neglect: Clinton never visited Wisconsin after the Democratic convention in July. “There are only so many times you can get folks excited about Chelsea Clinton,” one Wisconsin Democrat explained to Stein.

Losing Democratic strongholds like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania (plus once-competitive states like Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio) has triggered an identity crisis among some Democrats.

Yahoo News’ Matt Bai explains that 12 years ago, Democrats faced a similar predicament and decided investments in campaign “infrastructure” is what was needed. Millions of dollars later, groups like the Center for American Progress, Media Matters, and Catalist helped Democrats establish parity with Republicans.

The problem? Democrats operated under the assumption that Obama was a typical Democrat whose electoral math was the party’s math. Not so, says Bai.

An analysis by The Hill newspaper found that while Clinton actually performed better than Obama in the most densely populated counties of states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, she trailed him by much larger margins in the all-white rural areas, which sealed her defeat.

Why? Because she never so much as looked in their direction.

Again and again, reports reiterate the fact that while Clinton used her party’s massive infrastructure, she did so shortsightedly. By not appealing at all to rural voters (as Bill Clinton said she should) or even to voters in states she believed she had locked down, she and her team miscalculated the mood of the electorate.

And in so doing, they cost Clinton the presidency.