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On the Extremely Limited Value of Campaign Tactics Tautologies

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mark_halperin

After every remotely close election campaign, there are almost as many just-so stories about how there was one perfect campaign tactic that could have changed the outcome as there are pundits. And the problem is that the vast majority are just unfalsifiable tautologies with no retrospective or prospective value:

Like most pundits, I have my theories about how the Clinton campaign might have screwed up. In retrospect, for example, it seems like the campaign made a mistake in making so much of its advertising negative attacks on Donald Trump’s character. Given that Trump always had high personal negatives these attacks had diminishing returns, and Clinton missed an opportunity to highlight economic policy differences where public opinion favored her position. While it was not unreasonable to think Trump’s particular unfitness for office created an opportunity to peel off suburban Republicans, it didn’t work.

This is a plausible story, but to be frank it’s just that: a story. Would Clinton using a more positive, policy-focused advertising campaign in the last month have allowed her to hold enough of the Rust Belt states that handed Trump the Electoral College? I have no idea, and there’s no meaningful way to address the question.

Consider an example from the last election involving the popular vote winner failing to take office in January. For 16 years, I have been hearing people assert with the most sublime confidence that Al Gore’s decision to distance himself from Bill Clinton cost him the 2000 election. There’s no way of testing this theory directly, of course. But 2016 presented us with an indirect one. Hillary Clinton had a popular incumbent, one of the greatest political talents the Democratic Party has ever produced and without the scandal baggage and reputation for dishonesty that made deploying Bill Clinton a much more complicated question than Gore’s critics will acknowledge, stumping hard for her. And, as a bonus, the incumbent’s extremely popular and charismatic wife was also out on the campaign trail for the first major-party woman to be nominated for president. What was that worth?

Well, apparently, not much. Either the Obamas failed to move the needle, or they had an impact but it was swamped by other factors which can’t be meaningfully measured. When it comes to campaign tactics, for the most part, nobody really knows anything. Be wary of assertions that there was One Magic Trick a candidate could have used to win an election, and be doubly wary when this magic bullet is an argument that the candidate advancing the policy ideas the pundit agrees with is also by remarkable coincidence always the best political strategy as well.

A huge percentage of campaign analysis consists of two basic and related categories:

  • “The losing candidate had worse messaging, which we can tell because he/she lost.”
  • “The losing candidate would have won had she emphasized issues x/y/z in exactly this way, which entirely coincidentally aligns perfectly with my own ex ante policy views.”

Both of these arguments are abjectly useless the vast majority of the time.

But even when the arguments are a little more concrete, there’s an obvious danger in relying to heavily on the mistakes of the past:

One rejoinder might be that while Michigan and Wisconsin ended up not being decisive, they could have been. Had Clinton carried Pennsylvania or Florida — both roughly within a point — then the decision to largely ignore Michigan and Wisconsin while investing in Ohio and Iowa, both of which Clinton lost by more than 8 points, would look really bad. It’s a fair point. But the blunder the Clinton campaign made was to fight the last war, to be too slow to pick up on the particular threat that Trump posed in the Rust Belt.

This isn’t to say that Democrats shouldn’t analyze and try to learn from the defeat. But it’s crucial to remember that the 2016 election is never going to be run again. We’ve learned for sure that Hillary Clinton should not be the Democratic nominee again, but I don’t think that’s something to worry about. Trump will presumably be on the ballot again, but as an incumbent with a record. What message and strategy the Democratic candidate should use will depend on who wins the nomination, what Trump’s record looks like, and what the salient issues are. The 2020 election will be its own thing and should be treated as such. As Hillary Clinton now knows all too well, what we think we know about politics can be turned on its head very quickly.

What messaging and resource allocation will be optimal in 2020 will depend on the candidate — the opportunities and limitations presented by, say, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris and Sherrod Brown would be different. There will presumably be an incumbent on the ballot and depending on how that goes the Democratic candidate could be a mortal lock, drawing dead or somewhere in between. Which, of course, brings us to a crucial point: the ability of congressional Democrats to drive down Trump’s approval ratings by obstructing and refusing to give bipartisan cover to what they can’t stop is far more important than the campaign tactics adopted by the 2020 nominee.

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  • Karen24

    Why are we assuming there will be elections in 2020? I don’t think Bannon will allow it. There will be some kind of Reichstag Fire event allowing them to cancel the elections before then. First they will get away with cancelling the results in California and Virginia this year by screaming that there was massive voter fraud. Then those states won’t be allowed to conduct their own elections in 2018. Then no elections at all in 2020.

    • Jerry Vinokurov

      There’s a lot to be concerned about, but I don’t think they will literally cancel the elections. The Republicans are sure that the voter suppression measures they will enact will allow them to win and maintain the appearance of democratic legitimacy.

      • vic rattlehead

        Right I think they will keep a veneer of legitimacy. There will be elections, but african Americans will be disenfranchised (even more than they are now). The Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act will be on the books, they’ll just be dead letters. We’ll have a media, they’ll just be afraid of crossing Trump. If you’re not paying close attention, everything will seem fine.

        • CrunchyFrog

          Yep. Even Putin holds elections. Even the USSR held elections.

          In a way, moving the US from nominally “fair” elections to “fake” elections will be easier than it would be for many places because our elections never would have been certified as “fair” under international norms anyway. Money, press access and coverage for the candidates, varied voting systems and availability thereof, disproportionate representation, and the ability for legislative bodies to legally overturn the result (in the case of the electoral college) all would be noted by international observers and in the end the US results could not be certified.

          But we’ve become so used to systems that have a heavy hand on the scale for the two major parties in general, and the GOP in particular, that except for us political junkies few are likely to notice the GOP using similar mechanisms to basically guarantee a GOP victory from this point forward.

          • NewishLawyer

            The thing about Russia is that they were never a democratic nation. They more or less went from the Tsars to the USSR to Putin. Nicholas II needed to call forward a DUMAS but he would often refuse to deal with it and often dissolved it. The White Government was weak and dealing with a dire situation of WWI.

            The same was true in Germany. The Weimar Republic was weak and dealing with the horrors of the Great Depression as well.

            Spain’s democracy was relatively new and weak at the time of the Spanish Civil War.

            The only country that I can think of that has gone from Democracy to not Democracy and back might be France. Maybe some Central and South American countries.

            I’m not saying that we should not be on guard but our situation is very different from that of Russia. We are going to see how strong and resilient the Constitution and our system is. Now I wish we did not have to see this but we will.

            • random

              . We are going to see how strong and resilient the Constitution and our system is.

              In many ways, the Constitution and our system were designed fundamentally to achieve this end in the first place.

            • Brett

              Not even France. It was like in Germany, where the more democratic regimes were new and had replaced a previous autocratic regime.

              No, I think it’s more likely that Republicans disenfranchise around the edges, shaving off points here and there so that Democrats can’t take power unless they have a truly exceptional year – and even then . .

      • CP

        I agree. I’d add that this is an American tradition – we don’t do de jure one-party states, just de facto. Jim Crow didn’t literally install Southern Democrats with white supremacist ideals as the only legally acceptable party in office – it just ensured that anyone else would have to jump through so many hoops and cut through so much red tape that no one else would be able to get to the top. (This enforced from time to time, of course, by the occasional extralegal killing or beating of anyone trying to organize – not something our cops would have a problem with).

        And I’d also add that this is increasingly how autocratic ex-democracies work around the world, and especially in the case of Trump’s BFF in Moscow. Putin hasn’t canceled elections or made opposition illegal – there are still opposition parties, they still run in elections, and they still win seats in parliament. None of them ever come close to actually threatening Putin’s control of the government, though, nor would they be allowed to. I think this, not a renewal of old school totalitarian governance, is what authoritarian regimes will look like in the 21st century.

    • By what mechanism could they legally cancel the elections?

      • Murc

        I don’t think it’ll happen either, but the argument I’m seeing isn’t that there will be a legal way they do it. It is that Trump is basically going to Andrew Jackson it; “the courts are small! And weak! And wrong! I am huge! And strong! And right! The traitorcrat judges can make whatever unconstitutional rulings they like, but I’m the one in charge.”

        • CP

          Yeah, Andrew Jackson is probably the best American precedent for what’s coming. In terms of the form of populism unified around appeal to a single strongman, in terms of the heavily racialized nature of that populism, and in terms of the extreme cronyism that’ll characterize the actual governance.

        • If they do anything, they will continue to follow Hitler’s lead and use the system against itself. They will continue to attack the concept of universal suffrage, stack the courts with conservative ideologues, jail and delegitimize their opponents, and further shroud the oligarchy in a veneer of legitimacy. And most people will go along with it.

          • ploeg

            They probably would not need to suspend elections before switching over to their preferred system. Also, there are a lot of institutions that would need to acquiesce to the suspension of elections, and there would be a serious risk of failure if it came to a showdown. So we’re not looking at the immediate suspension of elections as we know them.

            That being said, the whole logic of stopping Muslims from entering the country until we can figure out what’s going on lends itself to similarly drastic measures in other areas. And when change comes, it’s going to come quick. Maybe not with Trump, but at some point down the road.

            • NewishLawyer

              Right. How are they going to get all 50 states and thousands (maybe tens of thousands) municipalities to stop having elections?

              Are they going to arrest and detain every Democratic congressperson, governor, state politician, etc?

              • ploeg

                They could use the allegations of massive voter fraud as a pretext to nationalize elections. Certainly there are arguments for mandating voting standards, automatic registration, etc., but taking elections out of the hands of local officials can also mean the nationalization of vote suppression.

                You wouldn’t need to arrest and detain every Democratic politician. Just a few.

      • sonamib

        There’s an excuse that’s been working for decades for right-wingers in Latin America : the commies (i.e. the Democrats) are gonna win the election! We must save the country from itself! I’m sure Real True Americans™ will understand why democracy has to be temporarily cancelled.

        • Ghostship

          There’s an excuse that’s been working for decades for right-wingers

          Truth be told, it’s worked for the United States for pretty much every election in a foreign country that the United States has ever interfered in. Hell, it’s even worked as an excuse for coups and putsches backed by the United States and even the odd invasion carried out or backed by the United States.
          BTW, as for this post:

          there was one perfect campaign tactic that could have changed the outcome

          Actually there was. Not run Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate.

          • (((Hogan)))

            It’s harder than you might realize to win an election without a candidate.

            • Jackov

              Harder but doable. If you lay the ground work a few years earlier, you also do not need a campaign. – David Koch

          • BartletForGallifrey

            Not run Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate.

            Surely you’re not suggesting that the will of the Democratic primary electorate should have been simply ignored?

            • nemdam

              True progressives support the super delegates overturning the will of the people.

              • BartletForGallifrey

                True progressives support the super delegates overturning the will of the people.

                A quick consultation with my Twitter block list confirms this.

            • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

              Won’t speak for Ghost, but certainly many people commenting on blogs I read do.

              Reasons range from the vote being rigged and Sanders really won to the DNC somehow controlling things so that Hillary got more votes from the ignorant voters who were fooled by the clever DNC propaganda to a few who think their candidate should have been chosen because votes shouldn’t determine the results.

              • BartletForGallifrey

                Oh, I know. I just want him to say it, so we’re all very clear on his utter lack of respect for democracy.

      • Srsly Dad Y

        By what mechanism could they legally cancel the elections?

        Y’all aren’t thinking creatively enough. Elections don’t have to be canceled. To drive the D vote down enough to be sure to win you just need to limit the number of polling places in key states and have them heavily, heavily “guarded” against the threats of “terrorism” and “massive voter fraud.” And make sure to spread the word that immigration enforcement troops will be among those in attendance.

      • Lurking Canadian

        Is the Patriot Act still in force? Back when it was passed, I remember reading some alarming interpretations that basically gave the Executive the power to declare somebody a “terrorist” and imprison them on that basis, based on no evidence, or secret evidence to a secret military tribunal, which amounts to the same thing.

        If that is so, a sufficiently pro-Trump judiciary could let him get away with declaring the Democratic party, or any other meaningful opposition party, a “terrorist organization”, seizing their assets and imprisoning their leaders.

        I don’t think even CNN would let him get away with that soon, but after a few more years of eroding norms, who knows? The guy already said, out loud, in front of witnesses, that he thinks “Obama founded ISIS”. He might try to arrest Obama right after he swears the oath.

    • cleek

      just FYI, this accusation is made by the opposition every single time they lose a Presidential election – it has a bit of a tin-foil-hat smell to it.

      • Murc

        You’re correct here, cleek, but in recent years the crazy theories about what the Republicans are gonna do keep coming true while the crazy theories about what the Democrats are gonna do do not.

        • Thom

          If I remember right, Nixon actually did consider this, though of course they did not do it. But I agree, I think the erosion of democracy and the extension of repression is likely to be much more subtle than what some people here are forecasting. I think the immediate threat is much more about bad policies than about a coup.

        • If that was true, neither the 2004 nor 2008 elections would have been held.

      • ThrottleJockey

        Horseshit. Name one Democratic leaning commenter–not Front Pager but mere commenter–who made that comment about Bush 2, or Bush 1, or even Reagan for that matter. I’ve never heard nor thought that Bush would do any such thing, but it’s highly likely that Trump will pull a Putin. All these Jewish Neo Cons didn’t spend months trashing the man for no reason at all.

        • cleek

          I’ve never heard nor thought that Bush would do any such thing

          well, since everybody knows that your experience is all-encompassing, i guess that settles it.

          https://www.google.com/search?q=bush+will+cancel+election&safe=active&biw=1538&bih=791&source=lnt&tbs=cdr%3A1%2Ccd_min%3A%2Ccd_max%3A10%2F30%2F2008&tbm=

          • Thanks.

          • ThrottleJockey

            Cleek, sorry for saying ‘horseshit’. That was wrong. This is just one of my personal pet peeves.

            I don’t really think those people you linked to represent core Dems or even core liberals. The readers of those blogs are probably to the far left of most commenters here; and LGM is already far to the left of the average Dem centrist. I mean there has always been a Tinfoil Hat Brigade on both sides of the spectrum, but its not for nothing that millions of Dems suddenly feel this way now.

