Hillary Clinton lost the presidency to an opponent that every knowledgeable political operative, strategist, and analyst considered the weakest major party candidate in modern American history. I — along with millions of other Americans, I'm sure — am dying to move on and pin my hopes for the future of the Democratic Party on someone, anyone else.
But we don't have the luxury of moving on, because left-of-center pundits have decided to treat every charge of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault that takes down a prominent male media personality as an occasion to relitigate the 2016 election. The latest example is the firing of Today's Matt Lauer over a sexual misconduct allegation. Lauer, you see, hosted a 2016 presidential forum with Clinton and Donald Trump — and you know what that means.
Go ahead and read some of the tweets for yourself. All of them boil down to this: "See, Hillary faced insurmountable odds, with an army of powerful misogynists bound and determined to take her down! If not for the army of sexists with all of this power, she would be president right now!"
I'm sorry, but this is a crashing non sequitur. Lauer, Mark Halperin, Charlie Rose, and many other powerful media men may well be lecherous sexual predators. But that had about as much impact on the outcome of the election as a minor bit of routine turbulence has to do with causing the catastrophic nosedive of a jumbo jet from out of a clear blue sky.
There were many reasons Clinton lost the presidency in 2016 to the most vile, unfit man ever to run for the White House on a major party ticket — a bit of structural counter-majoritarianism in the form of the Electoral College, a bit of James Comey's political stupidity, a bit of Russian meddling, and yes, maybe even a bit of media bias. But at the dead center of the story is Hillary Clinton herself, and above all a campaign so poorly run that it should be closely studied as a negative example by every political consultant from now until the end of time.
Of course her tireless champions will say she actually won the popular vote by 3 million and lost the Electoral College by just 80,000 votes in three states. So close!
But why on Earth was it close at all? Her opponent was an ignoramus and a lying, transparently demagogic charlatan. In 2012 Barack Obama defeated the highly intelligent and comparatively statesmanlike Mitt Romney in Wisconsin by more than 200,000 votes. He won Pennsylvania by more than 300,000 votes. He won Michigan by well over 400,000 votes. Yet Clinton lost all three to Trump (in addition to Florida and Ohio, both of which Obama carried in 2012).
Now, some prominent liberals will go to their graves insisting on the … counterintuitive line of argument that Trumpist racism alone explains why Clinton, a white Democrat, did so much worse than Obama, a black Democrat, in these states. Other Clinton supporters claim, instead, that the outcome can best be explained by the flagrant sexism of powerful male journalists who ensured that the first female nominee for president got relentlessly hostile coverage in the media while her opponent received a free pass.
This is transparent nonsense.
Yes, Clinton received tough coverage. But in comparison to whom? All the other candidates who've run for president while under criminal investigation by the FBI? (Maybe that substantial handicap should have overridden her party's presumption that she was owed the nomination because it was "her turn.")
As for Trump's easy ride, you've got to be joking. Sure, he was omnipresent in the news during the campaign, but that attention was overwhelmingly, relentlessly negative in tone and content. It was as if the Democrat was running for president with every news network in the country running a free negative infomercial about her opponent on a 24/7 loop.
You'd think that the Democratic candidate would accept this enormous gift of free media and use her campaign's limited time and resources to talk about something else — like, say, a positive vision of the country to stand as an alternative to her opponent's poisonous, race-baiting populism.
But you would be wrong.
In addition to allowing the candidate to take an enormous amount of time off the campaign trail in the two months following the Democratic convention, and having her place a large number of Trump supporters in a "basket of deplorables," and setting up a series of big-ticket fundraisers at which she raked in mountains of cash (I wonder what happened to the $143 million she raised in the month of August 2016 alone?), the Clinton campaign made truly bizarre decisions about ad buys in the run-up to Election Day.
As Simon Dumenco argued in Ad Age on the day after Clinton's defeat, ad after ad "was simply a variation on the theme that Donald Trump is a big jerk." According to The Upshot's Lynn Vavreck, "More than three-quarters of the appeals in Mrs. Clinton's advertisements … were about traits, characteristics, or dispositions" of her opponent. That's not normal. Far more common is a balance between a focus on traits and an emphasis on issues such as the economy.
And the imbalance wasn't only found in ads. Clinton's running mate Tim Kaine spent almost the entirety of his debate with Mike Pence talking about Trump's most offensive statements. Clinton did much the same thing in her three debates with Trump, deflecting policy questions whenever possible, avoiding broad appeals to the country as a whole, and pivoting as often as she could to the myriad glaring defects of her opponent.
The result was exactly what I said it was a month after Clinton's pathetic performance on Election Day: an "attempt to coast to victory on an air of inevitability and an undertow of Trump hatred."
Enough. Democrats need to stop reaching for excuses to explain away their losses in 2016 (which extended far beyond the White House). The point going forward is to win. And the best way to get it done is to resolve not to repeat the fatal mistakes of Hillary Clinton.