There is no tougher time in politics than when you lose an election to a “least qualified” candidate who by nearly all conventional calculations you were almost certain to defeat. Two weeks before the election, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (HRC) prospects were exceptionally high. Then, the bleak moment arose. FBI Director James Comey dealt the HRC’s campaign a monumental blow from which it failed to recover. Weeks from the election, Comey announced that new emails discovered on a computer owned by HRC’s aide invited further investigation to determine, if it had any links to the private server case closed earlier. Her lead in the polls started to disappear and matters got worse from there on. HRC never generated enough votes to defeat her rival.
The fallouts from HRC’s failed presidential bid are many. It is a fractured party. The mood of its many supporters is enormously dampened. The party has reached a point of reckoning. It must now assess the roots of its defeat. This was a history making moment that slipped away and left in its wake broken hearts all across the US, even the world. Many young girls, including my daughter and nieces, hinged their hopes on a HRC’s presidency that it would serve as a catalyst for gender equity. It did not happen. HRC’s supporters must now recover and regroup and hope for a better future. The party must state clearly its core principles and use it as a gauge for assessing why it fell flatly on its own sword.
The defeat of HRC and the ruling Democratic Party presents some poignant lessons for ruling political parties elsewhere. The autopsy of the Democratic Party offers useful insights on both the style and substance of campaigning. Yes! The FBI shocker played a role in HRC’s defeat, but that was not the lone contributing factor. HRC’s own poor judgment, particularly, building a personal server while a Secretary of State also contributed. She can blame everyone including Huma Abedin and James Comey, even Bill Clinton, but the ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of any campaign rests with the candidate. That HRC’s long-time aide Huma Abedin’s indiscretion played a critical role in causing this upset cannot be underestimated. From the Abedin case, the underlying message is simple: Be careful about the reputation and integrity of those whom you select as campaign aides. If you fail to be a good judge of character, the flaws of those with whom you surround yourself might end up causing you defeat.
Another lesson to drawn from HRC’s run for the presidency is that: the message of any campaign should never be aimed at polarizing the electorate. Yes! Her rival succeeded because he rode the bigotry card. However, he also won because his message unified a certain disenfranchised base, and even beyond. On the other hand, HRC’s message was generally in the first person, lawyerly, defensive, and worse, also dividing the population to measure arms with her rival. Soft bigotry is never a response to hard bigotry. They are both the same. The message should appeal to everyone and seek to unify the electorate. Nothing is certain in politics. Even if the incumbent dubs you his or her heir, every ruling party candidate must always work the hardest to engage all factions of their constituents rather than dividing them along narrow or insular lines. The women, youth, ethnic, men, class, and other cards, when used, especially unimaginatively, have the tendency to work against you.
Besides, the elite political opinion and establishment became obsessed with seeing one outcome, but they never anticipated another. HRC’s rival engaged the disenfranchised majority White voters, and even some minority ones, which felt that the ruling party failed to meet their needs. As the enthusiasm for HRC started to drop after the so-called Comey fiasco, many independent voters who were thinking of voting for Clinton no longer considered her the change that they wanted. Voters did not see her as their future. Perhaps, the Republicans and media suckered HRC and her loyalists into believing that she had the election in the bag. But the passion for her rival and the strengths of his argument overweighed the suspicion and doubt that people had about HRC’s character.
Worse, HRC reasoned that Sanders’ supporters were not going to vote for her rival and it would compensate for her failure to engender enthusiasm among her slice of the electorate. During the primary, HRC beat Sanders on the basis of being part of Obama’s government. She convinced fellow democrats that she was more like Obama than Sanders was. Michelle and Barrack Obama made the case on her behalf even better than she was able to do for herself. But as President Obama and his wife passed the ball on to HRC, she fumbled it. Her strongest asset became her greatest liability. HRC’s long public service record and the manifold inefficiencies that it contained dragged her down. The message here is that never depend on the negative of your opponent to convert into your positive. Put differently: If you are going to put your record on the line, be prepared for it to be scrutinized for your good or ill. Another aspect of this lesson is that you cannot take credit for your predecessor’s record without assuming their liabilities. As HRC took partial credit for Obama’s accomplishments, his baggage was also hung around her neck.
Someone has said: If you are running for Pope, you must claim an acceptance of Jesus Christ. Being your own person is important, but you must also claim the liabilities of your predecessor so that you do not lose members of your base. Never take your base for granted because, if they see you as a “sell out” they may walk away from you while disguising their commitment to you. At the end of a term, there is a tendency for the ruling party to experience a de-population of sorts, and at that time, it is vitally important to strengthen your base while expanding it.
At the heart of HRC’s defeat resides the warning: Do not take your electoral base for granted. Another connected piece might be that: HRC assumed falsely that having co-opted Sanders during the primary, legally or otherwise, his voters were going to vote for her. But the crown as Obama’s heir was not powerful enough. Sadly, the DNC was too invested in her candidacy that it failed in many respects to allow the primary race to be run on a fair playing field. Had Bernie Sanders won the primary, what would have been the outcome of the general election?