The Boring Story of the 2016 Election

By Matt Bruenig, who writes about politics, the economy, and political theory, with a focus on issues that affect poor and working people. He has written for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The American Prospect, In These Times, Jacobin, Dissent, Salon, The Week, Gawker and at his home base of sorts: Demos’ Policy Shop. Follow him on Twitter: @mattbruenig. Originally published at his website

Matt Yglesias is basically right about what happened in the 2016 election. Despite the elaborate theories that have been floated over the past few months, the real story as told by the exit polls is very boring: Donald Trump won because Hillary Clinton was an extremely unpopular candidate.

Donald Trump did not win because of a surge of white support. Indeed he got less white support than Romney got in 2012. Nor did Trump win because he got a surge from other race+gender groups. The exit polls show him doing slightly better with black men, black women, and latino women than Romney did, but basically he just hovered around Romney’s numbers with every race+gender group, doing slightly worse than Romney overall.

However, support for Hillary was way below Obama’s 2012 levels, with defectors turning to a third party. Clinton did worse with every single race+gender combo except white women, where she improved Obama’s outcome by a single point. Clinton did not lose all this support to Donald. She lost it into the abyss. Voters didn’t like her but they weren’t wooed by Trump.

Some Pundits Understood This

What’s a bit odd about the post-election punditry is that a good number of pundits understood these basic demographic mechanics well in advance of the election outcome. For instance, Jamelle Bouie perfectly nailed it in February of 2016:

If these issues [of Trump creating deep antipathy among women, people of color, and young people] are borne out in a general election, then Trump will have an even larger problem than negative attacks. He’ll have a negative electoral map. With abysmal ratings among blacks and Latinos, Trump is uniquely unsuited to this year’s demographics, which—all things equal—has a modest tilt toward Democrats. With Marco Rubio or John Kasich, Republicans might have a chance with minority voters. With Trump, that’s gone. To win, he would need to bring a massive influx of new white voters and create a further swing towards Republicans among existing white voters, all without alienating moderate whites or sparking counter-mobilization from nonwhites.

As Bouie notes, if Trump’s politicking caused an enormous swing in the voting choices of women, people of color, and young people towards the Democratic nominee (here Clinton), then the only way he could have won is by running up the score among white voters. It turns out Trump’s politicking did not cause any noticeable swing of the voting choices of women, people of color, and young people, and so he did not need to run up the score among white voters, which is something he failed to do entirely.

Unsatisfying Story

So the overall story the data tells us is that Trump won with less white support than Romney because he managed to hold strong enough with female and nonwhite voters and because Clinton was so unpopular that she bled a significant enough portion of Obama’s coalition into the abyss.

The lack of attention to this story of Trump’s win makes sense because it is satisfying to basically nobody.

Liberals do not like it because they want Trump to mean some of their identitarian arguments are true and because it is extremely humiliating to the liberal establishment in general that their hand-picked candidate was world-historically weak. After writing delusional arguments saying the plain fact of Clinton being bad at politics (something Clinton herself admits) was actually wrong, it’s easy to understand why the post-election truth that Clinton lost because she’s very bad at politics is not one they rush to embrace.

Conservatives do not like it because they want Trump to mean at least something about how voters are not happy with liberal overreach.

And leftists do not like it because they want Trump to mean at least something about how the Democratic party’s refusal to embrace a transformative economic message is dooming it.

Some of these narratives could even be true in general about our political moment. But they are not explanations of what happened here. Clinton lost because Clinton was a really bad candidate. If you had replaced her with almost anyone else, they would have beaten Donald Trump. Bernie would have won. O’Malley would have won. And Barack Obama would have dominated in an absolute landslide.

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  1. Mattski

    In a landscape of personality politics, manufactured Madison Ave. campaigns, this may be true. But it’s that underlying construct, that corruption of little c democratic politics, that is the problem. And this article fails to get at that. It accepts the collapsing status quo as a given, even though it has become a funhouse mirror in which a savagely hostile candidate can become more attractive than one of neoliberalism’s primary, most outworn, architects. Trapped in this nightmare, the American people punted.

    The Clintons are nauseating; the fact that this country’s liberal polity–inheritors of a morally bankrupt and historically failed ideology–don’t get this is nauseating. But I don’t think that continuing to press the case that Hillary Clinton is unattractive gets us much further, least of all with them. I’ve got California Dem friends who spend half of their lives, even now, bitterly complaining that a corrupt machine stole the election from Bernie Sanders. As if that machine had been virtuous before Sanders and invented to deny him the election. (Good that you woke up yesterday! The nightmare was a century old, though, and more!) It’s the machine that’s the problem.

    1. Marco

      Agreed. The Bernie hagiography and subsequent harping about a corrupt DNC is also nauseating. He lost the primary the moment he said “I don’t give a damn about Hillary’s emails”. He could have crushed her. I have a hard time trusting someone who refuses to seize power when it’s handed on a silver (server) platter. Former Bernie Bro here.

      1. Darn

        I think it was fine for him to play it safe on that one. If the investigation was gonna damage her, he didn’t have to lift a finger. Whereas if he made accusations, it would detract from the rest of his message, and if she was exonerated it would be used against him. I think the make or break issue was whether he improved the recognition of his name and policies fast enough nationally and GOTV.

      2. Mac na Michomhairle

        Don’t agree.

        Bernie lost in the South and the Acerola Corridor (or whatever it’s called) where, respectively, few people knew him and were prepared to trust an outsider, and where there is a strong majority of Modern Democrats–well-off professionals and business people. He lost because the Party leadership fought hard locally and nationally to defeat him.

        He might have underestimated the opposition he would face from the Machine, but I don’t think so. His comment about the e-mails was an attempt to keep the campaign focused on issues, and maybe to maintain a civil relationship with people he would have to work with.

