5 Missteps That May Have Doomed the Clinton Campaign
By MICHAEL EDISON HAYDENNov 9, 2016
Less than 24 hours ago, polls showed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton with a slight edge, one that led some experts to label her the front-runner and predict she would become the first female president in U.S. history.
Today the atmosphere in the Democratic stronghold of New York City, where she gave her concession speech, was one uncertain in terms of what happened in the election as well as the path forward for the party.
Book-length post-mortems are likely to be written in the months and years to come, but for now, here are some of the possible missteps from her campaign that stand out:
Underestimating Trump’s Appeal
Among the hacked documents from Democratic organizations released by WikiLeaks was a memo that Marissa Astor, the assistant to Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook, sent campaign chairman John Podesta in April of 2015 about an upcoming campaign strategy call. The memo named Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson as preferred opponents in the general election.
“We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to take them seriously,” the memo said.
Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment repeatedly stressed Trump’s lack of political experience as a knock against him during the general election campaign, but nationwide, the electorate valued the ability to bring about change.
Trump, who blended celebrity cachet with vocal right-leaning populism, had no formal political experience, and voters saw him as more likely to bring change to Washington than a candidate who has been in the highest reaches of government for much of this century.
Getting the Map Wrong
Two Midwestern states formed the bulk of a late surge for Clinton’s primary challenger, Sen. Bernie Sanders. The March 8 primary in Michigan, one in which Sanders entered as a consensus underdog, turned into his most stunning upset, and he went on to win by a little more than 1 percent of the vote. In the Wisconsin primary, which took place a little more than a month later, Sanders took home a little under 57 percent of the vote and beat Clinton by a double-digit margin.
After those defeats, Clinton largely left the two states untouched, giving Trump room to close the gap and generate enthusiasm by holding rallies.
Before Election Day, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com gave Trump a 21.1 percent chance of taking Michigan and a slim 16.5 percent chance of winning Wisconsin. As a point of comparison, he had a 41.7 percent chance of taking Nevada, a state that Clinton won.
Trump included Michigan in his final day of barnstorming, a choice that seemed like hubris to some observers. In retrospect, his ability to draw enthusiasm from the same working class white voters who helped propel Sanders to victory in those two states helped him to turn Wisconsin red while Clinton didn’t mount a substantial defense.
Michigan has yet to be projected by ABC News, but with 96 percent of the expected vote in, Trump held a margin of about 13,000 votes.
Basket of Deplorables
Accusations of elitism dogged Clinton throughout her political campaign, and they came to the fore in a big way in September when she said that half of Trump’s supporters belonged in a “basket of deplorables.”
The comment, which she made at a star-studded fundraiser in New York City, was immediately slammed by Republicans. It was a sign of “how little she thinks of the hard-working men and women of America,” said Trump campaign communications adviser Jason Miller.
Overnight, “deplorable” became an rallying cry for Trump supporters, some of whom added it to their names on social media. The phrase never quite faded away during October and early November and served to reinforce many of the stereotypes cultivated by Clinton critics, despite her later apology for the characterization.
Lack of Transparency
When Clinton’s personal doctor, Lisa Bardack, revealed in September that the Democratic candidate was diagnosed with pneumonia, it came hours after Clinton drew attention for abruptly leaving a 9/11 memorial event at ground zero in New York City and was seen on video apparently being assisted getting into a van.
Bardack said in a statement released by the campaign that Clinton “has been experiencing a cough related to allergies” and that she was diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday “during follow-up evaluation of her prolonged cough.”
The handling of the incident and the timing of the disclosure played into criticism that she lacked transparency.
Similar concerns arose after hacked emails from Podesta published on WikiLeaks demonstrated the degree to which her march to the White House appeared overly scripted or unfairly aided.
Some Clinton defenders said that the characterization smacked of sexism, but voters said Clinton was untrustworthy 2 to 1 in exit poll data — almost identical to Trump’s numbers.
Playing It Safe
The Clinton campaign appeared to have everything a front-runner for the presidency could want going into an election. In the primaries, Clinton received a near consensus of endorsements from the Democratic Party establishment. In the general election, she received the endorsement of nearly every newspaper and magazine that issued one. She had Barack Obama, a sitting president, and celebrities like LeBron James, Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Bruce Springsteen campaigning for her in the race’s final hours. And there was the financial advantage she showed over Trump, which was significantly buoyed by big-budget donors.
The campaign’s closing message, however, was difficult to define, beyond calls for voters to help prevent Trump from taking the reins.
“Over the weekend, his campaign took away his Twitter account,” Obama said while on the stump for her this Monday. “Now, if your closest advisers don’t trust you to tweet, then how can we trust him with the nuclear codes?”
Many of Clinton’s policies with populist appeal, like raising the federal minimum wage to $12 dollars an hour, seemed to be downplayed in the final hours of the campaign.
To the surprise of some observers, Clinton and her surrogates made last-minute stops in Michigan, despite polling showing her with a lead there in October.
It now appears to have been too little, too late.