    • West

      I’ve been watching the back and forth replies to Karen24’s post. All interesting, many good arguments.

      But let’s all be crystal clear on the trend line. Since at least 1980*, Republicans have been constantly redefining the boundary of acceptable discourse to be ever-farther to the right. The Democrats have been generally too weak in combatting this, as they believe in cooperation as a basic human ideal (whereas the Republicans believe much more in victory). The media profits from presenting the struggle as a way to proved their balance, and they love happy endings (also profitable), so they press for “closure” and compromise. Given how much more committed to victory the Republicans are, this means the “center” has been shifted ever more to the right.

      That process went into warp drive with Trump’s campaign, and all sorts of truly vile shit is being unleashed. People are willing to be photographed doing the Sieg Heil salute, to name just one.

      So while Karen24’s comment might seem over the top, and the counter-arguments all make sense to me, the trend line has been so clear and has now so accelerated, that I would be willing to bet there are people on Trump’s team having the conversation right now. Mr. Bannon, for one – I’d bet good money that he’s got specific ideas along these lines.

      This doesn’t mean they’ll actually do it. For all the talk of how right-wing the military is, I’m not sure Trump would get the necessary support there. But I share Karen24’s concern: in 1933, when Hitler was first appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg after yet another inconclusive election, very few Germans really understood that they had just seen the Weimar Republic bite the dust.

      • West

        *1980 was when I first voted, so of course I start everything there. Realistically, the trend started well before that, didn’t it?

        • delazeur

          People usually point to Goldwater, I believe.

      • Thom

        It is important to watch carefully and to oppose erosion of democracy. But it is also important to understand that this is not Germany in 1933. Very bad things may happen, very bad things are happening. But they will not happen in the same way or for the same reasons.

        • Rob in CT

          +1.

        • West

          Of course this is not Germany in 1933. Differences include:

          1) The USA of 2016 has a quantity and quality of military power that is wildly beyond anything that anyone in the Germany of 1933 could ever have dreamed of. The power our military actually in fact possesses is beyond Hitler’s wildest wet dreams by many orders of magnitude.

          2) Many consecutive Congresses have ceded power to the Presidency to a degree that in the use of the military abroad, the US President is damned close to being a de facto dictator. Do you really know what President Obama has been up to with drone strikes in Yemen? If you think you know, and wanted to exert influence on Obama to stop, could you do so? Do you believe Trump will show more or less restraint in the use of the military?

          3) The US security and surveillance apparatus has the capacity to monitor citizens to a degree that is wildly beyond anything that any German could ever have dreamed of in 1933. What are the constraints on Trump et al mis-using this apparatus domestically?

          On the plus side, Americans have a far more deeply rooted belief in democracy, amirite? And our institutions, such as the FBI to select one at random, are far more committed t o fair play than was the German equivalent in 1933, right?

          But they will not happen in the same way or for the same reasons.

          Well, yeah, this is true.

          Very bad things may happen, very bad things are happening.

          My point is that the US government has radically more capacity for making bad things happen than Germany has ever had, whether in 1933 or at the height of the Third Reich.

          For the record, I do not perceive Trump to be a latter day Hitler. Hitler had a plan, Trump wings it day to day in his lust for profits. So that’s the biggest difference. But Trump’s surrounding himself with others who DO have plans.

          • CP

            On the plus side, Americans have a far more deeply rooted belief in democracy, amirite?

            I know this was snark, but see immediately below. The near-total absence of said “deeply rooted belief” on the other side of the aisle is something that can’t be emphasized enough.

            For the record, I do not perceive Trump to be a latter day Hitler. Hitler had a plan, Trump wings it day to day in his lust for profits. So that’s the biggest difference. But Trump’s surrounding himself with others who DO have plans.

            Yep. As I said throughout the primaries and election, the entire GOP (and this ultimately means including, and perhaps especially, its voters) is the problem, not Trump.

          • Origami Isopod

            Americans have a far more deeply rooted belief in democracy, amirite?

            Ha. Haha. Haha.

            *sniff*

        • Matt McIrvin

          Germany in 1932 wasn’t Germany in 1933, either.

      • CP

        One of the things that isn’t emphasized nearly enough is the extent to which the Republican voter base itself wants democracy gone. The conspiracy theories about “voter fraud” and the incessant scolding that “we’re a REPUBLIC not a DEMOCRACY,” both memes that only really popped up in the last eight years (and not by accident), are just the politically correct version of this. Hang out on any wingnut blog for long enough and you’ll inevitably get to the conversation about how granting universal suffrage was a horrible mistake and how large categories of people should never have been allowed to vote.

        Among those categories, I’ve heard: citizens abroad, dual citizens, people who’ve been to jail, people who don’t pay income taxes, women, Muslims, and (for the sci-fi inclined) people who aren’t veterans. The notion that the problem with whatever group we’re talking about is that they vote liberal and liberals are going to destroy America and/or don’t deserve this great gift is, however, always present. And I’ve never seen pushback.

        The entire GOP, establishment and voters alike, have decided that democracy is a threat to the America they think they’re entitled to, and are pretty much open about it.

        • Matt McIrvin

          “we’re a REPUBLIC not a DEMOCRACY,” both memes that only really popped up in the last eight years (and not by accident)

          I remember people lecturing me on this subject in the 1980s. I think it means very little apart from the fact that the political parties are called “Republican” and “Democratic” and the speaker is a Republican, so they’re arguing that their party is gooder.

          • CP

            It’s more than that. It’s their way to undermine the basic notion of democratic government, at a time when that system had just elected a president they refused to view as legitimate. (During the Bush years at least, there was none of this – the guy couldn’t STFU about democracy, whether or not he was actually promoting it).

        • j_doc

          Among those categories, I’ve heard: citizens abroad, dual citizens, people who’ve been to jail, people who don’t pay income taxes, women, Muslims, and (for the sci-fi inclined) people who aren’t veterans.

          Is this the proper perspective in which to view the large increase in the personal deduction which is part of the Trump tax plan?

          That removes nearly 75 million households – over 50% – from the income tax rolls. They get a new one page form to send the IRS saying, “I win,”

          …and get removed from the voter rolls, too?

    • Colin Day

      It’s good to know that Trump’s election isn’t breaking your pessimism!

    • mikeSchilling

      Why are you assuming Trump will even take office, rather than Obama declaring martial law before January 20th?

      • BartletForGallifrey

        Why are you assuming Trump will even take office, rather than Obama declaring martial law before January 20th?

        I have no objection to that.

    • royko

      Meh, I just don’t see it. Yes, Trump is an unpredictable child, so you never know, but I don’t think it’s likely. With all of our veto points, even if Republicans were to lose the WH in 2020, they’d still be able to obstruct the heck out of a liberal agenda. I think they stick with the gameplan: continue to gerrymander, continue to disenfranchise, and when they have to, continue to obstruct.

      As for Trump himself, yeah, his ego might not allow him to permit a loss, but I also think he’s going to be bored out of his mind pretty soon. Does he really want to do this for life?

  • russiannavyblog

    Not putting Trump’s sound bite about wages being too high from a December 2015 debate in an ad and on auto repeat for the last month of the campaign seems like political malpractice to me.

    http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2015/11/11/donald-trump-insists-that-wages-are-too-high/?_r=0

    • ThrottleJockey

      Yes. Where’s the ad panning a long line of unemployed workers with the tag line: “You’re fired” at the end? Such an obvious ad; not running it is political malpractice.

      The campaign had very little of an economic message and that’s not punditry, that’s a problem.

      • Rob in CT

        My pet “ad that would’ve been super effective” was one I’d have called “Broken Promises.” Clip of Trump blathering about how Yuuuuuuge & Classy some project (in Atlantic City, or Gary, IN, for example) is gonna be. Cut to boarded-up vacant property, preferably with betrayed-looking salt of the earth type in front. And again. And again.

        “Donald Trump: long on promises, short on action.”

        But these are negative ads. There’s also the issue of vote FOR Hillary, not just Donald is terrible.

        • djw

          I saw plenty of ads that followed that script more or less in Ohio. (They were PACs, not Clinton)

          • Rob in CT

            Welp, there goes that theory (I suspected that might’ve been the case)!

            That leaves the positive side.

            • ThrottleJockey

              I saw plenty of ads that followed that script more or less in Ohio. (They were PACs, not Clinton)

              PACs pay 10-15X the rate for advertising that candidates do. (Candidates by law get stations’ best rates while PACs get market rates). So instead of wallpapering states with layered messaging you get comparative dribs and drabs. I had occasion to spend a lot of time with relatives in swing states this campaign season and was surprised at how much of HRC’s message was strictly “He’s racist/sexist/bigoted/absolutely insane”.

              • delazeur

                I had occasion to spend a lot of time with relatives in swing states this campaign season and was surprised at how much of HRC’s message was strictly “He’s racist/sexist/bigoted/absolutely insane”.

                I am far from the first person to say this, but I believe liberal strategists and pundits underestimated the extent to which Trump-curious undecideds took this as a personal attack on themselves, turning them into out-and-out Trump supporters.

                • vic rattlehead

                  If that’s the case, then we’re really fucked. I don’t think we need to call anyone deplorable, no matter how true it may be. But pointing out Trump’s rabid racism and sexism causing backlash like that? That’s very bad news.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  From my Facebook feed (“I don’t think either one of them should’ve been president”) I’m not as glum/cynical. I think a lot of Hill’s message simply took for granted that people would vote against the guy who was an unfit bigot. She never made it about their personal economic interests.

                  That’s curious, because Dems usually major on making it about your personal interests (One of my favorite quips is from Dick Gephardt, “If you want to live like a Republican you got to vote like a Democrat.”)

              • Jackov

                According to Lynne Vevreck, seventy-six percent of Clinton’s ads were on character or personal traits, either hers or Trumps. Nine percent were on jobs or the economy. Since 1952 no candidate as focused so much on the same issue in their television spots. The average for the number one issue over previous elections was 28% of ads and the focus was jobs/economy.

                Trump is such a ghoul it is not surprising his horribleness was the top issue, but the ratio seems off in hindsight. Everything goes back to May when the campaign decided to focus on Trump and try to flip Republican suburbanites.

        • witlesschum

          Mine is Clinton running the slogan “An America For All of Us.” I think it’s a good slogan, but I would think that, wouldn’t I?

        • russiannavyblog

          Given that in the final analysis, HRC lost by about a 100k votes spread out over a few counties in three states, a little bit of hoisting Trump up by his own populist petard probably would have went a long way.

      • Slothrop2

        Right. The postmortem is really simple: the DNC and a bunch of really stupid voters force-fed the American public with HRC who is Nixon in drag.

        The Democratic Party sucks. They have been screwing workers since Jimmy Carter. By increments.

        • witlesschum

          Somebody else who isn’t capable of an election analysis that isn’t “See! I was right all along! Doesn’t matter what actually happened! Yee! Haw!”

        • D.N. Nation

          Hey, at least “Democratic primary voters are really stupid” is better than “the DNC installed Hillary and I’ll completely ignore the voters.”

        • Harkov311

          So basically you’re saying we haven’t had a good president since Lyndon Johnson?

          Or did he suck too? If so, then who was the last good president?

          • ThrottleJockey

            JFK.
            Cheated on his wife.

            Lincoln.
            Got shot.

            George Washington.
            Owned slaves.

            King George.

            • XTPD

              +1776

            • Lincoln
              He’s a hero because he got shot. I like people who weren’t shot.

              (FWIW Johnson cheated on his wife too, plus that whole Vietnam thing. FDR also cheated on his wife plus Japanese internment. If you’re looking for a perfect president you’re going to be disappointed.)

              • XTPD

                The thing that stood out to me about that Trump quote was that it was repurposed from Chris Rock’s bit on McCain, from his Kill the Messenger special.

          • Slothrop2

            FDR’s first term. LBJ domestic policies. That’s about it.

    • ASV

      The only clip I think would’ve made a difference is Trump’s 2008 interview with NY1 in which he goes on and on about how wonderful Hillary is and how she’d be a great president.

  • Peterr

    Every campaign wrestles with two questions: (1) How do we persuade undecided voters or those leaning toward our opponent to side with us? and (2) How do we boost the turnout of our own supporters? The answers the campaign arrives at dictate how they will spend their limited resources — money, candidate time and energy, and the time and energy of major surrogates. These questions are not completely distinct from each other (some things you might do for (1) will hurt you with (2) and vice versa), but they point up the very different emphases any campaign must deal with.

    In general, it seem clear that Team Hillary chose to spend more energy on (1) because they assumed their supporters would relatively easily turn out for her (2) without a whole lot of extra effort on their part.

    To borrow a phrase, they chose . . . poorly.

    Two examples:

    They chose to ignore/downplay questions of race in an effort to reach white suburban women, which did little to encourage working class and non-working class African-Americans alike to turn out for her.

    They chose to cast Trump as a RINO, in an effort to reach the NeverTrumpers, which had the effect of harming the messaging and campaigns of down-ticket Dems, and their efforts to boost Dem voter turnout.

    • N__B

      This raises a question I’ve been wondering about: would we* be better served if the party ran the general campaign rather than having a new organization every four or eight years take that role? The presidential candidate’s interests and the party’s are not perfectly aligned, and as of today I would rather have HRC had got a smaller vote total if it meant 51 Ds in the senate.

      I honestly go back and forth on this topic. I expect that there are quite a few people here ready to tell me why it’s a terrible idea, and I’d like to hear why.

      * We = dems, liberals, non-insane ‘murikins…take your pick.

      • West

        I do not think it’s a terrible idea. I am increasingly convinced the Democratic Party needs to be rebuilt from bottom to top. (Well, maybe “dramatically reinforced”, perhaps “rebuilt” is too extreme.) I’m increasingly leaning to believing it needs to happen in that order of priority, which would tend towards an end result similar to what you’re talking about. We* have become far too complacent in assuming the DNC has its shit together on politics generally (national-level and state/local-level), and both we and the DNC have been far too focused on Presidential-level politics. The losses in state houses over the last ten years have been revealing how badly flawed our complacency has been, and at the Presidential level the DNC and the Clinton campaign have showed they don’t even have that sorted out worth a damn.