        By the way, I’ve never met an actual Bernie supporter who identified, even ironically, as a Bernie Bro.

        1. ambrit

          As seen from the American Deep South, I can attest to having several black people telling me that they vote straight Democrat. When asked why, or what sort of Democrat, all of them mentioned either: straight line DNC Democrat, (phrased several ways,) the Democrat Parties support for Civil Rights, (which struggle several said was ongoing,) and exhortations from the pulpit at church, (usually some form of Southern Baptist.) I don’t know about the rest of the country, but down here, Blacks still support the ‘official’ Democrat Party. Indeed, in many of the smaller cities of the region, the local chapters of the Democrat Party look to be black run. The Republican Party certainly hasn’t done a good job of appealing to ‘down to earth’ people of any colour. In such a case, the Democrat Party is said peoples’ logical recourse. So, I’ll go out on a limb and guess that Bernie lost the South in part because of ‘official’ Democrat obstruction.

          1. Bill Smith

            As an election judge I see that with people of any race. They show up with their unofficial pre-filled out ballot distributed by the Democratic party. They transfer it to the official ballot. Some times when going down the list they have flagged me down to help them find something they missed. “That ones at the top of the next page… or That is at the bottom of the previous page”.

        2. NotTimothyGeithner

          Bernie did poorest in wealthy coastal enclaves and areas with populations who don’t have many civic organizations outside for their church.

          It’s easier to attract flies with honey rather than vinegar. A lack of resources was the major problem. Without the non-church organizations to raise awareness and reach out to non-Hillary voters (at least in SC Hillary appeared to do less well than Hillary 2008), Sanders didn’t have the ability to compete with 25 years worth of imaginary friendship. Person to person contact is important.

          I doubt he expected to do more than be a stalking horse, not a sheep dog. The support for Sanders in NH and Iowa especially and the youth support who get their news from the Internet was probably an eye opener, changing the nature of the campaign.

          If he wanted to attack, he should have developed a better alternative foreign policy platform. Bill Belichick’s theory is to attack an opponent’s strength, the weaknesses take care of themselves. Hillary’s job listings and media support were strengths. They needed to be hammered. In a way, Trump did this in the South Carolina primary hammering both W and McCain on foreign policy to get to Jeb.

          1. roadrider

            Bernie did poorest in wealthy coastal enclaves and areas with populations who don’t have many civic organizations outside for their church.

            Churches should either stay out of politics or give up their federal tax-exemption. Unfortunately, the IRS does not enforce the prohibition against church-based political activity.

          2. pat b

            Bernie wanted to run an idea’s campaign but his staff were unsure how to run a
            bottom up campaign. The obama 22008 campaign did some brilliant grass roots organizing.
            Unfortunately Bernie never had the middleware to make that part happen.

            there were lots of people doing stuff but no push to drive that

            1. Lambert Strether

              > Unfortunately Bernie never had the middleware to make that part happen.

              Hmm. Are you really sure it was a software problem? The Momentum (Corbyn) people at the NC London meetup spoke very highly both of the training they got from Sanders organizers, and the software they provided.

        3. Sutter Cane

          By the way, I’ve never met an actual Bernie supporter who identified, even ironically, as a Bernie Bro.

          I am one. You must not get out much. They are everywhere.

          The best part is when women and especially minority women self-identify as Bernard Brothers, which happens whenever centrist Clintonites attempt to erase their existence.

          1. Marco

            Thanks. I was being a little ironic. Merely to draw attention to the fact that people are fickle and support for Sanders can shift.

      3. David, by the lake

        I can appreciate his intentions, however. As one who has stepped into (local) politics, I can certainly understand the desire to remain self-honest and risk losing while being true to one’s values rather than win by morphing into someone else. I can only imagine what the pressure to do so must be at the national level.

      4. Big River Bandido

        It would not have helped Sanders’ candidacy to have played into the frenzy of “gotcha” politics as symbolized by the email fiasco. I’m not trying to minimize the substance of Clinton’s incompetence — it was a major [family blog]-up on her part. But if Sanders had focused on her failures in such a narrow area would have been to make yet another election “all about the Clintons”. It would have been a distraction from the great issues that voters truly wanted to hear about, and that Sanders’ candidacy was about: climate crisis, inequality, the unraveling of the American body politic, and the hollowing out of the American middle-class.

        1. DanB

          When I saw him say with emotion he didn’t give a damn about her emails I thought, “Why didn’t he say, ‘Well, the email mess is under investigation; my only comment is I think it was totally unwise to set up an email account that circumvented established policy. So let the chips fall where they may with this investigation, I want to discuss the future of the country…'”

          1. Marco

            As Lambert repeatedly said, it wasn’t just a private email ACCOUNT but a private email SERVER! Big difference and for those of us able to appreciate that difference it was a telling moment when Bernie punted on the issue. He didn’t have to get all FoxNewsy about it but there were plenty of subtle ways to tie the noose around her neck.

          2. Big River Bandido

            You and I and those of us here would hear and understand the nuance in that statement. But give Chuck Todd and Wolf Blitzer and all the other actors and hacks on the teevee the slightest bit of daylight and they would have broadcast it as “Bernie attacks Hillary, does that make him a mysogonist?” They would have completely ignored the last sentence you wrote, and in the process, buried Sanders’ message.

      5. Vatch

        “He could have crushed her.”

        Maybe, maybe not. Hindsight is easy. He might have crushed her, but instead, he might have offended large numbers of Democratic primary voters. Many of them might perceived him to be another Ken Starr or Rush Limbaugh on a witch hunt. As Big River Bandito points out, Sanders was able to bring some crucial issues out into the open, such as extreme inequality and the decline of the middle class. I consider that a success. Now we need to ensure that those issues remain front and center in 2018 and 2020.

