The Democrats' postmortem problem

There's no way to know what went wrong in 2016

Can the Democrats learn from their mistakes?
(Image credit: REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Hillary Clinton's loss to Donald Trump is a shocking upset that is likely to have disastrous consequences. A great deal is going to be written about what went wrong for the Democratic Party. But before we get too far into the recriminations, we should remember two crucial things. First, it's almost impossible to know how campaign tactics affected the outcome of an election. And, second, Clinton's campaign shows some of the potential perils of being too focused on the past.

Like most pundits, I have my theories about how the Clinton campaign might have screwed up. In retrospect, for example, it seems like the campaign made a mistake in making so much of its advertising negative attacks on Donald Trump's character. Given that Trump always had high personal negatives these attacks had diminishing returns, and Clinton missed an opportunity to highlight economic policy differences where public opinion favored her position. While it was not unreasonable to think Trump's particular unfitness for office created an opportunity to peel off suburban Republicans, it didn't work.

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