        As to whether the party should specifically be running presidential campaigns or not – they might not be able to wrest that from each candidate. And maybe shouldn’t. But I would very much like to see us rebuild a vastly stronger party at the state and local levels, and have them control their own campaigns more clearly than they do now during Presidential election years.

        *Defining “we” pretty much the same way you did.

      • Murc

        I honestly go back and forth on this topic.

        Yeah, me too.

        On the one hand, it seems utterly daft to completely rebuild a new organization every four to eight years. You completely lose all institutional expertise and commit to monumental duplication of effort.

        On the other hand, this would lead to even more institutional capture than we have now. Anyone running as a reform candidate would have to build their own parallel organization anyway, because they’d encounter passive (possibly massive) resistance from the party apparatus.

        This might be a split-the-difference thing. We probably ought to have a more robust “skeleton” in place than we do right now that individual candidates add the “meat” to. Theoretically this is already supposed to be the case but I really do think Presidential candidates are required to do too much of a lift on their own.

        • West

          On the other hand, this would lead to even more institutional capture than we have now.

          Would it automatically lead to this? I certainly can see how it could, but would that be a certainty?

          Anyone running as a reform candidate would have to build their own parallel organization anyway, because they’d encounter passive (possibly massive) resistance from the party apparatus.

          With the Democratic Party being as weak as it is in so many places, just bringing any significant amount of new blood to the party structure will be a de facto insurgency. My sister just became ward chair in her exurban Philly area ward, because there was no one else interested in the spot. She’s not at all part of the Clinton DNC mainstream mindset. If she can convince a handful of likeminded neighbors to join in, and she does know a few such, then the changing of the guard will have happened in that ward without the hint of a struggle. This is in an area that’s been shifting from red towards blue for years, so there is potential.

          I know, that’s a piece of anecdatum, but my more general point is that I’ve got a suspicion there’s some fair amount of the party structure that could be more easily taken by reformers than we think.

          In future, if they’re successful, then yes, there’d be the constant need to bring young’uns in and actually listen to their concerns. Today’s reformers are tomorrow’s reactionaries, and all that….

        • ThrottleJockey

          Excellent points.

          Also given presidential candidates raise their own funds ( and often more if them ) I don’t see any way to enforce this.

          • Murc

            It’s less about enforcement than it is the fact that it would be nice, after the nomination is settled, to be able to present our nominee with a shiny well-oiled machine they can use as they see fit rather than a pile of parts they need to assemble themselves and which will be disassembled the day after the election.

            • postmodulator

              For all our confidence that Trump had no GOTV operation, my understanding is that the NRA basically did GOTV for him in many places. Be nice to get a special interest group that had our back that much, wouldn’t it?

      • LeeEsq

        Institutionalizing and centralizing the Democratic Party can’t be as bad as the current situation. It might help us win more seats and elections if everything was run as part of one organization.

        • ThrottleJockey

          Some ( like me ) would argue that institutional capture is what led to this fucking predicament anyways. Just like the Massachusetts Democratic Establishment delivered a candidate in Martha Coakley that was fatally flawed so also did the DC Democratic Establishment.

          The Clinton’s, like Coakley, were maestros in playing party politics but they were ultimately out of touch with large segments of Midwestern voters.

          • Murc

            Just like the Massachusetts Democratic Establishment delivered a candidate in Martha Coakley that was fatally flawed so also did the DC Democratic Establishment.

            If by “the DC Democratic Establishment” you mean “millions of voters in the most democratically legitimate primary we’ve ever had” then sure.

            • liberal

              I’ll make some assumptions about what TJ was referring to here…

              In particular, by the time the candidates have already entered primary season, the party elites have already had their thumbs on the scale. Surely you’ve heard of “The Party Decides”.

              By your argument, Coakley was fine, too, because she won the primary (IIRC it wasn’t like there were no primary opponents).

              • Murc

                Coakley wasn’t fine, but she wasn’t “delivered” by the Establishment. The people of the Massachusetts State Democratic Party could have chosen someone else. They did not.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  I don’t live in Massachusetts, but I do believe the ample comments from people who do like Aimai and JL that Coakley locked up establishment support by being good at party politics even though she sucked at retail politics.

                  A campaign win is a function of several things: Money, Messaging, Talent, People, Establishment support, Groundlevel support, etc. You can be weak in one or more categories and still win because of outsize advantages in other areas (eg, Trump had a weaker ground game than Clinton but still won key swing states because of his air campaign).

                  So saying that Coakley won doesn’t mean she was ‘the people’s choice’. It simply means that establishment support meant she won the primary.

            • ThrottleJockey

              How many candidates were ‘frozen out’ because they lacked Hill’s huge lock up of money and people? Even Biden was scared to take her on.

              I’ll never forget one quote by Charlie Rangel back in ’08. He was talking to a journalist about his support for Hill over Obama even though many younger and minority New Yorkers were excited by Obama. His answer? Obama doesn’t control the money in New York. He was scared that the Clintons would exact a huge penalty if he supported Obama.

              I don’t think primary voters faced legitimate choices. I voted Sanders but I never thought he’d be able to win either the primary or the general.

              • Murc

                Even Biden was scared to take her on.

                There is zero goddamn evidence Joe Biden has ever been scared of any potential political foe in his whole damn life.

                How many candidates were ‘frozen out’ because they lacked Hill’s huge lock up of money and people?

                If you can’t gather the money and people required to make a go of it, you’re not a very good candidate, are you?

                The Democratic Party had five people to pick from. The membership as a whole signaled very, very early it was only interested in two of them. It picked one of those two by a strong majority.

                If you have a better way of doing that I’d like to hear it.

                I don’t think primary voters faced legitimate choices.

                … how not?

                • ThrottleJockey

                  I think its glaringly obvious that Biden was scared to take her on.

                  Its sometimes true that an ability to lock up people and money means you’re a great talent, but that clearly wasn’t the case with either Hill or Coakley, now was it? Its like the guy whose born on 3rd base thinking he hit a Home Run when he crosses home plate instead of a single.

                  Clinton simply had a lot of baked in, inherited advantages over every other contender. I’ve read accounts that even Obama was predisposed to her because he felt she would definitely win the general and cement his legacy.

                  It was the fall of 2015, Donald Trump was rocketing up in the polls, Hillary Clinton was already wilting, and there was Obama’s vice president, occupying national center stage in an awkward public display of grief and political vacillation.

                  To Obama, this was a big, unwelcome problem. He had picked Biden for the ticket back in ’08 because he didn’t want him to run for president again, and besides, he honestly believed Biden would be crushed by a defeat he viewed as inevitable.

                  Still, this wasn’t personal for the president; it was business. Protecting his vulnerable accomplishments from the GOP wrecking ball and safeguarding his legacy have always been top priorities for Obama, and he had told friends as early as late 2014 that Clinton, for all her flaws, was “the only one” fit to succeed him. If Biden had come to him six months earlier—who knows? But it was much too late, and time to push Biden toward a graceful exit.

                  The choice was long understood by the president’s confidants. “My supposition always was that when the smoke cleared, he would be for Hillary,” David Axelrod, Obama’s campaign message guru and former White House adviser, told me. [ http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/07/2016-barack-obama-hillary-clinton-democratic-establishment-campaign-primary-joe-biden-elizabeth-warren-214023 ]

                • Murc

                  Its sometimes true that an ability to lock up people and money means you’re a great talent, but that clearly wasn’t the case with either Hill or Coakley, now was it?

                  This is an argument that they were weak candidates. It is not an argument that their primary wins were not legitimate in some way.

                  If the rank-and-file do not like the establishment candidate, they can vote for someone else. Clinton and Coakley won their primaries because they were genuinely popular within their respective parties.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  I had to re-read what I wrote because I never said Hill’s win was illegitimate. I do think the DNC and other establishment figures/organizations (unethically) put a finger on the scale, but I don’t think it demonstrably changed the outcome of the primary. Without that finger on the scales, Hill would still have beaten Sanders. Her brand and war chest and debate skills were too strong.

                  When I said I didn’t think primary voters were given a “legitimate” slate of candidates, I meant other party heavy weights and contenders didn’t run (Deval Patrick, Elizabeth Warren, Jerry Brown, Sherrod Brown, Joe Biden, etc). Pols knew which direction the wind was blowing & they all thought it was blowing her direction.

                • jim, some guy in iowa

                  when you throw “unethical” around to describe the process you are saying the result is “illegitimate”. It’s pretty much the same thing Trump is trying to do with the states he lost

                • BartletForGallifrey

                  There is zero goddamn evidence Joe Biden has ever been scared of any potential political foe in his whole damn life.

                  Indeed. You know, some might wonder if TJ is, like a certain sentient pumpkin, projecting.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  Jim–Just because someone acts unethically doesn’t mean their behavior was dispositive. Unethical behavior may, in fact, be unnecessary to a win. To use a football analogy you see offensive linemen hold defenders all the time even when it wasn’t necessary for the success of the play. How many punt returns have you seen called back because of holds far from the returner?

                  The Clinton Machine felt it had to pull out all the stops to win. Or perhaps some of their hangers on (eg, Wasserman Schultz) wanted to prove their worth to the campaign. Some of their behavior was just plain odd. Why didn’t they release Hill’s Wall Street speeches. After Wikileaks reported them they amount to a giant NothingBurger. There was nothing in them that would’ve prevented her win yet she chose not to release them. Bizarre. Lots of little things about that campaign make you scratch your head.

      • Jackov

        Big money Republican groups already do this. This year. many ditched Trump in October to pour money/resources into Senate and state races. Of course their interests – – tax cuts, gut regulations and fuck you – are better defined than those of the Democratic Party

    • djw

      (never mind, misread comment)

    • BartletForGallifrey

      They chose to ignore/downplay questions of race

      What? One of the major criticisms I’m seeing is that she talked too much and too openly about race, and it gave white voters icky feelings, in a way Obama didn’t.

      • nemdam

        Right, the quote you highlighted is laughable. Clinton regularly talked about racial discrimination and inequalities in our criminal justice system and elsewhere. She said white people have to listen to communities of color more. One theory I heard is that Clinton triggered white backlash not because she talked about these issues, but because she talked about them as a white person. It didn’t bother them when Obama talked about it because, duh, he’s black of course a black guy is going to talk about discrimination. But a white person talking about racism? That’s even more threatening than a black person talking about it.

        • BartletForGallifrey

          Someone–maybe Propane Jane?–said Clinton in some ways spoke more openly and bluntly about race than Obama did, because she had the leeway as a white woman.

  • Grumpy

    So my ad hoc story is that we’ve learned that too few people (and most importantly, too few people in certain swing states) dislike overt misogyny, sexual assault, racism, and war crimes to make that the centerpiece of a successful campaign. Either they affirmatively like those things when done by their tribe or they just don’t care. Instead, they care about extremely proximate personal wellbeing (which, obviously, should rationally reflect concern for the above things, but evidently does not). That means giving them–or more importantly, convincingly promising that you will give them–jobs, money, whatever. And retrospectively it would have meant attacking Trump purely on economic grounds in the Mitt Romney vein–he’s a lying fat cat who fires workers.

    There’s an extremely common tendency on the left to get caught up in the question of whether or not Trump voters are racist or made their decisions because of racist reasons or whatever locution you prefer. The mistake is in assuming that the answer to that question automatically leads us to the answer of the vastly more important question of “how the fuck do we win elections?” I’m not sure it does. The question is also oversimplified–different Trump voters voted for him for different reasons. Some voted because they love evil dearly, others voted for him because they don’t care about it. Then there are the Dem voters who didn’t turn out, arguably because they don’t fear evil enough either. The solution to converting the CONVERTIBLE will vary depending on which segment you’re trying to convert. As Scott says, there will not be a magic bullet catchphrase which works across all demographic groups.

    But if we’re looking for a magic bullet in the swing states we lost in the last election, I think the “class, not race” approach is it. Not because it is factually correct–it is not–but because it will not hurt the fee-fees of the white voters we need to avoid obliteration. In addition, we JUST DID the most overtly racially sensitive Presidential campaign I can think of apart from Lincoln’s and the Dem turnout was fucking garbage. We took all the holiest positions and got fucking fucked by (among others, admittedly) the very people who demanded those positions. You can blame that on HRC being a shitty candidate, and that may well be the solution, but this is going to put a huge dent in future efforts to push left.

    And for all those people who derided centrist Third Way sellouts as Republicans in disguise, well, this is what they were fucking afraid of. They may have been more conservative than necessary but they weren’t insane. Even Obama (especially Obama) avoided campaigning on race openly, because (as studies show) talking to white people about race makes them more racist.

    • ThrottleJockey

      Scott is wrong. There is no One Magic Trick there is this thing called “messaging cadence”.

      The secret isn’t to issue one message again and again the secret is to layer your messages. You layer your messages, issuing complementary, reinforcing messages again and again.

      Diminishing Marginal Returns is a thing. There’s a reason LBJ played the Daisy ad just 1 time. Obama didn’t just say Romney was a plutocrat he also said he was a plutocrat who didn’t give a fuck about YOU. Clinton only ever made the message that Trump doesn’t give a fuck about THEM. Note the difference.

      And the slogan “I’m with her” instead of “She’s with you” is malpractice. She let the real narcissist get away with being a narcissist while it seemed she ran the vanity campaign. To the average white voter he wanted to recapture America’s good times while she merely wanted to be the first woman president. I remember many ridiculing that point during the campaign but it’s bien out in the Midwestern exit polls. Messaging is real.

    • ASV

      In addition, we JUST DID the most overtly racially sensitive Presidential campaign I can think of apart from Lincoln’s

      This is something that both cost votes among race-identifying whites and was at least partly out of the campaign’s control. The Obama coalition had a ton of people of color in it, some of whom were there because of Obama himself. Trump, from day one, ran an explicitly racial campaign. And activists on the left (including but not limited to Black Lives Matter) aggressively sought recognition and inclusion within the 2016 version of the coalition. The Clinton campaign had only one plausible way to respond to each of these factors, because alienating communities of color would’ve tanked the race from the start. I don’t see a politically plausible way around this, let alone a morally defensible one.