      6. Mike

        Voting machines are an old problem, and dead people voting even older, so the fact that we cannot face the totally corrupt society that is the USA now faces us with that much more lipstick applied to the pig.

        Bernie would not have beaten Trump, if the magic fingers in the voting machine pie had their way. Emma Goldman was sooooo right – if voting changed anything, it would be illegal. By itself, votes do nothing to contest what this system has become, because it takes that very system for granted and verifies its methods. This is a war on many fronts, and must be fought by many means. Approved candidates who roll in the manure of this system will not win it, and approved “opposition” cannot. Try something else.

        1. Marco

          Thanks for the Emma Goldman quote. Deeply ashamed I never heard of her. This dense compsci graduate should have chosen a humanities degree.

          1. Oregoncharles

            You wouldn’t hear of Emma Goldman in most humanities programs, either. MAYBE poli sci.

            And incidentally, you’ve brought up a bigger problem: technical training that leaves people with no knowledge of the broader culture. Ignorance is always expensive – and 4-year degrees have become prohibitively so.

            1. Lil’D


              I know a higher percentage of math/engineering majors who are well versed in the humanities than liberal arts majors who are remotely numerate…
              But point taken – (I paraphrase your thoughts…) – our civic body is more robust when we all have a deep understanding of history and humanities

        2. zapster

          This is the elephant in the room that is never discussed. The fact is, between gerrymandering, whopping voter suppression and the steadily mounting pile of evidence of vote-switching at the county level, this is, indeed, the most likely explanation. Clinton’s failure to support a recount that showed tantalizing signs of throwing the election back to her was a huge mistake.

          This doesn’t mean she wasn’t a horrible person. These days the only way to win rigged elections is to draw such gigantic turnout that it overwhelms the rigging–and that wouldn’t have happened with her the way it did with Obama. And with all the voter id laws and crosscheck purging now, perhaps that isn’t even possible any longer.

          Torrents of “analysis” are pretty much meaningless when elections are rigged.

  2. Enrique Bermudez

    In other words, “Occam’s Razor.”

    I’ve always felt the story was none other than this. Just a horrible, off-putting person running against an even more horrible, off-putting person. And I’m supposed to go out to the polls and pull a lever for one of them? Particularly when I live in an extremely Gerrymandered part of a deeply-colored state where no election is ever competitive on any level whatsoever?

    Interesting point made about leftists being unsatisfied with the explanation. I still think Bernie pretty obviously wins if only because he could have more convincingly run against NAFTA in the old rust belt states than Trump did. ASSUMING, OF COURSE the contrafactual did not include him selling out to the Dem establishment in his general election campaign.

    1. DJG

      Enrique Bermudez: Or, consider this: Bruenig had to include the obligatory left-bashing to keep up his Objective Journalist Credentials. Most of his article is about bad retail politics: Trump and Clinton are both bad at pressing the flesh and getting out the vote. What retail politics has to do with the larger issues of economic inequality, political inequality, and the continuing class war isn’t developed in his article.

      Remember, leftists: We are doomed. The liberals tell us so.

  3. Basil Pesto

    I’ve found it puzzling and dispiriting that people are seemingly desperate to pin the result of the election on one specific cause. How often is it that historical events are monocausal, rather than the result of a concatenation of factors and circumstances? On the other hand, thoughtful and detailed takes on these discrete factors, such as the piece above, may help historians of the future form some kind of synthesis when taken as a whole (hopefully dispassionately and not tendentiously).

    I kind of disagree with the premise of the article that the 2016 election was boring. As an outsider on the other side of the world with a latent anti-americanism (directed at the state, not its many lovely people, culture and landscapes), I’ve been utterly gripped by it since Trump announced his candidacy. There were two conclusions about the election that I formed almost immediately after it concluded that may also explain why I was so fascinated: Trump’s election is the consequence of a mediocre and deeply troubled country, not its incipience. As for the other, on Nov 9 even here in Australia (where the precise identity of who occupies the predidency is generally of little consequence) there was enormous hand-wringing over how worrying Trump’s election was, generally on grounds of impending fascism/nazism (which is ahistorical garbage – as an aside, I think it is truly worrying how superficial, a mere 75 years after the fact, people’s grasp of nazi germany is). I maintain that what should be truly worrying is what happens in America when, after 4 or 8 years of Trump, those who were desperate enough to vote for him realise that still nothing has meaningfully changed.

    People maintain that other dem candidates would have beaten Trump, but I wonder if Clinton would have beaten Rubio, or Cruz. Probably not. Still, I’m not convinced that Sanders would have been a shoo-in against Trump. I find it funny that identitarians assert that the failure to elect Hilary was a failure to shatter ‘the highest glass ceiling’. Try getting a secular Jew elected! Gosh, next thing you know you’ll be electing an unmarried disabled atheist.

    1. Detroit Dan

      Well said.

      Bruenig’s short article begs the question of why Hillary was so unpopular. Republicans would say because she is corrupt and overly politically correct, Dems would say because she was a victim of sexism, and Berniecrats would say because she was neoliberal and out of touch with middle class struggles. There’s some validity to each of these viewpoints, IMO.

    2. Montanamaven

      You are on to something when you call the U.S. a “mediocre country”. It certainly is not the one exceptional country touted by the Clintons, The Bushes, and the Obamas. That would make all other coutries unexceptional. The U.S. is an unsophisticated country and not all that smart. Prime example is that it doesn’t have some kind of universal health care system and a decent pension system. One big reason for this lack of sophistication and smarts is that we have lost “the art of argument”. We don’t engage in dialogue except on rare sites like this. The French have their cafe society. They do not shirk their duty as citizens by not talking politics. They leave work and go out to a cafe and argue about life and art. They engage in debate and often use dialectics in search of truth. “Politics” is a discussion (not a shouting match) of the way we wish to live our lives and what we enjoy and what gives our lives meaning. Democracy dies without such dialogue. And sometimes we have to have difficult conversations, not just light hearted ones. We also should not take in information passively. We must listen carefully and be willing to challenge our own beliefs and to say “Maybe what I believe may be wrong.”

