Why did Hillary Clinton lose? Because the Electoral College is a fundamentally bad system? Because of Russia? Because a shockingly huge portion of the country was eager to vote for a racist, sexist, Islamophobic pussy-grabber? Yes. But Politico makes the case today that the Clinton campaign in Michigan, a key battleground state, also relied too much on data and computer modeling and too little on campaigning fundamentals like canvassing. Does it matter? Are we all just screaming in frustration about nothing? I’m honestly not sure!
Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere has a long dissection of how badly some political operatives say the Michigan campaign was run. The implication is that it’s a reflection of Clinton’s weaknesses overall, even though Michigan by itself wouldn’t have changed the outcome:
Flip Michigan and leave the rest of the map, and Trump is still president-elect. But to people who worked in that state and others, how Clinton won the popular vote by 2.8 million votes and lost by 100,000 in states that could have made her president has everything to do with what happened in Michigan. Trump won the state despite getting 30,000 fewer votes than George W. Bush did when he lost it in 2004.
Politico spoke to a dozen officials working on or with Clinton’s Michigan campaign, and more than a dozen scattered among other battleground states, her Brooklyn headquarters and in Washington who describe an ongoing fight about campaign tactics, an inability to get top leadership to change course.
There are some deeply frustrating anecdotes in here: SEIU volunteers apparently attempted to go to Michigan and were ordered back to lost-cause Iowa by the Clinton headquarters in Brooklyn, who thought their computer models showed Michigan was secure. An older woman in Flint apparently came in to ask for a lawn sign, offering to canvas, only to be told by a campaign office, as Dovere puts it, “these were not ‘scientifically’ significant ways of increasing the vote, and leaving, never to return.”And, remarkably, we have Virgie Rollins, the president of the DNC’s Black Caucus, who publicly accused the Clinton campaign of ignoring her concerns:
“I’ve never seen a campaign like this,” said Virgie Rollins, a Democratic National Committee member and longtime political hand in Michigan who described months of failed attempts to get attention to the collapse she was watching unfold in slow-motion among women and African-American millennials.
Rollins, the chair emeritus of the Michigan Democratic Women’s Caucus, said requests into Brooklyn for surrogates to come talk to her group were never answered. When they held their events anyway, she said, they also got no response to requests for a little money to help cover costs.
The story depicts the Clinton team as being foolishly arrogant about Michigan right up to the very end. But CNN wrote on November 5 that the Clinton campaign was aware that the race was “tightening” there and trying to shore up their base there. (However, there’s no analysis in the CNN story from the Clinton campaign about why they thought that was happening.)
Anonymous DNC staffers have aired frustrations before that the Clinton team focused too much on data and modeling. “It was all about analytics with them,” an anonymous DNC source told US News and World Report. “They were too reliant on analytics and not enough on instinct and human intel from the ground.” And the accusation of a “surgical and corporate” campaign, as Politico’s story puts it, has become blended with other narratives: that Clinton didn’t appeal enough to the “white working class,” that she didn’t have a strong economic message, that she didn’t work hard enough to shore up the millennials and black voters who came out in droves to support Obama. Basically, that she lacked the human touch, a point that RNC chair and shiny new Trump employee Reince Preibus made on morning TV recently.
“Look, the Russians didn’t tell Hillary Clinton to ignore Wisconsin and Michigan, OK?” he said on ABC. “I mean, I know it’s — this is an insane analysis. She lost the election because her ideas were bad. She didn’t fit the electorate. She ignored states that she shouldn’t have and Donald Trump was the change agent, OK? So this is all very interesting, but Donald Trump won in an electoral landslide that had nothing to do with the Russians. Or whoever else.” Two points of order here: Donald Trump did not win in a “landslide,” and “the Russians or whoever else” almost certainly played a role in the election, as hard as Preibus wishes to ignore that one.
But what’s really depressing is that we’re having a postmortem on whether Clinton’s campaign was too “corporate” to succeed or not. Trump ran a campaign that was, by all accounts, chaotic, disorganized, and plagued with internal tumult, scandals, and resignations. Besides being heard on tape discussing his enthusiasm for grabbing pussies, Trump was repeatedly accused of vicious sexual harassment and assault, in public press conferences by numerous women. He ran on a platform of naked hatred. He mocked a reporter’s disabilities. He started his campaign by calling Mexicans “rapists and criminals.”
Clinton’s “ground game” in Michigan shouldn’t have mattered. Trump’s defeat should’ve been thunderous and comprehensive, both in the electoral college and the popular vote. But instead, to an almost staggering degree, Trump managed to be treated by voters and the political establishment as something close to a normal candidate in a normal election. We all should have been better than this, and we weren’t.