  • mikenmar

    “We’ve learned for sure that Hillary Clinton should not be the Democratic nominee again…”

    No — that’s something YOU learned for sure. Anyone with a brain already knew it for sure years ago.

    Hillary lost because she’s Hillary. She was deeply disliked and distrusted by a huge portion of the electorate, including many Dems. This was known beforehand.

    It was a massive, colossal mistake to select someone with historically off-the-charts negativity ratings as a Presidential candidate.

    Why the hell couldn’t you figure this out a long time ago??

    • russiannavyblog

      Cool theory, except Hillary’s approval ratings at the time decisions were being made about what candidates to run were around 60%, and had been around 60% for years.

      http://www.gallup.com/poll/193913/clinton-image-lowest-point-two-decades.aspx

      • mikenmar

        When she left SoS, yes, but her approval ratings cratered once she started running for president. By 2015, it was well under 50%.

        Look at that graph:

        http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/may/22/hillary-clinton/hillary-clintons-approval-rating-secretary-state-w/

        • junker

          You said:

          Hillary lost because she’s Hillary. She was deeply disliked and distrusted by a huge portion of the electorate, including many Dems. This was known beforehand.

          It was a massive, colossal mistake to select someone with historically off-the-charts negativity ratings as a Presidential candidate.

          The fact that she was broadly popular before she started running would seem to refute both of these points (that everyone knew she was unpopular before she ran, and that she had historically negative approval ratings).

      • Thom

        And except that she won 2.2 M votes more than her opponent.

        • mikenmar

          That proves nothing.

          Candidates aren’t trying to win the popular vote. They gear their campaigns toward swing states and ignore some of the most populous states, like CA, TX & NY.

          Who knows if she still would have won the popular vote if Trump had been aiming for it.

          • pylon

            Wait – you can’t make an argument based on popularity and then ignore the actual results on popularity.

            And you certainly can’t argue that Trump would have won the popular vote if he’d worked at it while basing your main argument on pre-election unpopularity polling (given that Trump was much more unpopular).

            • (((Hogan)))

              Can too.

              • pylon

                Fair enough – one can. One just shouldn’t (if the argument is to make sense).

              • mds

                An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.

                • CP

                  No it isn’t.

                • muddy

                  Yes it is!

          • Scott Lemieux

            Who knows if she still would have won the popular vote if Trump had been aiming for it.

            The idea that expanding the campaign to CA, TX & NY would help Trump — let alone provide him with 3 million net votes — remains utterly absurd.

            • Rob in CT

              I just love it when liberals make Trump’s argument for him, because they hate Hillary just that much.

          • delazeur

            Who knows if she still would have won the popular vote if Trump had been aiming for it.

            Obviously we can’t know how the popular vote would change if the campaigns were run differently, but pretending like the popular vote doesn’t mean anything is stupid.

          • ASV

            Trump says he would’ve only campaigned in 3-4 states in a popular vote scenario, which seems an unlikely path to victory.

    • cleek

      She was deeply disliked and distrusted by a huge portion of the electorate, including many Dems.

      Trump was deeply disliked and distrusted by an even huger portion of the electorate, including many Republicans. and he won.

      • mikenmar

        They voted for Trump because they hated Hillary even more.

        The Dem elite truly never understood the degree to which people — even people more or less in the center, not hardcore Republicans — truly despised and distrusted Hillary.

        The whole mindset was “They can’t possibly vote for Trump, so they’ll have to vote for Hillary.” No, the people who decided on Trump in the last week did so because they could simply never vote for Hillary.

      • ThrottleJockey

        She was so disliked by millions of people who voted Democratic previously that they Sat on their hands when given a choice between her and the #TrumpFuhrer. I’d say that’s the proof of the pudding.

        This was not new news. I made a habit of commenting here how many blacks in particular were skeptical of her motives after her 2008 campaign against Obama. She should have had a Come to Jesus moment on Oprah and said I’m so sorry for that campaign. But she was too proud. A lot of blacks saw a candidate they couldn’t really trust.

        • And yet they came out for her over Bernie, especially in the South, which she would up losing anyway.

          • ThrottleJockey

            We can’t confuse high energy, high information primary voters with low energy, low information general voters. Those are 2 entirely different sets of people. Hill winning blacks in the primary says nothing about her appeal to blacks in a general. My lord, Trump outperformed his Republican predecessors in the black vote–and I’m not even including McCain and Romney in that tally. Millions of blacks were simply unpersuaded that Hill was on their side.

            • I can personally attest to that. I don’t claim to understand it, in the same way I don’t get how some Jews could have supported Hitler. But there it is.

        • cleek

          A lot of blacks saw a candidate they couldn’t really trust.

          where “a lot” is something less than 12%.

          Some 88% of black voters supported Clinton, versus 8% for Trump, who said repeatedly that black communities are in the worst shape ever.

          http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/08/politics/first-exit-polls-2016/

          • ThrottleJockey

            You’re undercounting*, but even with the stats you present you make my point. Trump out performed his Republican predecessors: Bush 2 only got 9% of the black vote against Al Gore. Bush 1 only got 10% of the black vote against Bill Clinton. So, not even including the Obama years, Trump did about 25% better among blacks than his Republican predecessors. That’s huge yuuuuge. And I had included the Obama years, it’d be even yuuuuger.

            *Note: Your stats are an undercount of Hill’s weakness because many millions of blacks didn’t even vote. See this story from the Times about how many blacks in Milwaukee didn’t vote–and why: Many in Milwaukee Neighborhood Didn’t Vote — and Don’t Regret It.

            “I don’t feel bad,” Mr. Fleming said, trimming a mustache. “Milwaukee is tired. Both of them were terrible. They never do anything for us anyway.”

            • Rob in CT

              Do we have final turnout numbers for this election? I strongly suspect that when it’s all said & done the data will show a drop-off in AA turnout (with suppression being part of the story, but likely running a distant second to lack of enthusiasm).

              I ask because the overall turnout narrative has changed as votes kept being counted. Originally it was “turnout way down” but the final turnout % looks like a dead ringer for 2012 (though down from ’08).

              and Don’t Regret It.

              Sadly, they may come to regret it.

      • xq

        Nominating Trump was a poor strategic choice for the Republicans. Nominating Clinton was a poor strategic choice for the Democrats. “Nominate popular candidates” seems like a pretty good rule for winning elections.

        • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

          Trump was chosen by Republican voters, and Clinton by Democratic ones.

          These same voters, plus ones who hadn’t participated in the primaries, then chose Trump in the states that mattered to gain the Electoral College majority.

          It all goes back to the voters plus the people who could have voted but didn’t. Voters are the weak link in democracy.

    • Why the hell couldn’t you figure this out a long time ago??

      Why? Because purity ponies and all that.

      Hillary had to fight a two-front war:

      1. She had to convince working whites of the legitimacy of the establishment in what was clearly an anti-establishment election.

      2. She had to prove that she was the right person to lead it.

      She lost on both fronts, not insignificantly because she is a woman, but also not insignificantly because she is Hillary. Yes, she won the popular vote by a large margin, but she couldn’t turn the tide in the states that mattered.

      • ASV

        in what was clearly an anti-establishment election.

        The incumbent president has approval ratings near 60% and almost all of Congress was re-elected.

        • The incumbent president has approval ratings near 60%

          I think you’re confusing politics with personality.

          and almost all of Congress was re-elected.

          Almost all of Congress always gets re-elected.

          • (((Hogan)))
            • Jackov

              That’s just mean.
              The elections of 2016, 2010, 2000 and 1994
              can all go to hell.

          • ASV

            I think you’re confusing politics with personality.

            I mean, the establishment candidate also got ~2.5 million more votes than the anti-establishment candidate.

            Almost all of Congress always gets re-elected.

            Going back to 1994 there have been three shifts of 30 seats or more against the incumbent president’s party. An election with a +6 shift in the House and +2 in the Senate for the incumbent president’s party can hardly be called anti-establishment.

        • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

          Congress would kill to merely have Clinton’s or Trump’s unfavorable ratings. And yet they continue to be re-elected, with losing in a primary being their main threat.

          As I said above, the problem with democracy is that it’s dependent upon the decisions of the voters.

    • (((Hogan)))

      So who was your pick?

    • Dilan Esper

      I’m no Hillary fan, and thought her weaknesses both as candidate and as public servant were glaring and obvious, but people blaming her for her this are fundamentally not coming to grips with the impact of Trump as a celebrity candidate. It’s why gaffes and character issues didn’t hurt him. It’s why millions of people would vote for him despite his lack of political experience.

      Hillary ran into something totally unique in the history of American presidential politics. (We’ve seen it happen in statewide elections several times.) Do I think she did everything right? Far from it. But she did a lot right, including the debates and using Khan and Machado as bait. It didn’t work because celebrity candidates have magical regenerative tissue- the attacks hurt for a bit but their popularity climbs right back up, because the American culture is obsessed with celebrity and Americans want to vote for one no matter what.

      Scott’s article is excellent, btw.

      • witlesschum

        A friend from Minnesota said the Trump phenomenon seemed very familiar to him, though obviously Jessie Ventura was less openly a piece of garbage.

      • CP

        people blaming her for her this are fundamentally not coming to grips with the impact of Trump as a celebrity candidate

        They’re also not coming to grips with the extent to which our institutions went all-in to stop a third Democratic term in the White House, no matter the cost and no matter who was installed. From Republican state governments that colluded to suppress the vote to an FBI that brought back COINTELPRO as an actual tool of presidential elections to the media that refused to cover it.

        This isn’t the first time; all the post-mortems on the 2000 campaign focus on that one little thing Gore could’ve done differently, while ignoring 1) the number of black Floridians who were purged from the voter rolls when they were “misidentified” as felons by a Republican state government, and 2) a Supreme Court intervention that would’ve been called a coup had it taken place anywhere outside of the West.

        • Dilan Esper

          That’s way too conspiratorial. It’s true that Republicans do various things to disenfranchise people, but they do them every election and the tactics don’t make elections unwinnable.

          Comey’s actions are a reflection of the political composition of the FBI, not a conspiracy. And Bush v. Gore, as terrible as it was, was a one-off produced by a unique situation, not some grand plan.

          • (((Hogan)))

            An alignment of interests is not necessarily a conspiracy. But it is an alignment of interests.

    • BartletForGallifrey

      She was deeply disliked and distrusted by a huge portion of the electorate, including many Dems won more votes than anyone not named Barack Obama, ever.

      FTFY.

  • Go back and look at the polling averages for the last few months. Whenever Trump and Clinton were together, she killed him in the polls, only to have the averages come back together within a week or two of the debates. People liked what they saw or, more specifically, didn’t like what they saw in Trump, but it just wouldn’t stick. The only way to have overcome that was to have scheduled a debate a week before the election.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      when I realized Clinton couldn’t hang onto the gains she made, that as soon as Trump shut his yap his poll numbers climbed back into range is when I decided she (and we) were in more trouble than the poll numbers in general showed. There’s something goofy going on with people when they could forget how thoroughly she cleaned his clock and how completely unfit he showed himself to be during those three debates

      which leads to something I think gets lost in the analyses: how hard the downticket republicans ran on all their usual themes- too much government, too high taxes, guns, “respect for law enforcement”- pretty much everything *any* dem would have been running *on*. These are the things middle-of-the-roaders come back to when things seem like they’re running generally okay otherwise for them

      • Yep.

        I think that the primaries did us a great disservice by only producing three candidates to choose from on the Dem side. The Dem establishment had already selected Clinton before the first votes were cast, and were totally caught flat-footed by Bernie because it was ‘her time’ and all that. As soon as they started plugging her resume and establishment bonafides I knew we were in trouble. But after watching her clean Trumps clock repeatedly during the debates, even I though that common sense would prevail. But apparently not.

        • liberal

          Agreed on all points.

        • cleek

          The Dem establishment had already selected Clinton

          but how many primary votes did that count for?

          • Probably more than you think, since she was declared the unofficial winner right from the start.

            • BartletForGallifrey

              Five bucks says you can find blogs from mid/late 2007 saying the exact same things about her as were said in mid/late 2015.

              Remind me how 2008 worked out?

            • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

              Disagree.

              Trump certainly wasn’t the person favored by the Republican establishment, and it didn’t matter much.

              I don’t see that Democratic voters are more controlled by their establishment than Republicans are.

    • pylon

      I always thought she should do more TV appearances, like Trump. he took full advatanage of free media coverage. I think the polling showed whenenever she was visible (eg. convention, debates), her numbers went up. She should have done interviews after Comey interfered (both times), after the NYT Clinton Foundation hit-piece.

      • Yep. The only effective way to pop the Republican spell was to get her out in the public. But they were so afraid that she would step on a rake (not without merit!) or that the media would relentlessly pick on her (not without merit, too!) that they kept her under wraps.

        Plus, the media was Trump 24/7. Hard nut to crack.

        • pylon

          Oh, I agree that she wouldn’t have gotten a fair shake in the media, and that she is far less able in front of a camera. But it would have been better than hiding.

          It would have been great to have cameras following her more intimately, since I understand that in private engagements she is remarkably warm and engaging.

      • (((Hogan)))

        Trump didn’t “do TV appearances” so much as he appeared and TV cameras followed him around. It wasn’t something he decided.

        • nemdam

          Exactly. After the Khan debacle, Trump only did Hannity, O’Reilly and Fox and Friends. He went deep inside the bubble. But the media and cameras followed him anyway.

          It’s strange that people think Hillary “hid” for the entire campaign.

          • BartletForGallifrey

            Meanwhile, he hasn’t had a press conference in months, and we hear crickets from the media.

            • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

              we hear crickets from the media.

              Why, it’s almost as if “both sides” equivalence only works in one direction.

              • BartletForGallifrey

                “We haven’t complained that Hillary hasn’t held a presser since the election, either! What more do you want from us?!” -The media

          • pylon

            He did those shows, which were promtly reported on by the other media outlets.