      1. Basil Pesto

        I’ve long thought that the concept of ‘American exceptionalism’ was just the acceptable, liberal face of nationalism. Between that and the bat-[family blog] crazy open nationalism of the GOP, you propagate a national amour-propre that makes it very hard to even begin to question the state’s fundamental shortcomings.

        As for France, I think maybe you give them a bit too much credit! Maybe they are collectively a bit more thoughtful, but as Flaubert shows us, civic/political mediocrity has a long and storied history in that other republic! Mind you, his observations about the paucity of bourgeois (in the Franco-Flaubertian sense, not the Marxian-Marxist sense of the word) thought seem pretty universal. Wherever you are in the world, people really do seem to hate having their received wisdom questioned.

      2. Anon


        Matt Taibbi makes very similar points about the unsophisticated American electorare in a recent Rolling Stone magazine article.

    3. Oregoncharles

      The head-to-head polls were very clear on Bernie beating Trump by far more than Clinton. That isn’t certainty, but it’s indicative as all get-out. Where it’s most important is in the DP nomination: they knew perfectly well that they were nominating the weaker candidate. Which casts some light on the extreme shock when she lost.

      This does support my theory that the “two” parties have a little deal, and just trade the presidency back and forth, 2 full terms at a time – ever since Slick Willy Clinton was re-elected. Apparently even when one of them nominates Donald Trump. I really thought 2016 would break the rule.

  4. ArkansasAngie

    Some number of folks voted for Trump because they liked him … a few.

    Most voted for Trump because he was not Hillary.

    And … yes … Hilary’s emails mattered. Quite frankly … they still do.

  5. The Rev Kev

    There was no way to polish that turd. As John Michael Greer stated, there were thousands of people more qualified to be President of the United States than Donald Trump but that Hillary Clinton was not one of them. Every week there are more revelations as to why this is so. One of the latest is that apparently she thought the lesson of Orwell’s “1984” is that you should trust experts, leaders and the press ( and no, this is not an article from the Onion.

    1. jrs

      I don’t think that quote proves anything, and no Donald Trump is not more qualified. Yes the quote is a bit authoritarian to left anti-authoritarians, but it probably needs to be interpreted in the context in which it was meant. Which is that those pillars of the establishment are more reliable than where a lot of right wing Donald Trump supporters are getting their info from (for heaven sakes we have climate denialists etc. yet, it’s that bad). I don’t think the comparison was ever meant to be to those who criticize from a sounder basis (who I don’t think Hillary represents at all of course, she is the establishment of course, I’m just saying reading too much into that quote seems silly).

      1. The Rev Kev

        Here is something to chew over. America is a great country of over 330 million people. There must be easily tens of thousands qualified to be President of the United States. And yet, when it came time to bite the bullet, the best that the political elites could offer the American people was a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald trump. Seriously?
        The late J.C. once said that the poor will always be with you. The converse of this is that you will always have the elite with you as well. Not always the same elite (see the French Revolution) but they will be there. People are willing to accept this so long as they prove themselves competent and that they are willing to spread a little of the wealth around as well.
        Neither condition applies anymore. With the later, wealth has never been so concentrated as it is now which is blatantly obvious. Now people also see that the elites are no longer competent either. I am not even American but even I could see that the dozen or more candidates offered by the US Republican party was nothing short of a clown car. You see the quiet competence of a Putin or a Sanders and compare their performance with that of most Western leaders and you wonder just how we got here. Maybe that is why they hate them so much. Just saying.

    2. AJ

      I’ve see this talking point floating around and it clearly speaks of a failure of reading comprehension, but on the author of the article–not Hillary. HRC clearly understands Orwell’s point, but is arguing against it. She’s saying that the point of the book 1984 is to sow distrust in authority figures–clearly a correct assessment. She then says that is the opposite of want we want, that we shouldn’t distrust authority figures because of some random book.

      Now, I don’t really agree with her, but she didn’t get the message of the book wrong and she doesn’t think it’s a “how-to manual.”

      1. witters

        I’m afraid your view shows us a HC that thinks like this:

        A lot of people don’t like authoritarianism BECAUSE of “some random book” (1984). And so she’s saying to these people swayed by this book (which must work without being read in most cases) that that is not a good reason to be be anti-authoritarian. In fact – as a propoganda exercise – it is reason to welcome authoritarianism. (It seems to me then if reason has any sway with her, she should be in favour of banning the book. Which seems a perfectly exemplary HC conclusion.)

  6. Kathleen Smith

    Obama would not have won in a Land slide — Obama and his lies where really wearing thin and I think that is also something that is never talked about — I voted for Obama and I will never vote for another establishment picked democrat. The democratic party does not represent the people, it is owned and I think this needs to be brought up as to why Hillary lost.

    1. Ian

      This is the fatal flaw in the above article. The establishment Dems had lost a lot of power and been getting destroyed through much of Obama’s presidency. Hillary was indeed a terrible candidate, but that does not detract from the reality that people were completely sick of establishment politics and corruption operating at their expense with impunity.

