The big challenge was that those of us who are Democrats, and our candidate, presented a lot of things we were for, but not a compelling vision that brought the country together. There were a lot of reasons not to vote for Donald Trump, but we especially needed to do a better job of explaining why people should vote for the Democratic candidate.
The Clinton campaign was set up to do an extraordinary clarification of the many, many things wrong with Donald Trump, and that was executed pretty well. But when the FBI suddenly threw itself into the election, the final weeks had to continue only on that anti-Trump track, and not pivot to the positive message about what was being offered. You can scare the heck out of people, but you also have to tell them where they are going.
There was plenty to be scared of about Trump, and the Democrats did plenty to scare, but didn’t mix that with what was a better alternative. I also believe – as a former journalist – that there was extraordinarily sloppy journalism which focused on her emails, much more than on the extraordinarily negative and extremely dangerous parts of Trump’s record and rhetoric.
The FBI’s intervention was a major factor. I was campaigning in the swing state of Wisconsin over that last weekend, and most of the dialogue was about emails. Most of the tracking polls showed that late-breaking deciders broke overwhelmingly for Trump. So I believe that the FBI’s extraordinary and awkward intervention had a major impact. However, we never would have been in this situation if there wasn’t an email issue, and there weren’t questions about the Clinton Foundation’s use of fuzzy lines between government and the private area.
“Late-breaking deciders broke overwhelmingly for Trump. I believe that the FBI’s extraordinary and awkward intervention had a major impact.”
And the emails wouldn’t have been a major deciding factor if there had been a more compelling, positive vision of where the candidate and the rest of the party wanted to go. By the spring, most people recognised that Trump was appealing to the GOP base, but as the election moved into the summer and early fall, the polls were showing that Clinton was well ahead. That, I think, got people too complacent.
It’s very true, in retrospect, that an outsider campaign would have been very effective. I think – I know – that the baggage that Hillary Clinton carried dramatically outweighed the assets in the public’s mind. It probably would have been better to have someone who didn’t have that kind of baggage. People have said Bernie Sanders would have won easily. I don’t believe that’s true, because he was never fully vetted, because Clinton made a tactical decision not to bring his full record out.
“People got Hillary Clinton’s resume. They didn’t get her heart.”
Most people knew that Hillary Clinton would be a dramatically better president than candidate. She understands the nuance of government so well that when most candidates would have been talking about people and their lives, she was talking about policies. I believe her policies are deeply connected to a very humane way of lifting everybody up, but it didn’t always translate beyond that.
When you’re selling a product or promoting a candidate, you need to understand the assets and hold them up. The asset of Hillary Clinton was that she was extraordinarily prepared, and has a lifetime of progressive service to people. The qualified case was made, but her lifetime of compassionate work was never grounded. It wound up falling into a mushy mess of individual policy initiatives, when her work adds up to an extraordinary capacity to lead, to make people’s lives better. That never landed. People got her resume – they didn’t get her heart.