            And, yeah, he appeared and cameras followed him.

            I’m not saying HRC “hid” in the sense she was afraid of media exposure. I’m saying she was hidden from sight, for whatever reason. But she didn’t appear on Fox, or Hannity or O’Reilly. And she didn’t appear much on more friendly territory. Trump had her two to one on other network Sunday shows. She was on Ellen Degeneris in October. But her last appearance on The View was April.

            I just think the more people saw her in person, the better off she was, and it wasn’t enough for my liking, especially following negative stories.

  • Murc

    Had Clinton carried Pennsylvania or Florida — both roughly within a point — then the decision to largely ignore Michigan and Wisconsin while investing in Ohio and Iowa, both of which Clinton lost by more than 8 points, would look really bad.

    Arrgh!

    Clinton ignored neither of those states.

    It’s a fair point. But the blunder the Clinton campaign made was to fight the last war, to be too slow to pick up on the particular threat that Trump posed in the Rust Belt.

    This was not unique to the Clinton campaign. Nobody had any empirical evidence that Clinton was in any trouble in the Rust Belt. At all.

    Let’s try a thought experiment shall we? It’s early October and you, a high-flying Clinton staffer, walk into a strategy meaning. You say “Madame Secretary, I really think we’re in deep trouble in the Rust Belt. We should divert resources there.”

    Across the table, another staffer laughs derisively. “The Rust Belt? The states that haven’t gone Republican since Reagan? No. No, we’re not in trouble there. Want to know how I know that? Here’s our internal polling, where we’re consistently above the MoE. Here’s the aggregates, which look even better than that. Gallup, CNN, the networks… fucking FOX has us up safely up in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. The Trump campaign has already effectively conceded Wisconsin, for gods sake. We ought to be focusing our resources in, you know, the actual swing states. Grind it out.”

    Now, as it happens, this staffer is dead wrong. But they’re dead wrong because all of the data is dead wrong. How do you win the argument with them given that fact?

    • cleek

      Arrgh!

      Clinton ignored neither of those states.

      no, sorry. the narrative clearly states that she ignored those states.

    • Arouet

      The fact that no one else seems able to grasp this is – ironically – a damned good example of Scott’s point about retrospectives being stupid.

      In 20/20 hindsight, we would have ignored all empirical evidence, because it turns out the pollsters were fighting the last war too. But that’s all it is, hindsight.

    • Scott Lemieux

      This was not unique to the Clinton campaign. Nobody had any empirical evidence that Clinton was in any trouble in the Rust Belt. At all.

      As we’ve discussed, I don’t disagree!

    • Dilan Esper

      It’s very possible that the Trump campaign had evidence of Clinton’s problems in the rust belt. They certainly behaved like they did.

      Looking from afar, I think a lot of Democratic pollsters and data analysts were highly overconfident or weren’t as smart as they thought.

      • Murc

        It’s very possible that the Trump campaign had evidence of Clinton’s problems in the rust belt. They certainly behaved like they did.

        They sure didn’t campaign like it.

        Looking from afar, I think a lot of Democratic pollsters and data analysts were highly overconfident or weren’t as smart as they thought.

        And network pollsters. And pollsters working for dedicated polling outfits.

        This wasn’t some unique democratic problem. The Clinton campaign didn’t ignore credible reports saying “Trump is up half a percent in PA” because they were more confident in their internal numbers; those reports literally didn’t exist.

        • Dilan Esper

          Actually they did. Look at where Trunp went in the days before the election, and also check out what his surrogates were saying about the rust belt.

          And no, it wasn’t everybody. Matt Yglesias figured out that Clinton had an electoral college problem and would run behind her national polling. That was on November 4.

          There actually weren’t very many state by state polls, but there was a lot of talk going around about Clinton’s superiority in ground game and data and banking of early votes making it a certainty that she would outperform national polls. To me, that looks like what you hear from overconfident campaign operatives.

          • liberal

            Agreed.

            In addition to everything you wrote, the campaign presumably had enormous financial resources to get it right. At a bare minimum, they should have done scenario planning—what if undecideds break mostly for Trump? Etc etc etc.

            If find it difficult to believe the campaign itself was fully competent.

            This was their damn job. And they failed.

            • Murc

              At a bare minimum, they should have done scenario planning—what if undecideds break mostly for Trump

              … the plan for that scenario is that you lose. In most elections if the undecideds break mostly for your opponent you lose.

          • Murc

            Actually they did. Look at where Trunp went in the days before the election, and also check out what his surrogates were saying about the rust belt.

            You’re saying I should look for reason in a candidate who operates on pure id, and believe a word that comes out of the mouths of the inveterate liars he surrounds himself with?

            That doesn’t rise to the level of “there was empirical evidence that they knew something others did not.”

            And even if somehow they did… Clinton was supposed to get access to their internal numbers how exactly?

            Matt Yglesias figured out that Clinton had an electoral college problem and would run behind her national polling.

            Did he back this up with empirical data? If not, the fact that he was correct is not actually all that relevant. I can get lucky too.

            There actually weren’t very many state by state polls, but there was a lot of talk going around about Clinton’s superiority in ground game and data and banking of early votes making it a certainty that she would outperform national polls.

            Those claims were based on strong historical evidence. Black swans are, by definition, ahistorical.

            • Dilan Esper

              Yglesias’ post was, in fact, backed up by what data was available.

              But more generally, I don’t KNOW that Trump had better information. But it’s possible that he did. And it isn’t like there was nobody out there saying that Trump had a shot. Indeed, Nate Silver actually got called a Republican toadie by some other analysts for saying it. Calling a respected analyst a Republican toadie does not suggest an atmosphere of dispassionate analysis of data.

              The evidence of overconfidence is necessarily circumstantial. But it is out there.

          • delazeur

            Actually they did. Look at where Trunp went in the days before the election, and also check out what his surrogates were saying about the rust belt.

            A fair point, and with any other campaign it would be compelling evidence. With Trump, though, I can’t shake the suspicion that these were simply delusional fever dreams that chanced to turn out right.

            • ASV

              Could be delusions, but also Trump had to thread a narrow needle that ran through the Rust Belt regardless of what Clinton did. He didn’t need all of them, but it makes sense to put resources into all of them, because you don’t know in advance where the tipping point will be.

          • Scott Lemieux

            Actually they did. Look at where Trunp went in the days before the election, and also check out what his surrogates were saying about the rust belt.

            Except, of course, Clinton also spent time in the rust belt in the last week, because the polls changed substantially in the last tend days and both campaigns picked up on that.

            If the Trump campaign had better data, why didn’t it contest Wisconsin either?

            • Dilan Esper

              Because Michigan and Ohio were more likely to be the decisive states?

              Look, I don’t know that Teump had better data. But it is at least possible, and Clinton’s people were clearly telling reporters they had a huge edge in their data operations. At the very least that looks questionable. To me, they look overconfident in retrospect.

              • Scott Lemieux

                But Clinton campaigned hard in Ohio, and campaigned hard in Michigan once the numbers started to change. I don’t see any evidence that Trump knew more than Clinton did.

                I think it’s fair to say that Clinton didn’t have a big edge in data. But I don’t see any evidence that they had bad data either.

    • JKTH

      All of this emphatically.

  • jpgray

    The interesting phenomenon to me is whether you mostly blame voters/media/establishment vs the candidate/campaign/etc.

    I wonder if there would be much diversity in agreement with the below statements, or if people simply tend to cluster based on how they personally feel about the voter group/candidate:

    1. “Bernie is terrible at winning minority votes!”
    2. “Minority voters are wrong/misinformed/self-harming when they don’t vote Bernie!”

    3. “HRC is terrible at winning middle America whites!”
    4. “Middle America whites are wrong/misinformed/self-harming when they don’t vote HRC!”

    It seems to me those who agree more strongly with #1 also agree more strongly with #4, whereas those who agree more strongly with #2 agree more strongly with #3, for example.

    “Who the hell are you to tell x that they are idiots who are incapable of understanding their own interests? Candidate y has just failed in doing the necessary work to cultivate them” as a response to #2 or #4 also probably tends to cluster quite a bit without much crossover based on feelings for the candidate/voter group.

    • Murc

      My problem with #1 is that predicting how much someone will appeal to minority voters in a general is not well-measured by an intraparty primary. Nobody was saying “Clinton is terrible at winning minority votes!” in 2008, or if they were they were, rightfully, ignored. They were saying “Well, Barack Obama is simply better at it than she is.”

      Who the hell are you to tell x that they are idiots who are incapable of understanding their own interests?

      The answer to that, of course, is “We asked them what they saw as their own interests many, many times over the course of many, many years, and then they turned around and voted for someone who is directly antithetical to these self-declared interests. Either they’re lying to us en masse, or they’re gullible fools.”

      • jpgray

        Just to be clear this isn’t about whether Bernie could or “should” have won anything, it’s just about how a lot of election “analysis” can be predicted based on the preferences of the person doing the analysis.

        And I’m not keen on your response to the “Who the hell are you?” question – the politics of rational transaction would seem to lose out to the politics of irrational aspiration/hatred quite frequently, voters many times seeing their material interest as less important than chasing a dream, or sticking a finger in someone’s eye.

    • pillsy

      So I think both #1 and #3 are true, in the contests where they mattered. I also believe #4 is true, but not particularly useful.

      Bernie was not the nominee, in large part, because of #1. Would that have carried over into the general? Fucked if I know.

      Hillary is not President elect, in large part, because of #3. Would Bernie have done better with them in the general? Again, fucked if I know.

      However, I will say that if people believe that Bernie Sanders should have been the nominee because he would have stopped Trump, the problem they should focus on solving is #1.

  • Brad Nailer

    (I’ve been having some real problems posting comments lately. Who do I talk to about that?)

    • Schadenboner

      So have I. I think it’s mostly post-election depression (can’t speak for you, obviously).

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      I believe Robert Farley is the front pager to contact

      • Brad Nailer

        How do you do that? These guys are harder to get hold of than the NSA.

        Not to mention: WordPress? Meh. Can’t post photos, 5 minutes of edit time.

        • Brad Nailer

          Also, format buttons not available on edit. Probably more to complain about, but I’ve only got 3 more minutes to come up with something.

          Get something new, LG&M guys.

        • (((Hogan)))
    • Rob in CT

      Dunno about you, but what I’ve been getting is “certificate errors.” It’s really hit & miss.

    • CP

      Yes. Twice this morning. As great as the content is, this site is frequently a pain in the ass from a technical standpoint.

  • Wamba

    There he goes again. Lemieux is trading once again in his trademark blanket epistemological skepticism. At various times, Lemieux argues either that messaging doesn’t work at all or, now, that you just can’t tell anything at all about how it will work (so just throw up your hands). But communications DO have an effect and they CAN be done better or worse and it IS possible to bring evidence to bear in making judgments about it. There are many different explanatory variables in election outcomes, but message is one of them and we better try to learn from our mistakes.

    And Scott? That word “tautology”? You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. Whether or not a different message strategy would have made a difference is clearly an empirical question — no matter how difficult it may be to settle the question. That problem is endemic to social science so if you go Lemieux’s way you are choosing to be the village epistemological skeptic. Of course the thorough going skeptic cannot be defeated but I still think the external world exists so I’m not impressed.

    Could different messaging have made a difference? Count me as one who says yes — especially since you only needed to shift about one percentage point of voters. There very well probably was a difference in message strategy that could have made that difference.

    Now you can debate what that difference should have been. I can think of many likely possibilities based not on definitions (read:tautology) but on years of experience formulating message strategy for high level campaigns using quantitative and qualitative research. I also base it on volumes of data, public and private, I saw over this election — and volumes of data that was NOT generated, which is another problem.

    Here’s a start in the form of a question. Answer honestly now! Prior to this election, would you have ever predicted that a candidate for any major office in a competitive statewide or national race could have survived the revelation of a taped confession to SEXUAL ASSAULT a month before election day? No, you wouldn’t have. The fact that the Clinton campaign could not effectively exploit that heaven sent windfall speaks volumes about message failure.

    • Arouet

      Right anecdote, wrong lesson. The Clinton campaign did exploit that windfall and focused on it extensively – it apparently mattered not a whit. The fact that no one would have predicted a candidate facing that revelation could possibly win, and yet Trump did that and so many other things and still came out on top, pretty much makes Scott’s point.

      • Wamba

        You ain’t gonna learn what you don’t want to know. As I have argued on this blog before — and as I argued in real time — the Clinton campaign did a terrible job exploiting that windfall. In the swing state I live in we basically saw two ads that alluded to the sexual assault confession but there were at least 3 predictable problems with those ads:

        1) They relied on Trump’s own words, and his own words ALONE, to make the case against him. They needed to explicitly draw the conclusion and lodge the charges and in a convincing manner, but they failed to do that.

        2) They BURIED the inadequate confession by making it just one of several different quotes from Trump that were supposed to self-evidently convict him. The result was to trivialize the sexual assault and effectively equate it with calling a woman fat, for example. This played right into Trump’s locker room talk narrative. Instead of charging Trump with sexual assault, they effectively accused him merely of using naughty language. They did it all wrong.

        3) In my swing state, we saw those same 2 flawed ads over and over and over and over and over and over until even their already weakened power to shock was weakened to the point of extinction.

    • Rob in CT

      Oh for fuck’s sake, you’re still trying to flog that theory that the Clinton campaign didn’t play the “grab her by the pussy” tape correctly?

      • Wamba

        Yep, you have correctly gleaned the topic of the post.

    • Scott Lemieux

      But communications DO have an effect and they CAN be done better or worse and it IS possible to bring evidence to bear in making judgments about it.

      Fine. So where’s the evidence? You have nothing but bare assertions and not very plausible ones at that.


      The fact that the Clinton campaign could not effectively exploit that heaven sent windfall speaks volumes about message failure.

      Wait…you’re saying that the Clinton campaign’s messaging failed to sufficiently Trump’s bad character? Are you shitting me? This is a textbook unfalsifiable tautology.