      1. Darn

        I don’t think it’s fatal, for the article as a whole, at all. Obama is just a hypothetical example that Bruenig thinks woulda won in a “landslide”. I disagree with him about a “landslide” at least, since I think Obama is polling well because the public knows he couldn’t run again

        1. Ian

          The differentiation between Obama and Bernie in my mind, is deliberate attempt to marginalize the very real and valid frustrations that were given voice to within Bernies campaign and excuse the failure of the Democrats when they had the collective political power at the start of his first term to shift away from and to at least some degree hold accountable the numerous bad actors largely responsible for the crash 2008. If you recall, 2010 +6 republican senate seats, + 63 house seats to the Republicans and a continued decline. People felt betrayed by the Democrats, and though Obama is a brilliant orator, which carried him, he proved to be a conventional politician.

    2. Michael C

      I agree. In many ways, it was Obama who led the way for a Trump. Hillary, being an unlikeable clone of him, though more of a Neocon for sure, was just what the American public was sick of–peddling false hope with no promised land in sight.

  7. Stelios Theoharidis

    2012 BO – 65.9M, MR – 60.9M, Libs 1.2M, Greens 0.46M —- 58.6% Turnout
    2016 DT – 62.9M, HC – 65.8M, Libs 4.4M, Greens 1.4M —- 59.7% Turnout

    Clinton’s loss was Michigan = 10,704 votes 0.23%, Wisconsin = 22,177 votes 0.77%, Pennsylvania 46,435 0.72%.

    By comparison, Gore lost Florida by some 540 odd votes 0.01%. I imagine that an infinite number of events could have caused his loss at that margin. The incalculable damage that Bush wreaked upon the world, perched upon a butterfly’s wings.

    But, by and large those are still some pretty small margins for Clinton vis a vis Trump. I’m inclined to think that the Libertarian voters took away from Trump. But, the Green party voters were also enough to spoil it for Clinton. But, at those margins, I imagine that there are so many factors within and beyond her control that could have spoiled it for Clinton.

    I was a Bernie primary voter. I kept telling folks that they better make sure everyone they knew got out because Trump was in the margin of error in several forecasts. Lets hope he doesn’t start thermonuclear war.

    1. cocomaan

      I don’t buy the “spoiler third party” theories. It assumes that those people were ever going to vote for one of the two big parties in the first place, which is a heck of an assumption.

      1. DJG

        cocomaan: Agreed. “Third party spoilers” is the canard that keeps quacking endlessly. As I learned from so many liberals, yammering about third parties is a desperate attempt to enforce some kind of party discipline. For the Democrats, the message is: It’s either us or the abyss.

      2. Marco

        I don’t understand the defensive reflex many 3rd party voters have against the charge they are responsible for the outcome of an election. Why not RELISH the possibility of being the spoiler?

        “Yes…we sent Hillary packing…whatcha gonna do next election to make us happy”?

        1. Oregoncharles

          Marco, as a Green Party activist, I agree with you. In Oregon we’ve run explicit spoiler campaigns several times, most recently against Wyden. It doesn’t work because the Republicans are so weak here they can’t come up with a decent candidate. Or won’t.

          As long as the duopoly parties stick us with the “spoiler” role, we should play it to the hilt; at least it’s a form of power. In fact, a couple of decades ago the Religious Right used it to control the Republican party. Of course, that might be one reason the Repubs are so weak now.

          2000? I had no idea we were so powerful. Of course, the accusation is also a form of maximum whine. If they ran a decent campaign or put up a decent candidate, they wouldn’t have to worry about it.

    2. roadrider

      I voted Green in both 2012 and 2016 (Obama won my state in 2012 and Clinton won it in 2016). If there were not Green Party candidate I would have abstained or wrote in Sanders. Assuming that Green Party voters would have otherwise voted for Clinton is silly.

        1. sierra7

          And, remember the approx 80M registered voters who did not vote at all. Who is going to motivate them???? The Dems; the Repubs???? I don’t think so.

    3. nippersmom

      I also find the construction that “Green party voters were enough to spoil it for Clinton” disturbing. It presupposes that, were there no Green Party candidate, I would have automatically voted for the Democrat. I can assure you, there were no circumstances whatsoever under which I would have voted for Hillary Clinton. Jill Stein did not “cost” Clinton my vote.

      1. Stelios Theoharidis

        I’m sorry if it was communicated poorly. There was certainly a BUT after the spoiler statement. The point of the comment wasn’t that the Green party candidate spoiled the vote, it was that at those margins there were a number of factors within and beyond the control of Clinton that lost her the election. We could make a grab bag out and find 100 factors, had they been different, the outcome could have been different. The smaller the margin the greater the noise.

        I really don’t care who you vote for as long as you voted. You can write Vermin Supreme in, I don’t blame people for participating in a system as it was designed.

    4. johnnygl

      One point worth making is that clinton barely hung on for a win in NH, NV, and MN.

      So, it’s not like the Dems are secure against further erosion in future elections.

      In all these fun conter-factuals, some of these states could have flipped the other way.

  8. Big River Bandido

    The argument that Clinton lost because she was extremely unpopular is good, as far as it goes. But the suggestion here is that the unpopularity was solely personal, and that policy didn’t matter. Perhaps for many voters, that’s the case. But Clinton was not just a terrible politician, she was the poster child for a discredited ideology that was decisively rejected by voters in 5 states which no Democrat can afford to lose (PA, OH, MI, WI and IA). The central thrust of the piece is that another “charismatic neoliberal” would be able to pull it off in any of those states. With the possible exception of Wisconsin (and even that issue would be in doubt), I simply don’t see that as a possibility, even against Trump.

    I suppose that would make me part of “the left”. But I think Lambert’s (or is it Yves’) demand for “concrete material benefits” rings absolutely true — and that’s a demand to which neoliberalism simply will not yield.

