The fact is that Trump won because Republicans showed up and voted for him, and Democrats did not show up and vote for Hillary Clinton. In the lowest-turnout election since the last time the Clintons ran, Trump got something like a million fewer votes, (~60 million total) than Mitt Romney. Clinton got six million fewer than Obama. This is the most important fact of the election, and it provokes the question: why couldn’t Clinton hold the Obama coalition together?
Last weekend the Clinton campaign released an internal memo. “We believe that we lost this election in the last week,” the second paragraph begins. Yup, Clinton and her wing of the party is blaming her loss to a hate-spewing proto-fascist on Jim Comey’s series of email investigation announcements. That this is dumb is obvious at first glance; in retrospect, it seems clear that a harried and spineless Comey, pressured internally by the psychotic gang of anthropomorphic Aviators that calls itself FBI senior management, had little choice but to make the announcement, the alternative being that one of these buzzcutted wingnuts took enough time away from pleasuring himself to “24” DVD commentaries to leak details of the investigation to the press, thus empowering Trump to take a stand against Hillary and her Powerful Friends and What About That Loretta Lynch Plane Meeting? (Incidentally, the liberal outrage at the FBI is kind of remarkable. “What a disgrace! FBI has always been composed of morally upright crusaders for justice! With the possible exception of that time they sent an anonymous note to Martin Luther King to get him to kill himself!”)
Not to mention that there’s no polling that shows their assertion is true. In fact, polling done after the first Comey letter shows no change in the race. It’s certainly possible that the second letter increased Trump turnout, as the autopsy email claims. But that doesn’t have much to do with Democratic turnout numbers.
The depth of ignorance revealed by the email is perhaps most evident when it, amazingly, tries to blame the loss on Jill Stein. This is a fun old Democratic party trick: we lost because those Green Party voters who hate us didn’t vote blue! This leads to silly arguments like blaming 90,000 Florida Ralph Nader voters for Bush’s win when 300,000 registered Gator Democrats voted red and also obscures the fact that, like many US elections, that one was rigged. It makes even less sense in 2016 because if every Stein voter had voted for Hillary she still would have lost, which the campaign email boldly mentions right after bringing it up. You have to also factor in the Gary Johnson voters here, who would have largely voted Republican without a libertarian option.
So why didn’t people turn out? And who didn’t turn out? Pretty much the entire working-class vote, black, white, and Latino, the bedrock of the Democratic coalition, had very little interest in voting for Hillary Clinton. She is despised across the country and has been for 30 years. Because she is a woman? Absolutely yes. But also the Iraq war; and the constant scandals; and the venality she and Bill barely deign to conceal; the dissembling, the inability to give a clean answer or take a firm position; the ruthless Third Way politics, the insistence on bargaining for $12 before even going to the Republicans for $15; and above all the arrogance, the wealth, the lifestyle of the globe-trotting professional elite, earned not from Business, but from Government, from the people. They are perceived as blood-suckers, liars, people only in it for themselves and their group of wealthy arrogant friends. People don’t understand the Clintons’ wealth, focused as it is on liberal paternalism and opaque power networks and closed-door fundraisers. What the hell are they doing? What do they want? Trump is a rich asshole, but he’s the kind of rich asshole people can understand: he’s got gold toilets and TV shows and buildings and an endless procession of attractive wives. Hillary was a bad nominee, no doubt. Our mistake was thinking she was only the second-worst nominee in modern history.
To their credit, Clinton knew that most of the country hated her. She knew she had real problems with working-class support: that internal email emphasizes the racial coalition and an uptick in college-educated voters as keys to her strategy. (i.e., these people) Chuck Schumer, our new Senate Minority Leader, famously stated that “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.” We know how that turned out.
I think the main reason Clinton lost is because she was a historically bad candidate. The most important part of that is that the Democrats and Clinton especially failed (and have failed) to focus, both rhetorically and prescriptively, on the working class. There are real problems in this country: stagnant incomes, skyrocketing healthcare costs (not helped by Obamacare: anyone who thinks this didn’t matter, a week before the election, aren’t paying attention), disaster capitalism-created financial crises, rising mortality rates, a collapsing middle class, untreated drug addiction, a massive incarceration state, and many, many more. Many of these problems have been exacerbated by Democrats. And that needs to change. Right now, the Democrats are two parties: a centrist, classical liberal, paternalistic, finance- and tech-focused meritocracy mill, a party by and for the professional class, which people generally despise; and a true working-class party, which has been dying for years and is now being revived by Bernie Sanders, Keith Ellison, and Tim Ryan. In the face of unprecedented local, state, and national electoral failure, this working class party needs to take control. Because if the Democrats can’t appeal to working-class people with a real populist message, there is an alternative.
The existence of the Republican Party is essentially proof that the United States is not a true democracy. Try to find another political party in the developed world that denies climate change. At its core, the only things the Republican Party cares about are lower taxes on the rich and eliminating regulations on big business. The industrialists, financiers, and oil magnates who own the party do not care about anything else. As John Kenneth Galbraith once wrote,”The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” This is of course wildly unpopular, so over the decades, they’ve tried, with varying degrees of success, to graft on a coalition of racists, religious conservatives, foreign-policy isolationists, foreign-policy neoconservatives, anti-Communists, hippie-punchers, libertarians, gun owners, and small-business owners, to whom they’re willing to make minor policy concessions in return for agreement that the Laffer Curve is real and unfettered capitalism is good. The Party is evidence that Capital is corrosive to a republic, that the one percent will fight for its interests, and that truth can be made relative. The Republican Party, in other words, is evil, and we need better champions to fight it than Hillary Clinton.