      Clinton outperformed (and/or Trump underperformed) what the fundamentals would predict by 4 points or so, which in the context of an election in which the vast majority of voters are up for grabs in unusually high/low. Should she have done even better? Maybe, but asserting the theoretical possibility isn’t evidence. You have presented absolutely none.

      • Wamba

        Evidence? To anyone who has actually worked on a major campaign, rather than just reading about them in grad school and bloviating, your claim is farcical.

        1) Here’s what happens on every well-funded campaign. You do a poll including questions asking how well an entire battery of specific character traits describes each candidate. You use statistical analysis to figure out where you need to shore up your own image and where to attack the opponent. You run millions of dollars worth of ads specifically designed and often quantitatively tested to manipulate those key traits. Then you do another poll after you’ve been up on the air with enough GRP’s to get through and you reask the character trait questions. And lo and behold those very traits often move in the very direction you were trying to move them, while others stay the same. This happens all the time.

        2) You certainly seem to think that coverage of the Comey letter had an impact. That’s campaign communications of another kind.

        3) I suggest you begin by consulting Sunshine Hillygus’ contribution to the Oxford Handbook of American Elections and Political Behavior “Campaign Effects on Vote Choice”. You overlearned a lesson you think you learned in grad school.

        “you’re saying that the Clinton campaign’s messaging failed to sufficiently Trump’s bad character?”

        1) we both know that is an unresponsive, dishonest misrepresentation of what I argued. I didn’t argue that she didn’t attack Trump’s character in general sufficiently. I argued that she failed to use the specific revelation of the taped confession to hold him accountable for criminal sexual assault.

        2) I didn’t argue that she didn’t do it enough. I argued that she a) did it wrong and b) if anything did it too much (in the wrong way). You might try responding to the actual argument made there.

        “This is a textbook unfalsifiable tautology.”

        You’re still misusing the word “tautology.” But you’re closer to the mark with the addition of the word “unfalsifiable” While it is true that every tautology is unfalsifiable, it is not true that everything that is unfalsifiable is a tautology. Your claims about campaign tactics make more sense as allegedly unfalsifiable. They are in no way tautological though.

        Should she have done even better? Maybe, but asserting the theoretical possibility isn’t evidence.

        I didn’t think this was in doubt. You yourself have argued repeatedly that she positively WOULD have done better if not for the Comey letter. So yes we both agree that we do not live in the best of all possible political worlds.

        • Scott Lemieux

          2) You certainly seem to think that coverage of the Comey letter had an impact. That’s campaign communications of another kind.

          Well, yes, but because that’s a single event, and public opinion actually changed substantially after it. It’s impossible to prove causation to an absolute certainty, and I certainly wouldn’t claim that the coverage of the letter is responsible for all of her decline after October 28th, but there is actual evidence. You have literally nothing but “the fact that she lost proves that she had worse messaging and lost because she had worse messaging.” Which is the very definition of a tautology.

          • Srsly Dad Y

            While it is true that every tautology is unfalsifiable, it is not true that everything that is unfalsifiable is a tautology.

            He’s right about this, Scott, you should really use a different word. A tautology is true by definition. It’s uninformatively true. You’re criticizing something you suspect is either false or not obviously true, more like a non sequitur. Similarly, “Peyton Manning’s team won the Super Bowl, so he didn’t suck that day” is bad post hoc reasoning, but isn’t a tautology, because it isn’t even true.

            • XTPD

              Qualified pedant point: While by what Scott calls “tautology” is more accurately covered by “circular reasoning,” the Encyclopedia of Record says that “tautology” is a perfectly acceptable synonym as regards rhetoric.

              • Srsly Dad Y

                Wikipedia does not say that and would be wrong if it did.

                Rhetorical tautologies (which is not what Scott is talking about) are redundant expressions that are true based on the natural language in which they are expressed. They differ from logical tautologies in that they wouldn’t be tautologies if the language were different. Examples are “unmarried bachelor,” “future plans,” “well and good,” “full and complete stop,” “sharia law,” “PIN number.”

        • (((Hogan)))

          What does Hillygus have to say about how Clinton should have campaigned?

        • xq

          1) Here’s what happens on every well-funded campaign. You do a poll including questions asking how well an entire battery of specific character traits describes each candidate. You use statistical analysis to figure out where you need to shore up your own image and where to attack the opponent. You run millions of dollars worth of ads specifically designed and often quantitatively tested to manipulate those key traits. Then you do another poll after you’ve been up on the air with enough GRP’s to get through and you reask the character trait questions.

          If the Clinton campaign has this data and you don’t, they made their campaigning decisions from a position of more information than you, right? How are you so confident they were wrong?

          • Wamba

            You didn’t follow the argument. That bit was in response to Scott’s demand for evidence that campaign communications matter — and it devastates his position.

            • xq

              OK? I agree with you on that part of your argument, though. Do you have an answer to my question?

              • Wamba

                yes, reread my arguments above.

    • djw

      The bluster:content ratio here is off the charts.

      • Wamba

        ditto

    • Dilan Esper

      Remember, elections are single event samples. I know people hate when I say this, but it’s like playing a single poker hand. You can play the hand right and lose, because aspects are out of your control. And if you do lose, it doesn’t prove you didn’t follow the correct strategy,and in fact you may win a majority of the time with the same strategy, or you may be in a situation where you are likely to lose no matter what but you have maximized your chance of winning.

      But it’s even tougher than that, because at least in poker you can calculate the probabilities. In politics you can’t. There is actually no statistically reliable data as to what wins a presidential election, because the sample size is small and heterogeneous. As Scott says, just like in Hollywood, nobody really knows anything. We are all guessing, some more educated than others, and sometimes the data just leads us to arrogance rather than to truth.

      • witlesschum

        This seems much more correct to me.

      • xq

        But it is possible to do experiments on how messaging affects opinions in which election win/loss is not the only measurable outcome.

        • Dilan Esper

          It’s possible to do experiments on how messaging affects stated opinions in a laboratory survey, but it’s not possible to determine with a large sample how messaging affects voters in a presidential election.

          And those are two extremely different things.

          • Scott Lemieux

            And it should be noted that Clinton based its messaging on exactly these kinds of experiments. Perhaps they were badly done, but again this requires actual evidence, and “they lost” is not evidence.

            • xq

              Yeah, I agree with this. It’s not so much that these questions are unanswerable, just that we on the outside don’t have the relevant data to be able to answer them. Whether the Clinton campaign does or not I don’t know.

            • Wamba

              “They lost” is not conclusive evidence but it certainly raises rather than lowers the likelihood. Add in some independent reasons for thinking they botched their communications — such as my arguments above — and you are on the way to an empirical hypothesis.

            • Wamba

              It should also be noted that they did those experiments because they had a legitimate and empirically based expectation that their communications could make a difference.

              It would not be at all unusual if their message research was done poorly. It’s an art as well as a science and many get it wrong — especially when you have campaigns dominated by a few top consultants whose primary interest is in evading accountability and avoiding risks, which is to say most campaigns. Group think is common. And Hillary is, shall we say, not known for bucking the conventional wisdom.

          • xq

            but it’s not possible to determine with a large sample how messaging affects voters in a presidential election.

            Why not? If you have good polling (which the campaigns do) you can test the effects of ads on the polls.

            • Dilan Esper

              Polls aren’t elections.

              • xq

                Polls, though far from perfect, are highly predictive of election results. I don’t see a reason for radical skepticism here–we probably can figure a lot of this out with experiment.

          • Wamba

            It’s quite possible to do experiments on messaging effects in presidential and other elections, and in fact that is the primary purpose of the vast majority of surveys conducted by campaigns. It has nothing to do with the sample size. Also there is no such thing as a “laboratory survey.”

            • Dilan Esper

              It’s a “laboratory survey” in that you are asking people how they would be affected by something, and that’s potentially different from how it actually affects voting behavior. Only elections show you that, and the sample size of presidential elections is small and heterogeneous.

              • Wamba

                “Survey” has a definite meaning in political science and that ain’t it. And it is ridiculous to argue that only elections give insight into voting behavior.

                You have something of a point about the small n problem but that is primarily a problem for forecasting election results, not testing message for a given campaign.

                At one level testing message is very simple: you ask people how convincing they find certain arguments, take an average of the results, and look at how they do among various target subgroups. Point estimates are more difficult but not necessary — all you need to do is say Argument A beats out Arguments B through K and you’re good to go. That oversimplifies obviously but the point is there is a ton of message testing that is possible and a ton that gets done.

  • Joe_JP

    I have it on good authority that if Clinton didn’t run that she wouldn’t have lost.

  • LeeEsq

    I think the take at the Atlantic after the election was still the best. Nearly half the people that can vote, do not vote. The population that does vote is closely divided. The electoral college means that elections will be won on the margins in key states until demographics change or one of the parties figures out how to get non-voters to vote.

  • Lester Freamon’s Tweedy Impertinence

    So, I feel like I keep seeing Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Sherrod Brown (all of whom are fine to great IMO) listed as possible next-gen presidential contenders but whither Tammy Duckworth? Any particular reason she’s not on the short list?

    • liberal

      What’s so great about Duckworth? Why should she be on anyone’s short list for anything?

      • Joe_JP

        Some form of this — why do you think Duckworth isn’t just a good person to run for Senate but specifically has the chops to win a national election?

        For instance, I’m wary of Gillibrand’s foreign policy chops myself. She seems more of a v.p. candidate.

        • Lester Freamon’s Tweedy Impertinence

          Part of it is just that I like her, think she’s pretty badass and don’t see what those other three have over her. Sherrod Brown is great but is also a white dude which, Jesus, again? Kirsten Gillibrand is fine but seems an awful lot like Hillary 2.0 (now with less history!) and Kamala Harris is great but has been pretty much CA only til now which is not quite the same as national office. GTFO with Cory Booker. And I love Liz Warren as much as anybody but she’s old as hell and, to my knowledge, has not expressed any desire to run.

      • Lester Freamon’s Tweedy Impertinence

        I mean, she’s a solid Dem, decorated veteran, simultaneously a daughter of a Thai immigrant/Daughter of the American Revolution, and she just kicked the shit out of an incumbent Republican to win his Senate seat? What’s not to like? What I meant was, is there some disqualifying factor that I’m not seeing?

        • Joe_JP

          She beat Mark Kirk in a blue state. She — unlike various others — was a great candidate to win a Senate seat. But, don’t know her political chops for nation-wise office myself. Her personal story is promising, sure.

  • Denverite

    Dear god, what is this dystopian nightmare to which I’ve awoken?

    • Rob in CT

      Every so often I wake up in the morning and have a few blissful moments during which I’ve forgotten about the election. And then it comes crashing back into my awareness.

      • cleek

        And then it comes crashing back into my awareness.

        it does this whenever i turn on the TV or radio or my computer.

        the world won’t STFU about this guy – as it hasn’t for the past 18 months.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      a place where it’s never too early to start drinking. So not all bad

    • Joe_JP

      losing to Andy Reid’s team like that is bad, I understand, but it’s okay … life goes on

  • shah8

    I do think there is a pretty firm idea what happened, and it’s pretty similar to how she lost to Obama in dem primaries. Hillary tried to win the most votes, rather than win an election. And from what autopsies I been reading…it’s mostly about aims and turnout machinery rather than any sort of messaging. Clinton tried too hard to win suburban votes, and didn’t ensure that she had an enthusiastic base turned out in the places where she *should* and *needed* win.

    • Murc

      Hillary tried to win the most votes, rather than win an election.

      This is transparently wrong. If she were trying to do that she’d have spent all her time in the blue states running up her margins. She did not do that.

      Clinton tried too hard to win suburban votes, and didn’t ensure that she had an enthusiastic base turned out in the places where she *should* and *needed* win.

      The suburban votes in the swing states she lost are where Trump’s margins came from. You’re saying she shouldn’t have been trying to cut into those?

      And that notwithstanding… Clinton of course did not ensure that she had enough votes to win in the places it mattered, but nobody can ensure that. She thought she was ahead in the states she needed to win because everyone thought that and had evidence backing it up.

      What could she have done better that was predictable at the time? And “shouldn’t have run” doesn’t count.

      • shah8

        What? No. Arizona, for example.

        Yes, Clinton shouldn’t have tried to court them so hard–because it was obvious that she neglected traditional democratic constituencies (never mind the extent that suburban voters aren’t reachable, no matter how much they claim they’re open to another choice). Some Obama voters, she might not have won, no way, no how, but a systematic approach to finding a way to rouse the base a bit better, and better campaign infrastructure to get them out to vote probably would have been key.

        • Dilan Esper

          Arizona was dumb. Karl Rove used to do this- he thought it was a sign of confidence to be off campaigning in blue states close to election day. There ought to be a moratorium on such cuteness by strategists on either side.

          But it’s not like the Clinton campaign did that much in Arizona. They were directing most of their resources to actual battlegrounds.

        • Murc

          What? No. Arizona, for example.

          They thought they had a shot in Arizona based on the polling and didn’t think they were in trouble anywhere else, also based on the polling. Why shouldn’t they have campaigned there, and in Georgia? You don’t campaign in Arizona because you want to “win the most votes.” You do it because you think the state is trending purple and you’d like to give that trend a push. That’s dumb if you’re fighting for your life, but there was never any evidence Clinton was fighting for her life.

          Yes, Clinton shouldn’t have tried to court them so hard–because it was obvious that she neglected traditional democratic constituencies

          … no. No, she didn’t.

          but a systematic approach to finding a way to rouse the base a bit better, and better campaign infrastructure to get them out to vote probably would have been key.

          Maybe, but what evidence existed at the time that this would have been necessary?

          • shah8

            *me blinks*

            This is pretty dumb and a waste of my time. I’m not playing “whocuddaknode” games with anyone. These arguments rely on the fact that Hilary and her team was tricked by the data to evade any and all process arguments. Which still leaves…Hillary and her team was tricked by the data. That in itself is a issue, if you want to make it one. I don’t feel the need, because again, from what I know, it seems that the primary issue was a lack of attention to the fundamentals of retail politics. And I don’t think you can seriously entertain “Hillary was mislead by data” excuses for some of the shit that went on in terms of get out the votes in places like PA.