    1. Darn

      I agree “concrete material benefits” is a winning agenda and more electable than centrism. But I agree with Bruenig that other Dems would’ve won, because although Sanders polled better than Clinton in general election opinion polls, but I doubt that is wholly due to policy. FBI and the server, long history of controversy, reputation as a liar. So, swap out Clinton for Martin O’Malley or Jim Webb, with Clinton’s policies. Dems would still lose the WH to Trump? (Unprovable) Nah, I really don’t think so

  9. ambrit

    I’d slightly modify that prescription to say “concrete material benefits ‘for all.'” Those at the top of the pyramid are doing Absolutely Fabulously. The rest of us are treading water, or drowning.
    As for neo-liberalism’s yield factor, the Frederick Douglass quote comes to mind; “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
    I’m inclined to agree with those who assert that todays’ “Leftists” are yester-years’ “Centrists.” So, if one could consider oneself a “Moderne Leftist,” consider yourself, (and a lot of the commenters here,) to be traveling in very good company. (I’m a ‘fellow traveler’ myself, but the propriety of such is a discussion for another time.)

  10. Steve Ruis

    Everyone keeps making the same mistake. They are making that election personal (Mrs, Clinton this, Mr. Trump that, blah, blah, blah.). Instead, if you take a step back and look at the election as one in which people voted against the status quo, embodied by Mrs. Clinton, it makes more sense. In fact, now that Mr. Trump has exposed the very racist under belly of the American polity, we can look at the election of Mr. Obama as also a vote against the status quo.

    The American middle class has been hammered for half a century into something we have never seen before (the precariat?). In spite of racism we elected a Black man as president in the hope that this would change (remember hope and change?). When Mr. Obama represented pretty much “more of the same” people instead selected the biggest monkey wrench they could throw into the gears of government as a message (Mr. Trump). All in all, 17 establishment politicians were left by the wayside in that process. It wasn’t as if we had no choice.

    And, if the political class doesn’t get the message this time, I shudder to think how we will react in the next election.

    I consider the election of Mr. Trump to be a veritable howl of protest as to the current state of the citizenry.

    1. Oregoncharles

      The “giant uplifted middle finger” theory. I like it.

      In defense of the article, I don’t think he says it was her personality, although her lack of political skills mattered. Her record and what she stood for – more of the same, as you say – also apply.

  11. Joecostello

    Hilllary wasnt disliked just because she wasnt good at politics, she represented plenty of thingz people dislike about whats happening. Things others, including Barnie may have got around. To say she was unpopular is absolutely true, but theres reasons to that which r politically important. Most important the hubris of the establishment which insisted on her.

  12. Ben Johannson

    Bruenig’s theory doesn’t explain why Donald Trump, the sole non-orthodox Republican candidate who made economic issues the center of his campaign, defeated sixteen other candidates.

    It doesn’t explain why Martin O’Malley wasn’t Hillary Clinton’s primary challenger rather than Bernie Sanders, the other non-orthodox candidate who made economics the center of his campaign.

    It doesn’t explain why so many people turned to the only candidates using the rhetoric of the Old Left.

    It ignores Sanders’ immense popularity with union members while their leaders almost always endorsed Clinton.

    It ignores that trade was a big issue and only two candidates were believably hammering it.

    It doesn’t explain why the states that flipped to Trump were in the Rust Belt, which has been reduced to an Appalachian standard of living by trade agreements.

    It ignores that Americans were deeply dissatisfied with Obamacare.

    And it ignores the growing evidence that votes for Trump correlate with casualty figures in our Forever War.

    His conclusion is dependent on one sweeping explanation rather than accepting that a variety of factors were at work in American society. That’s unlikely to be a product of clear thinking. He treat Clinton’s unpopularity as though it were an act of God without inquiring as to why she was so unpopular.

    And then we read that “X doesn’t like [that Clinton lost because of naturally determined unpopularity]because they want to believe. . .”

    Considerable arrogance is a necessity when dismissing every single person who disagrees with his assumptions as being willfully blind to an idea he has chosen to accept as truth. In a few paragraphs anyone presenting a different argument is labeled an emotional ditz who just won’t accept REALITY. Not to mention it’s largely wrong. Conservatives want to believe Clinton was unpopular because it lets them maintain the fantasy their orthodoxy is popular and leftists want to believe the same thing because she has been one of the chief architects of injustice in American society.

    1. Rojo

      Good stuff.

      I’ll add it doesn’t explain the loss of Dems at all levels of government. Surely, something more than Hillary-sucks-at-politics is afoot.

  13. Pat

    I have said for a while that Clinton was the wrong candidate at the wrong time. But that and this piece ignore a couple of huge self inflicted wounds.

    In my opinion Clinton won her first election because she could still fake interest in the real conditions people face. And her “listening tour” actually reached out to people who might have been branded deplorable 17 years later. But for both her Presidential campaigns she arrogantly took people’s votes as her due and isolated herself with aides and support staff. Her contact with voters was tightly controlled. And it left her confused and out of touch and yes delusional about what the statistics and data said about life for most Americans. There is not a doubt in my mind that just as she has no clue why people voted for Trump or Sanders, she still doesn’t get why Obama was more popular either.

    If Hillary Clinton had not taken the Democratic voters of Wisconsin and Michigan and rural Pennsylvania for granted, if she had just been able to hear their concerns and acknowledge their just grievances with even token acceptance she would be President today. But she couldn’t bring herself to step out of her bubble that much for something she had wanted for most of her adult life.

    It wasn’t just the failure to offer concrete benefits, it was the arrogance of thinking the need for them didn’t even deserve consideration. This was the difference between the two deeply disliked candidates of 2016. One at least pretended to care how bad it is for areas of America while the other let them know they wouldn’t even get her on the phone when they had something she wanted.

