What Democrats Can Learn From Hillary Clintons Tragedy

The art of political persuasion matters more than the mechanics of mobilization.”>

As Democrats debate why they lost the 2016 elections, Hillary Clinton must feel like the star-crossed heroine in a Greek tragedy. She beat Donald Trump handily, by a margin of at least 2.6 million votes. Yet even in winning, the fates (and the Electoral College) have cruelly decreed that she lose.

Compounding the sense of tragedy is Trumps all-too-characteristic reaction to the embarrassment of not being Americas first choice. He told the nation hed been cheated, an outright lie lifted from the febrile realm of fake news. That the President-elect is willing to undermine public confidence in the integrity of U.S. elections to salve his wounded vanity reinforces Clintons argument that hes unfit for the job he now holds.

She also won that argument, with plenty of assists from her opponent. Exit polls showed 63% of voters agreed Trump lacked the temperament to be Presidentbut a fifth of them voted for him anyway. Evidently, their desire to shake up Washington outweighed their qualms about Trumps sociopathic personality and total lack of political experience.

His upset win leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of Democrats and the many principled Republicans who put country before party and refused to back Trump. Whats most disconcerting isnt losing an election, but the feeling that our political system itself has failed. The success of an interloper like Trump signifies a severe disturbance in the force that has up until now protected American democracy against populist demagogues.

The answer lies in two strategic miscalculations. The first was the decision to devote more resources to making Trump anathema to voters than to articulating a compelling rationale for Clintons candidacy. She fell back on experience, while he at least offered restive voters a theory of big change, however implausible the details. And while she succeeded in deepening public doubts about Trump, she failed to engage anxious white working class voters in a conversation about their economic and cultural discontents.

Even in this era of extreme polarization, presidential elections are two-sided affairs. Candidates must energize their core supporters and get them to the polls. But they also have to frame appeals to a growing cohort of independents and to soft partisans of the other party. No Democrat was going to convert blue-collar whites en masse, but they didnt need to. Empathetic but straight talk to these voters could have tempered their enthusiasm for Trump and hostility toward Democrats on the margins. In a contest decided by 100,000 votes in a few swing states, that might have been enough.

Unfortunately, the Clinton camp ignored the prescient warnings last summer of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Democrats need to talk to rural voters, said Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa. They cant write them off. They actually have to spend a little time talking to them.

Given the reservations many independents and suburban Republicans had about Trump, Clinton had a reasonable shot at being the first Democrat to win a majority of college-educated whites. She fell short, likely because little of what she had to say appealed to their economic aspirations.

Read more: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/12/07/what-democrats-can-learn-from-hillary-clinton-s-tragedy.html