Perry Anderson puts some some emerging conventional anti-wisdom into the microwave:
Taken by itself, the difference in the popular vote is arguably not much less misleading than Trump’s sweep in the Electoral College, since in a money-driven system, Clinton paid twice as much as Trump to obtain her votes, getting far less for her expenditure per dollar. This was in good part because she wasted so much time buttering up wealthy backers and flooding air-time in states like California and Illinois which she was bound to win anyway, piling up useless margins there, while Trump was concentrating on four or five decisive rustbelt states, by the end ignoring the big states—Texas, Georgia etc.—where he was safe, which could probably have generated equally pointless surpluses.
I would say that this is what happens when self-impressed public intellectuals opine on subjects they don’t really know anything about, although in fairness the analysis consistent with the cited source, the normally more reliable John Judis.
Anyway, this idea that Trump win because he was relentlessly and shrewdly focused on battleground states while Clinton was wasting huge sums of money in safe blue states is complete bullshit. One one hand, Clinton was not ignoring swing states because she was spending huge amounts of California and Illinois. But the even bigger problem is the crucial states where Trump allegedly outsmarted Clinton. This is just flatly false:
Let’s start with Pennsylvania, where so much Wednesday morning quarterbacking founders. Clinton started spending quite heavily 15 weeks out and outspent Trump throughout that period, often by large margins. And that’s the ballgame, because without Pennsylvania Clinton loses. And, in addition, Clinton losing the state should give pause to assumptions that spending more money in other states would have shifted the result, and should given even more pause to blithe assertions that Clinton’s significant popular vote margin was the product of advertising.
What about Michigan? Again, it’s certainly not a story of Trump understanding that it was in play and Clinton failing to. With the exception of one brief spike by Trump two months before the Election Day — a let’s-try-this from a campaign that thought it was foundering, not a considered, sustained attempt to target the state — both campaigns largely ignored it until the last week. And as soon as the polls actually indicated a turn, Clinton flooded the state with money, but lost anyway. Both campaigns clearly thought Clinton had the state in the bag until the last 10 days.
As you know, I think it’s massively implausible that the wave of negative coverage generated by the Comey letter was not responsible for enough of this apparent late break for Trump to have been decisive. But let’s say arguendo that the apparent late break towards Trump is a statistical illusion and he was ahead in the key states all along. What’s relevant is that it’s simply not true that Trump saw something that Clinton didn’t and won because Clinton didn’t target swing states. At best, the narrative applies to Wisconsin, but the election didn’t turn in the state. It’s also pretty gross, from the nominal left, to use this patently erroneous analysis to handwave away the massive democratic defects of the Electoral College.
You can criticize the content of Clinton’s advertising and the precise allocation of resources, and given how close the election was perhaps different choices could have changed the result (although this kind of counterfactual is more of a “could Wolverine beat Mike Tyson?” parlor game than a serious analysis.) But the idea that Clinton was so abjectly incompetent she didn’t bother to contest swing states, or Trump had some special insight Clinton lacked, is just ludicrous.
Much of the rest of Anderson’s piece is a “Barack Obama, perfidious neoliberal” account you’ve read a million times before, and you’ll agree with it or you won’t (although his blithe declaration that most of Obama’s executive actions were ultra vires from someone with a decidedly underwhelming grasp of the details of American politics is a nice touch.) But I do want to cite this bit of rhetoric for people who want to learn the language of bullshit:
Admirers of Obama excuse the domestic failure of his Presidency to represent anything like an ‘audacity of hope’ on the grounds of Republican obstruction in Congress.
See how this works? Only an uncritical “admirer” looking to “excuse” Barack Obama could think that Republicans having control of at least one legislative veto point for 7/8ths of his presidency, control of the House for 3/4 of his presidency, and Democrats well to the right of Obama and/or the Lieberman for Connecticut Party controlling a veto point the remaining 1/8th meaningfully constrained Obama’s agenda. This allows you to imply, especially to your European readers, that Obama could have transformed the American political economy into Denmark’s but Didn’t. Even. Try, while allowing yourself some plausible deniability if someone calls you on it. Nicely done!