Right now, many of us are scratching our heads wondering how the hell that orange neo-Nazi goblin could have won the election. It seems inconceivable. No one saw it coming. But in retrospect, there are some pretty solid reasons why Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election — reasons that can’t only be chalked up to identity politics.
An Uninspiring Message
Electioneering isn’t really about changing people’s minds. It’s about inspiring people who already align with you to get out and vote. And unfortunately, Hillary Clinton was really bad at this. Why? She lacked an inspiring message.
“Anyone but Bush” was the unofficial slogan of the 2000 election and the 2004 election. It failed miserably. “Vote for me or else” is depressing and comes across as a threat.
Obama smartened up and won by running a positive campaign. He promised a better future. He promised hope and change — things that Americans desperately wanted (and still want). Hillary Clinton offered… herself. That was her slogan: “I’m with her.” Unless you’re already a huge Hillary Clinton fan (and most Americans are not), it’s uninspiring.
She didn’t offer a message of hope. She didn’t offer a brighter future. Instead, her message was, “America is already great” and unfortunately by metrics like income inequality and life expectancy and drug abuse, America is not already great right now. In light of the problems facing our country, the slogan “America is already great” brought to mind not an inspiring leader, but the “this is fine” dog on fire meme (at right).
Trump, on the other hand, promised to Make America Great Again. It’s a total lie, but at least it’s something. He offered greatness. People like greatness.
With nothing positive to hope for, voters stayed home.
— Chris Fassnidge (@chrisfassnidge) November 9, 2016
Voter turnout has plummeted since the 2012 election.
This is the first presidential election we’ve had since the death of the Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act was created to ensure that racist assholes couldn’t prevent minorities from voting. And without it, racist assholes prevented minorities from voting. And racial/cultural minorities tend to lean Democratic.
Many more people were prevented from voting due to a criminal record. In Florida and Virginia, one-fifth of black citizens are barred from voting due to prior criminal conviction. Ironically, the tough-on-crime policies the Clintons fought for in the 1990s probably contributed to this. Whoops.
Pandering to the Right and Bashing the Left
Hillary Clinton fought hard to win over Republicans. She presented herself as a moderate. She promised Republicans that she would respect them during her administration. She won over the Bush family, but that’s about it.
Hillary Clinton’s centrism didn’t work. According to The New York Times, a mere 7% of Republicans voted for Hillary, while 9% of Democrats voted for Trump. If GOP voters want a Republican, they’ll vote for a Republican, no matter how repulsive he is.
Heading rightward to tempt Republicans to vote for you is like pouring blood on a tofurkey and hoping an avowed meat-and-potatoes carnivore will eat it. It’s not going to work, and it’s going to defeat the purpose of what you were trying to accomplish in the first place.
But while Team Clinton sucked up to conservatives, they dumped on leftists. Clinton’s camp sneered at the Fight for 15 movement to raise the minimum wage. They dismissed the promise of free college as a naive pipe dream. They didn’t take a stand on the Dakota Pipeline. They brushed off Black Lives Matter activists. They totally ignored the labor movement, which once offered a solid base of Democratic voters in swing states like Wisconsin and Ohio. They hardly even acknowledged the threat of global warming. The Democratic Party’s message to leftist voters was, over and over again, “Shut up and fall in line, you ungrateful little shits.”
Rust Belt Angst
Hillary fared poorly in the Rust Belt (that is, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and parts of Michigan, northern Illinois, eastern Iowa, and southeastern Wisconsin). Coastal residents are already denouncing those “dumb hicks” who went red, but to be fair there are some legitimate reasons why Rust Belters weren’t willing to vote for Clinton.
In the 1990s, the Clintons supported NAFTA, the trade agreement that helped absolutely annihilate America’s once-robust manufacturing sector. In small industrial towns all over the US (but especially in the Midwest), factories shut down and relocated to Mexico. They left behind a sucking vacuum of poverty and despair.
Things are bad out there. Look at what happened to Detroit. Look at what happened to Flint, Michigan. They used to be prosperous cities. Now they don’t even have drinkable water.
That’s not a good reason to vote for Trump. We all know that Trump does his manufacturing overseas as well. However, it is a good reason to not vote for Hillary. Would you vote for a woman who turned your town into a jobless hovel?
She Was the Status Quo Candidate
Trump is a spoiled, loathsome, privileged white supremacist, but he is a Washington outsider. Even his own party’s officials didn’t like him. And there was something sadistically beautiful about watching him humiliate the GOP establishment. He called Ted Cruz’s wife ugly. He made Chris Christie fetch him snacks. For conservatives frustrated with their own party, it was a joy to behold.
Hillary, on the other hand, represents the Establishment. She has been a member of the Washington elite for decades. She was married to a former president. She was not going to punish the incompetent politicians and greedy capitalists who enabled the Great Recession. She was not going to upset the status quo. She represented four more years of the same thing.
And, as mentioned before, that same thing is unbearable for many people. Things are fucked up and bad right now in this country. The GOP promised change. It will inevitably prove to be a negative change, but they promised change. When you’re scared and suffering and desperate, you tend to do crazy things. For rural white voters, voting for Trump is killing and eating your neighbors during a famine. It’s not right, but desperation makes a person do hideous things.
And (we can’t stress this enough), Americans are desperate. With a nation suffering, sick of an increasingly out-of-touch political class, screaming for a change from politics as usual, desperate for an outsider, the Democratic Party nominated a candidate who already lived in the White House for eight years.