    Yes Clinton’s loss was because she was deeply unpopular and disliked. but the picture is not complete without the arrogance and incompetence.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      “In my opinion Clinton won her first election”

      Also Gore won the state by 25 points compared to Hillary’s 10 point victory, and her opponent was Rick Lazio after Guiliani dropped out for “health” reasons. Even her first election was largely a safe spot she chose. She could have waited two years and tried to make a difference in Arkansas. 2006 was what it was, and then she lost to the black guy with a funny name and the orange guy named after a duck.

      Hilllary knew how to win. Pick a safe seat and hope for a terrible opponent.

      1. TK421

        She could have waited two years and tried to make a difference in Arkansas.

        Or she could have run in Chicago, a city where she actually had a history, unlike New York. Then she would have denied a Senate seat to that same black guy with a funny name.

      2. Pat

        Oh, no doubt on the strategy to get her an entry into political life. And Giuliani had a shot of winning, although he actually was polling better than she was when his life imploded. Lazio…well…the debate where he physically menaced her and tried to intimidate her into signing a pledge killed his early momentum (and he did have some). That coupled with some other mistakes doomed him.
        It also was the start of the spend tons of money thing. (Seriously she spent over 35 million in her reelection campaign to win against someone who was never more than twenty points behind her in the polls.) But she spent more time in various upstate counties in NY state than she ever has again during that campaign.

    2. Basil Pesto

      She seemed to have this ‘born to rule’ mindset that one more readily associates with members of the UK Tories, rather than US politicians of any stripe. It went beyond mere hubris in the face of her barely coherent and otherwise generally odious rival, I think. It was quite bizarre.

  14. david lamy

    Stelios Theoharidis shows the final national vote totals and what strikes me is
    the lack of any article positing that the Libertarian Party cost Trump the popular vote. Of course, Republicans realize that the Electoral College reigns and so why browbeat Libertarians like Democrats browbeat Greens.

    Of course, the assumption that Libertarians would support Trump and Greens support Clinton is dubious in my view. The most safe assumption is simply these voters did not support either and so looking for how their votes are distributed across the nation is in my humble view a waste of time.

  15. Matthew G. Saroff

    The question , of course, is why she was so loathed, and I think that the answer is simple: She was unable to conceal her self-entitlement.

    Unlike Bill Clinton, who could fake sincerity and empathy with the best of them, there were two things that were patently obvious about Hillary Clinton:

    * She HATED the non professional classes, and was unable to conceal the fact. (So did Bill, and “Clinging to Guns and Religion” Obama, but the mask for them slipped only occasionally.)
    * She was running because she believed that it was “Her Turn.”

    So, her campaign boiled down to, “Vote for me you stupid morons,” which is not a winning strategy.

  16. roadrider

    O’Malley would have won.

    Maryland resident here.O’Malley is a joke. He’s a Clintonite through and through. Any substantive deviations he might have from Hillary would have vanished if he had won the primary. Much like Obama, O’Malley was just another self-serving pol seeking to be the heir to the throne of Clintonism. O’Malley’s Lt. Governor was beaten by a Republican real-estate hack for the MD governorship after he was term limited out of office (to the relief of many Marylanders) mostly due to 1) a complete lack of enthusiasm on the part of the Dem/liberal base (low turnout) and 2) the completely SNAFUed roll out of the Maryland Health Exchange (Obamacare) web site. I can personally attest to that one having had to enroll (long story).

    O’Malley used to brag about the MD economy but really its almost completely dependent on DOD and spook agency contractors. If you don’t want to work for the national security or surveillance state sectors you’re pretty much SOL in Maryland.

  17. Wukchumni

    I didn’t see my first Hillary bumper sticker on the rear echelon of a vehicle until the day of the election, when there was one affixed to a bumper in the parking lot of the polling place where I cast my vote for Wink Martindale, my thinking being if we have to be saddled with a game show host, why not have a good one?

    Clinton obviously got the majority of votes in California, but people were hesitant to admit it publicly, prior.

  18. Marilyn Delson

    I find it strange that no Clinton postmortems deal with the corruption and lies unfolding before our very eyes in realtime during the 2016 election. Even if you were a first-time Dem voter and were ignorant of all the Clinton scandals, or a reliable Dem voter who got ALL your news via the lamestream, Clinton-bought media, there was still: Bernie’s sincerity and pro-worker platform versus Hillary’s “Me-Me-Me!”; Hillary’s above-the-law emails/Loretta & Bill on the tarmac/Comey’s “no intent” pardon/Goldman-San Francisco-Hollywood fundraisers; Hillary’s “perfect health” lies versus fainting spells/falls/coughing spells/head bobbing episodes/seizures. And all of the above already mentioned. Voters would have had to be illegal/”dead”/unseeing/pathologically partisan, or profoundly dumb to vote for Hillary. How the hell did she get 3.5+million votes more without majorly changing a lot of Diebold voting machines?

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      “How the hell did she get 3.5+million votes”

      Places such as North Carolina and Indiana and California and New York. The first two states having recently been won by Democrats delivered votes for Hillary which would have stayed home in 2004. The wins of 2006 and 2008 convinced a number of Democratic type people to vote who wouldn’t vote if they thought it was out of reach. Then of course, there is the novelty vote. There were similar vote surges in 2008 in very safe districts where no organizing was done or recent contested elections have been held for both Obama and Palin as novelty candidates. Think of it as a statement vote about the person endorsing the role of non-whites and women in political life without changing the outcome. You can tell your grandkids you voted for the first, serious (insert description) Presidential nominee.

      The Democrats picked Geraldine Ferrara to win those novelty votes to make the 1984 beat down look respectable.

      In competitive states over the years, Hillary did not do very well. Perhaps, she hacked the wrong machines?

      The perception Hillary was destined to win is likely important aspect of many votes both in the primary and the general.