            • Murc

              These arguments rely on the fact that Hilary and her team was tricked by the data to evade any and all process arguments.

              Yes, they do, because those process arguments are dumb and were unforseeable prior to the election occurring, which is the only thing that matters in an argument about whether mistakes were made.

              Which still leaves…Hillary and her team was tricked by the data. That in itself is a issue, if you want to make it one.

              Yes, and the solution to that is “get better data.”

              I don’t feel the need, because again, from what I know, it seems that the primary issue was a lack of attention to the fundamentals of retail politics.

              … the hell?

              Clinton was out there relentlessly selling herself. What is that if not retail politics?

              • Scott Lemieux

                In addition, bad data is not the problem. The race did, in fact, change late. We can argue about how much (if any) of this was due to Comey, but she lost 5 points in battleground states after October 28. The fact that she spent the last weekend largely in Michigan and Pennsylvania shows that they picked up on it after the data started to show it. Maybe they should have reacted sooner but people act as if good polls would have shown Clinton trailing all along in Wisconsin or something.

          • Dilan Esper

            There’s no benefit to running up the electoral score. Campaigning in Arizona was stupid and arrogant as well as overconfident.

            As I said, I used to bash on Karl Rove for pulling the same shit. I don’t think it cost her the election, but strategists should just stop this crap.

            • Given that she came closer to winning Arizona than Ohio, I’m not sure this is true in this case.

              • Dilan Esper

                The problem with that theory is they never said they were doing it because they could lose Ohio. They told reporters they were confident and could run up the score.

            • witlesschum

              The argument for it would be that she’d help down-ticket Dems there, no?

              • Dilan Esper

                Let’s wait until we have a Reagan vs Mondale situation before doing that. Any election that is remotely close, let’s not and say we did.

                • witlesschum

                  Unless one of the parties fractures, there’s not going to be a situation where anyone’s up that big, so you’re saying don’t ever do it.

            • Murc

              There’s no benefit to running up the electoral score.

              … there’s no benefit to turning red states purple and purple states blue. Really.

              • Dilan Esper

                If you could do it permanently, that would be one thing. But increasing the Electoral count in one election alone isn’t worth the risk.

        • rewenzo

          I just don’t see the opportunity cost to campaigning in Arizona, though. It looks hilarious in retrospect, but if all the polling shows you have nothing to worry about in the upper midwest, and you have a chance to win Arizona and Georgia, and the future of the party is there, why not? She wasn’t running low on money. It’s not like there’s a limit to how many ads you can run. This is like making fun of the Leafs for pouring millions of money into their farm team. If you have the money and the resources, any little extra bit of advantage, you take.

          Imagine making make a similar argument about Virginia and North Carolina. These are peripheral states in the Democratic coalition. Wouldn’t it be strange to fault Clinton for campaigning heavily in those states, but not solid blue states?

          • Joe_JP

            These are peripheral states in the Democratic coalition.

            Are they? VA was a very important state. NC was a state Obama won & has good purple/Dem leaning potential. It seems like an important state to go after as a safety school at the very least. It might even be the future over one or more of the three MidWest states she lost.

      • Scott Lemieux

        This is transparently wrong. If she were trying to do that she’d have spent all her time in the blue states running up her margins. She did not do that.

        Right. This idea that Clinton wasn’t even trying to win the Electoral College is so idiotic. (And since Trump didn’t contest Wisconsin, obviously he wasn’t either!)

        • shah8

          /me rolls eyes…

          The proximate and immediate cause of Hillary’s loss was not only Trump overperforming on lower class white votes, but Hillary’s *underperformance* in urban and college town areas.

          Some of that was voter suppression, but there are too many tales of poor management of GOTV operations.

          I wasn’t talking about needing some renewed ad blitz in Michigan, you know. I was talking about dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s in the mechanics of winning the vote. I think it’s obvious that Hillary should have been able to squeek on by in the rust belt, had she taken her actual base seriously instead of Wendy Davis’ing it all up.

          And this is so obvious, and the consequences of Hillary losing also quite obvious, such that I have no expectations of not eventually winning this argument. Get your shit straight in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and *then* expand from there to Arizona, etc. Not do a fucking Mighty Casey At Bat.

          • Arouet

            Actual question – what was going on with the GOTV operation there? I volunteered doing GOTV in Northern Virginia and it seemed to be a thoroughly professional operation that matched my experience working paid positions (albeit at a low level) on successful campaigns in the past. But then again she won Virginia (ultimately pretty handily, once Northern Virginia came in). What was going on in the Midwest?

            • nemdam

              Well, I can only speak to my experience in Minnesota, but the operation there was well done. A lot of helpful, friendly, organized paid staffers to direct, assist, and encourage the volunteers. FWIW, Hillary did better in the Twin Cities metro than Obama.

    • mikeSchilling

      Hillary tried to win the most votes, rather than win an election

      Same problem with Tito. He tried to score the most runs instead of winning ballgames. (Honestly, what the hell are we talking about?)

      • cleek

        we’re doing another round of Hillary Is Bad And I Was Right All Along.

  • mikeSchilling

    Scott left out the third fallacy:

    “XXX was the worst candidate. YYY or ZZZ would have gotten every vote XXX got and more, since they don’t have his/her negatives.”

    Which amounts to

    “XXX is a loser because XXX/YYY lost.”

    AKA the ESPN theory of politics (The Warriors lost a close game 7 in the Finals because they suck.)

  • Crusty

    I think it all comes down to the candidate and because of that I think most post-mortems are somewhat useless, because these things are won and lost on the specifics of the candidate and the particular circumstances of the time of the campaign. I mean, the recent republican post-mortem was that Republicans had to become more inclusive in response to changing demographics. And they won by running a friend of the white supremacists. This is not intended to be a the dems lost because Hillary was a terrible candidate post. For real. She was what she was and Trump was what he was. And who knew someone as shameless as he would come along telling people exactly what they wanted to hear and that nobody had previously been indecent enough to say.

    The next dem candidate will have to be someone with charisma and who can capture the zeitgeist. But let’s not go crazy. As I’ve said in almost all my post-election comments, the election was very close. As a thought experiment, if we assume a world where starting on election day, we have ten election days in a row, with the news frozen at the beginning and us never learning the result of any particular election day until they’re all finished, it is unlikely that Trump wins ten out of ten times, he might not even win the majority. Little things effect the outcome- weather, the immediate news the day before, etc.

    • Dilan Esper

      The weather is one of the most underrated factors. People don’t talk about it because it is out of human control.

      • BartletForGallifrey

        Not in China.

        Huh…maybe that whole “climate change was created by the Chinese” thing isn’t so crazy after all.

  • rewenzo

    Something I’ve been wondering is whether we’re going to see a lot of these EC/PV splits going forward. It didn’t happen for over 100 years, and then happened twice in the last 16. And it almost happened in 2004, if Kerry had eked out Ohio.

    I would think this is going to occur more often because, in addition to the trend pointing that way:

    (1) the country is polarized – it’s just very hard to swing votes from one party to another. Most states are locked in. As elections continue to focus more and more on only the swing states, the importance of campaigning in other states recedes into almost nothingness.
    (2) everybody (Republicans) has seen now twice that gaming the system so you eke out narrow victories is a viable way of winning. For Republicans, this may be the only way of winning, given that they seem generally incapable of winning popular vote elections.

    Because I only see EC/PV splits benefitting Republicans, I see no way to get rid of the system.

    Of course, this is to some extent optimistic. Republicans can also step up their voter suppression efforts to make sure that Democrats can no longer win the popular vote ever again.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I will have a piece on this going up soon, but the short answer is yes, that with polarized parties and very strong partisanship, EC and popular vote splits are going to be a lot more common.

    • djw

      Kerry lost nationally by 2.5 and Ohio by 2.1. The electoral college “lean” of 2004 was the smallest in recent history.

    • RonC

      I assume you mean that Republicans are incapable of winning popular vote elections for president, since they seem to have won most of the state and local popular vote elections in this country for at least the last 6 years.

  • kped

    Great post Scott. I get tired of people trying to re-litigate the primaries as if they can know for certain that if only they were listened to, this wouldn’t have happened. We can never know. Saying otherwise is just public masturbation.

    I’ve been reading some diaries on dailykos (always a bad idea…) and the Bernie fans are swarming back, trying to get public apologies for Kos decision to cut off primary debates once the primary was over. As if they are owed anything! As if being able to trash Hillary on the site would have made a difference! As if the primary was decided by a shadowy group at the DNC, and not actual voters (mostly minorities) in various states.

    This desperate need to continue infighting, to “vanquish” their foes, who are more on their side then they like to admit, is just stupid and unproductive. If you want your guys to have “power” in the party, make them start doing the work building coalitions TODAY. Not in 3 years after Gilebrand and Booker have already done the work. They need to be active today. If they aren’t, take a hike, because this is actually a big tent party, and all the whining about people not listening to you doesn’t change the fact that you actually have to build relationships with the various members of the base to win power.

    …i think i had a point there…i’ll end my rant now.

    • liberal

      As if the primary was decided by a shadowy group at the DNC, and not actual voters (mostly minorities) in various states.

      Strawman. Of course there are limits to the input of party elites by the time candidates have entered the primaries.

      The real control the elites exert is before the primaries—who gets to run with major support, etc etc.

      • Murc

        It’s not a strawman. There are many people willing to say point-blank “the DNC rigged the primary. Sanders won New York.”

        • BartletForGallifrey

          There are many people willing to say point-blank “the DNC rigged the primary. Sanders won New York.”

          There is literally graffiti in Brooklyn saying that Hillary stole New York.

      • kped

        Not a strawman at all. There were two major candidates running. Bernie, and Hillary. Nothing the DNC did or could do would have effected the results of those two candidates.

        The complaint seems to be that Hillary had a “coronation”, but the flip side is, the only way for Bernie to have beaten her was for him to actually be crowned the candidate. He hadn’t put the work in with the various party groups, and there is nothing he or the DNC could have done to make that up when he joined the race so late.

        • Nick056

          So the invisible primary isn’t a thing, then? I agree the primary contest wasn’t rigged, but in terms of the Democratic Party in 2016 I think “The Party Decides” holds up quite well, in that Clinton’s ability to persuade party elites prior to actual campaigning and to secure endorsements from virtually everyone in elected office helped her clear the field.

          • (((Hogan)))

            Well, yes, that stands to reasons, since just about the only people who could run against her are elected officials. But who’s “clearing the field” in that case?

            • Nick056

              She is. She persuaded the party electeds to line up behind her and attempted to generate an aura of inevitability. To be clear I don’t fault her for this, but there was a brief window before Sanders gained steam and before Iowa where pundits wondered if the Dems were going to have an uncontested primary with no incumbent, based on her ability to dominate the party. Her victory was a fait accompli from that perspective, and we know all about the things like scheduling debates around Saturdays and holidays. Where people go wrong is assuming that the DNC somehow rigged the actual primaries — they didn’t. But the Clinton campaign did create an environment where every potential candidate decided it wasn’t their year except for Webb and O’Malley, and I largely think that goes down to Clinton winning the “invisible primary.”

              • (((Hogan)))

                So the people who endorsed her instead of running against her have no agency in creating this “aura”? They’re not participating in the “invisible primary”?

              • Schadenboner

                I think this is a really good way of saying what I’ve been sort of groping towards. The primaries were not rigged (and Sanders would have been a disaster in the General) but at the same time I don’t think it’s unreasonable to conclude that there was a definite understanding that opposing Hillary would be a career-limiting decision.

                Of course, at the time it looked like Hillary could actually win (at least the view from inside the party was that she could actually win, which speaks to another possible problem: disconnect between party elites and non-party voters).

                I think we could well have done with a Advocatus Diaboli (or a court jester, if you prefer) who could have pointed out that 25 years of strikingly unfair* character assassination against Hillary by the rightist noise machine would have an effect on the outcome (and I think Comey’s October surprise absolutely triggered a snap-back which was primed by the quarter-century hate).

                *: Note, however, that the unfairness of the attacks is beside the point if the attacks can be effective.

          • kped

            Who says it isn’t? The invisible primary is certainly a thing, a thing Clinton won in 2008 and 2016. It didn’t lead her to victory in the primary in 2008, it helped in 2016.

            …but…so what? She built those relationships. She helped a lot of those candidates. Should that not factor in anywhere? Should everyone agree not to suss out their support until they’ve already declared? Truthfully, it’s nonsense to argue this point.

            And even clearing the field didn’t stop Sanders from doing anything he did, and I can’t see how it cost him a single vote. Also, given his lack of party affiliation, why would the part, prior to his joining, not throw support to Clinton?

            This is all so circular and pointless.

            • Dilan Esper

              There’s an argument i subscribe to that primaries are good for parties. They vet candidates and assure that they can handle the heat of competition. Facing 16 others helped Trump, for instance.

              Thing is, a lot of insiders disagree with this. They think primaries lead to gaffes and box candidates in with campaign promises. To me, there’s no proof of that. But what IS true is that primaries are bad for insiders and their candidates, because they sometimes lose them.

              While field clearing is sometimes inevitable, i think it is bad for the party.

            • nemdam

              Obviously, Clinton should never have built any relationships or asked anybody to support her prior to running. In fact, she should not have ever persuaded anybody to support her as everybody knows that “persuading” and “rigging” are basically the same thing. The only fair and honest way for Clinton to run is to announce, then never say anything.

              And besides, since this was such an “anti-establishment” year, wouldn’t having all these endorsements hurt her?

              • kped

                Actually, she should take it a step further, and not even announce her candidacy. Should have just surprised people when they showed up to vote when they saw her name on the ballot. Only then would it have been fair!

  • Sebastian_h

    There a number of clear lessons/insights regarding messaging that Clinton botched, which apply with triple force to dealing with Trump now.

    1. Not everyone is a political junky.

    How did this play out? Every single time a non-junky checked in, she could hear about the emails and the bank connections for Clinton. Checking in at the same time would reveal a different charge for Trump (he’s a liar, he’s racist, he won’t pay sub-contractors, he brags about women wanting him so bad he can grab them, his wife is slutty, he hates immigrants).