  19. TK421

    this story of Trump’s win makes sense because it is satisfying to basically nobody

    I find it very satisfying that a horrible candidate with such a record of death and mayhem should be rejected by so many Americans. I’m not glad Trump won, but I’m thrilled Clinton lost.

  20. Don Lowell

    As this is written the national dem. party is busy finding another loser for us in 2020. Its one thing they are really good at.

    I have told them what I believe.

  21. John D.

    One detail about her campaign has really stuck with me, something that Billmon pointed out in his Twitter account at the time. For all that his own campaign was incredibly crude and incoherent, Trump got one thing right: He approached the voters by emphasizing what he could do for them. Whether he was lying to the rustbelt (and others) about bringing jobs back, or being far more honest in his appeals to reactionaries with his open and undisguised racism, he was still telling them what he could do for them.

    With HRC, it was the exact opposite: What you can do for me. “I’m With Her,” “It’s Her Turn,” etc. Have you ever heard election rhetoric that was more tone deaf or self-serving in your life? That whole bit in Shattered that chronicled how she & her team couldn’t come up with a plausible explanation for why she was running for the highest office in the land is pretty understandable with 20/20 hindsight. Her real reason for taking another shot at the White House could be summarized thusly: “Shut up, do as your told and vote for me, peasants, because I want to be President.”

    1. Big River Bandido

      “I’m With Her,” “It’s Her Turn,” etc. Have you ever heard election rhetoric that was more tone deaf or self-serving in your life?

      All the time, actually. As just one example, I remember Joe Lieberman’s 2006 campaign organization was “Connecticut for Lieberman”. NOT the other way around. But your point about the selfishness and narcissism is well taken.

  22. templar555510

    Just read ( if you can bear it ) the first two pages of her book on Amazon for free and they tell you all you need to know as to why she lost .

  23. ewmayer

    “And leftists do not like it because they want Trump to mean at least something about how the Democratic party’s refusal to embrace a transformative economic message is dooming it.”

    The author thinks HRC’s visible and proud embrace of Wall Street over Mai Street had nothing to do with her deep unpopularity and hemorrhaging of Obama swing voters? Really?

  24. Tom Denman

    Hillary Clinton’s minions have for years spun the narrative that it is irrational to vote against her because one dislikes her (and that her lack of likability somehow places her on the same plane as John Quincy Adams).

    Of course many of Ms. Clinton’s disagreeable personality traits are important factors in what kind of president she would have made. For instance, her demand to know why she was not fifty points ahead of Trump in the polls reminded voters of her overweening sense of entitlement. In Clinton’s mind, everything is always about her. Even Donald Trump, who does not lack a sense of his own importance, had the sense to tell voters “I’m with you.”

    Similarly, her boast that she planned to put a lot of coal miners out of work could only frighten people far removed from the coal industry but fearful of losing their own jobs and highlighted her disregard of ordinary Americans.

    Throughout her career, Madam Clinton repeatedly displayed blatant arrogance and callousness–characteristics that nobody should want in the leader of this or any other nation.

  25. b1daly

    From my understanding, Trump won on the same demographic patterns that have historically voted Republican. I fail to see how this represents some kind of desperate wail from some hypothetical, heretofore neglected, disenchanted populace.

    From my lay persons analysis, Trump won because he was the Republican candidate, and the Republicans have a very canny strategy to maximize their power at all levels of government, despite the fact that their traditional policy viewpoints are not that popular.

    Hillary was a historically weak candidate, this is true. That is probably the main reason Sanders got as close as he did to the nomination. It’s a big jump to assert he would have won the main election.

    Many commenters hear express nothing but contempt for the Democrats, and I assume they like the Republicans no more.

    That begs the question: who do they support? It’s hard for me to be sympathetic to this attitude of “holier than though”, progressive purist, whose viewpoints are so rigid and unrealistic that they are represented by almost zero popular support. No viable political party. Maybe a handful of progressive elected officials who pass this conceptual litmus test.

    I’ll continue to support the Democrats, with my vote at least, as long as they offer policy that I prefer, on the whole, to the Republicans. I don’t think it’s realistic to hope for some kind of leftist, revolutionary, change in consciousness in the American electorate. In a functioning society, change happens at the margins. That’s why Sanders, who is an actual, professional, politician, aligned himself with the Democrats. If he hadn’t done that, by running as an independent, his impact on the race would have been negligible.

    I don’t understand why some people are befuddled by the fact that a lot, the vast majority, have different opinions than themselves. People who are effective at governance and politics understand that this is the tricky field upon which they play.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You are choosing to ignore the size of the relevant populations. One of the reasons the Democrats were so convinced they’d win (aside from “scary Trump clown”) was that demographics were supposedly overwhelmingly in their favor. Just go read Nate Silver, or pretty much any supposed voting wonk up to maybe 2 weeks before the election, and even then they weren’t hedging their bets much.

      The point is that the turnout among Dem groups and Independents who would normally be Dem inclined was weak and that was due to antipathy towards Hillary.

      1. Lindsay Berge

        Weak turnout despite demographic advantages seems the overwhelming explanation from all I have read.
        In the classic Parkinson’s Law from 1958 there is a section on choosing candidates which contains (although perhaps dated by assumptions) the recommendation for resolving a tie-break by asking the nearest young lady “Which would you prefer?” not for random choice but to take into account “the quality of sex appeal”.
        One of the critical requirements of a candidate is something like charisma or like-ability or gravitas or credibility in the role. This is true also of salesmen and actors for similar reasons. Just because it is subjective and a matter of perception does not make it unimportant. In a popular election, the reverse is true.

  26. ckimball

    All these comments are true and then there was also a major disqualifier.
    Hillary was being investigated by the FBI.
    Wouldn’t this be a major impediment in a normal job interview at least
    until the condition is cleared?

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