    The political junky sees all of those as cumulative. The political non-junky sees those as proof that no one thing sticks.

    2. Messaging is important, but it needs to be clear messaging. Clinton had essentially no CONVINCING message for the Rust Belt, or anyone else who feels left behind by globalization. A huge part of that is because she doesn’t believe the messages she tried to convey (see her hidden too long bank speeches) and the rest of it is because she tried to over-nuance the messages she made (again I would tend to think that is because she didn’t want to lose her Wall Street friends).

    There are others but they are more contentious, and these are pretty good.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Messaging is important, but it needs to be clear messaging.


      “The losing candidate had worse messaging, which we can tell because he/she lost.”

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        “what the democrats need to do is pretend they have simple answers to complicated questions”

        • efc

          You snark the truth. Maybe instead of the “pretend they have” it would be better to say “formulate” or “craft”. Or maybe it’s better to feel superior than to win the power which can impact peoples’ lives for the better. When there is so much snark it’s hard to tell where self satisfied bloviating ends and analysis begins.

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            less snark there than you think. The dems always pretend there are easy answers too- just not as well as the republicans do

      • cleek

        “The losing candidate had worse messaging, which we can tell because he/she lost.”

        for some definitions of ‘lost’.

        • efc

          Defining lost as “doesn’t get to nominate the next or possibly even several supreme court justices, doesn’t get to nominate the heads of administrative agencies which have the power to write rules impacting millions of people, and doesn’t get to direct the enforcement priorities of the federal Department of Justice”.

          Which different definition of “lost” were you thinking of?

      • Sebastian_h

        You’re assuming that because YOU didn’t see bad messaging, that no one saw bad messaging. That’s a bad assumption.

        Point one was my pre Election critique dealing with messaging. Just because you can translate all messaging analysis into tautologies by collapsing them doesn’t mean you should.

        Also I wonder if you’ve thought through the implications of this new discovery: Citizens United is not such a big deal now right?

    • witlesschum

      I think this point about messaging was true. I’m not sure it made Trump win, but it seems like Trump did a better job of getting his basic level “Make America Great and/or White Again” message out there while Clinton seemed not to. Not necessarily something that was within her campaign’s control, but I think that’s what happened.

      • FlipYrWhig

        I don’t think Trump had a “message” either. He had slogans, yes, but there was no clear answer to the “what I’m running to get done” question, ever. It was all attitude. For that matter, I don’t think Obama ran on a “message.” He ran on iconography: “I’m a living symbol of reconciliation,” in essence.

    • nemdam

      She didn’t believe the message she was conveying? WTF? Her message is that Trump is an unqualified, temperamentally unfit bigot who has no business being near the White House while she is the most prepared, qualified person to ever run for president who embraces a diverse, multicultural vision for America. Whatever else you think of her, I’m pretty sure she believed that message as strongly as you can believe anything.

  • liberal

    And the problem is that the vast majority are just unfalsifiable tautologies with no retrospective or prospective value:

    OK…please list a set of criteria that the party should use in choosing who to promote before the primaries even begin.

    Or are we just going to throw up our hands and say it’s unknowable?

    • kped

      I guess someone in the party should be the first criteria…

  • Joe_JP

    It’s helpful to do a review after you lost, but some people are going to be more tiresome in the analysis than others.

    I would keep my eyes on the whole picture here and not just on the presidency. The Dems lost a few perhaps winnable Senate races by putting up insider hacks. They were better than the competition & didn’t want them to lose, but they weren’t great candidates. IDK — maybe, best they had, but point holds. Also, Dems really need to win some state legislatures or at least one house. The fact they can win a few red statewide races shows they have some ability there. But, it’s trouble.

    My .02, for what little that’s worth, is that Clinton was not an ideal candidate in this cycle & finding people with less establishment baggage with some “new” car smell like Bill Clinton and Obama (which some people can vote for and pat themselves on the back for not being racist or something) is important. But, though some people are out there saying they had the foresight to warn about Trump years back, I don’t know who this ideal person was.

    ETA: Don’t think it was Sanders, Biden or Kirsten Gillibrand.

    • kped

      My .02, for what little that’s worth, is that Clinton was not an ideal candidate in this cycle & finding people with less establishment baggage with some “new” car smell like Bill Clinton and Obama (which some people can vote for and pat themselves on the back for not being racist or something) is important. But, though some people are out there saying they had the foresight to warn about Trump years back, I don’t know who this ideal person was.

      While I agree with this (i mean, it’s obvious even more now that the media just hated her, and was happy to help destroy her candidacy with idiotic rabbit hunts), it was impossible to know this before hand, given her opponent was a man more reviled then her and just had so many scandals. I mean…he won, but no one saw it coming, based off of ever available metric.

      You also can’t get into the habit of letting the competition choose who is and who is not acceptable to run in an election. For better or worse, you and your party are choosing who represents you. If you start allowing the other guys to pre-clear your choices, you’ve lost.

      • Joe_JP

        I don’t think it was a surprise that she had problems with the electorate overall. The surprise for me was that she lost the relevant states to Trump. If she faced a more credible opponent, even a weak Rubio type, it would have been tricky. I look long term and 12 years of one party is against long term trends. That alone was going to be hard.

        It also is not about the “competition” choosing the candidate. The candidate has to have the basics for the base & mainstream Democrats. But, to get over the top, generic Democrat won’t do it. Certain qualities are required there, especially tied to the needs of that cycle.

        Clinton has some great qualities but ideally she wasn’t the type for an anti-establishment cycle like this one. She was better fit probably in 2008 where she faced a similar insider type, but one tainted by the current President.

        • kped

          Such an anti-establishment cycle that the establishment candidate won the Dem primary, won the overall popular vote by more than 2 million, and Republicans maintained their majorities in the house and senate. And won state legislatures where they were in power.

          Can we stop mindlessly parroting talking points that don’t actually have much evidence? There is nothing that shows this was an anti-establishment year if you actually look at how votes occurred.

          It was an anti something year…an anti-black, anti-Muslim, anti-Hispanic year. And those groups are not the establishment.

      • Nick056

        It was impossible to know Clinton was not an ideal candidate beforehand?

        except for the fact that she’s a known quantity and has been reviled by the GOP for 25 years and isn’t a natural retail or TV politician, sure, I guess that’s true.

        • kped

          So next time, find a better candidate to topple her. Obama did it. Bernie didn’t. Guess he wasn’t an ideal candidate either.

          • Schadenboner

            Aces! I’ll be sure to tell the 20 million Americans about to lose insurance that.

            I’ll also tell the 30 year old Federalist Society drones about to be appointed to every seat on every bench that they’re all big meanies.

    • witlesschum

      The “no baggage” thing irks me all to hell, but I fear it is true.

      Bush, Obama and Clinton all had in common enough credentials to be seen as serious, but hadn’t been national figures people who didn’t follow politics closely had heard of before their run. Trump, I think, fits because while he was a celebrity, he’s only been involving himself in politics since 2011-12 or so.

      • Joe_JP

        It’s irksome but a long term thing in national politics.

        The result often gives us people with problems. It also comes up with the love of the militia and people with guns. Hamilton, Washington etc. knew amateurs screwed up there all the time, but the establishment was scary.

      • Matt McIrvin

        The people without baggage get attacked as “unvetted”, but that seems to carry less weight, at least judging from recent experience.

    • TopsyJane

      It’s nice when you get a tabula rasa candidate with little national profile like Obama and it happens to work out, but you can’t count on that happening in every other cycle or so. Bill Clinton had decades of experience as governor of Arkansas and he did tote a bag or two into the primaries. In any case they were both exceptionally gifted pols and you can’t expect such people to pop up regularly every decade.

      You are right that the Democratic bench is terribly weak because of the party’s decline at the state and local level during the Obama era. Right now it’s looking as if it will take a very long time to reverse that trend.

      • Joe_JP

        HRC is a “exceptionally gifted pol” too. Bill Clinton fit the times & still won only a plurality the first time. In another scenario, like HRC, he very well might not have been the best choice. “Best choice” not being “fantasy ideal.” And, here isn’t one special choice. It’s a general thing.

        One good thing about having a terrible hand is that you have a lot of potential to advance. A 2-14 team will not win all at once, but they can start to be a bit more credible. Dems need to do that & winning multiple red state governships alone suggests to me there is some room to grow. Multiple states have off-year elections. Go!

        • kped

          That’s more the spirit I like to see. So many people get into this mindset thinking that every election is a harbinger of a thousand year domination by the winning party. That never seems to be the case, so people should just focus on every election they can and put the work in to take things back.

    • FlipYrWhig

      Is there a bigger “insider hack” than Rob Portman? And he won easily.

      • Scott Lemieux

        And Strickland is an actual populist and gut utterly crushed.

  • Lord Jesus Perm

    *Reads comments*

    *Drinks heavily*

    *Dies*

    • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

      I’m still alive.

      I must be doing something wrong.

  • ploeg

    Obviously Jill Stein would be President Elect if she had only made a short, clear, catchy slogan.

  • Dilan Esper

    By the way, if you want to read a good, non-green lanternish approach to Hillary’s mistakes, I recommend this by Harold Pollack:

    http://www.samefacts.com/2016/11/political-science/the-democrats-biggest-mistakes/

    • ploeg

      I would put “Overconfidence and complacency across the political spectrum” far and away at #1 over all other faults. Let’s face it: since the 22nd Amendment, the parties have swapped the White House every eight years at every opportunity but one, and in that case, the party didn’t get a fourth term. The party in power always has a record, and the tendency is for certain voters to want to throw the bums out and let the other side have a chance, or at least to register a protest vote. (And really, for these purposes, Sanders would have been the incumbent almost as much as Clinton was. It would have been a very tricky rhetorical chasm for Sanders to navigate.) Clinton made mistakes in how she campaigned, although some of her decisions were defensible insofar as her appearances probably helped win fairly tight US Senate races in NV and CO. Pretty much everything else that went wrong stemmed from the belief that folks wouldn’t vote for Trump. Even if you make the case that Clinton didn’t appreciate the seriousness of the email issue or the plight of rural America or whatever, Clinton got hammered on those issues a whole lot more because people expected her to win.

      • Scott Lemieux

        #1 I mostly don’t buy, in that the emails scandal really was bullshit and there’s nothing Clinton could have really done about it. (The speeches were an unforced error she brought on herself with foreseeable consequences, but the media didn’t focus on them to anything like that extent, not least because elite journalists are not going to attack the mediocre elites-showering-each-other-with-money gravy train for obvious reasons. If they hurt her, it was during the primaries, and I’m guessing not a lot in themselves.) #2 is maybe a little exaggerated but fair. I’m not sure about #3, and to the extent it’s true I don’t think it was about Clinton per se.

  • jeer9

    I think the takeaway from this election is that Clinton’s loss was baked in once she was selected by the Dem electorate and there was little she could have done from a strategy viewpoint to offset all the “good luck” riding on Trump’s shoulder.

    We can’t know for certain whether a better message about Trump’s economic record or a more uplifting one toward WWC voters or a more focused GOTV effort unmarked by over-confidence would have improved her chances any more than, absent Comey’s letters, her sinking poll numbers in the Blue Wall states would have been arrested on their own enough to change the outcome. We can’t know whether the ACA’s premium rate hikes, released in mid-October, had any effect either. There were lots of factors, most of them out of Clinton’s control.

    I prefer to blame the media which was much fairer in 1972, 1980, 1988, 2000, and 2004. You can’t expect to overcome media bias and figure out the flaws to emphasize against an incredibly skilled opponent when your campaign professionals only have 1.3 billion to spend.

    It was an extremely important election – and our side was just unlucky.

    • Linnaeus

      I’m detecting some snark here.

  • Gregor Sansa

    I’ve got some raw polling data from a week before the election, and I’ve built a big ol’ model that predicts the Clinton and Trump raw votes in each state. Clinton hits her targets pretty much exactly on average, with any differences correlated with higher turnout and lower third party vote; Trump overperforms his by about 5% of the final vote on average, which is pretty uniform nation-wide. One story which explains this pretty well is that anti-Clinton voters who were undecided in the last week broke to Trump, but anti-Trump voters who were undecided in the last week broke to third party or non-voting.

    I could extend that story to say “she should have pandered to me more” but I think that if anything it points the finger at Comey. Which is of course Obama’s fault, not hers. Who could have thought that “Team of Rivals” would be the book that doomed the world?

    • Rob in CT

      “Democrats fall in love (or don’t) and Republicans fall in line.”

      More Republicans/leaners came home in the end. Fewer D-leaners did. Those that didn’t stayed home or voted 3rd party. Result: defeat.

      This keeps happening. And while I’m totally on board with the post-mortem analysis, trying to improve and all that, I’m also sick to fucking death of people who act like such infants politically. People who have to be cajoled to show up. Obviously, I’m not talking about anyone whose right to vote was fucked with by the GOP’s crusade against non-existent fraud. I’m talking about everyone else who just plain didn’t bother because they weren’t excited about it.

      This is a major, major problem. It has bitten us repeatedly in mid-terms & other “off-year” elections. It bit us in 2000, and now again in 2016. This is a persistent problem. I don’t know how to solve it and I don’t know that anyone else does either. It seems baked into our coalition (younger/poorer/less white/less religious, etc – all less likely to vote, and vote strategically, than older/richer/whiter/more religious).

      And then, on top of that, the group of voters that apparently did see an increase in turnout were especially tickled by a conman running on a message of Make America White Again. Awesome.

      • BartletForGallifrey

        I’m also sick to fucking death of people who act like such infants politically. People who have to be cajoled to show up.

        Preach.

        • Rob in CT

          Sadly, we need them or we lose.

          • BartletForGallifrey

            That does not decrease my desire to punch them.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I could extend that story to say “she should have pandered to me more” but I think that if anything it points the finger at Comey.

      If you want to write this up as a guest post, lemme know…

  • BartletForGallifrey

    I think we can all agree that it’s pretty clear now that the biggest mistake the Clinton campaign made was putting three million fake votes in California instead of Florida and Pennsylvania. Sad!

    • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

      +3,000,000

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