Most of what we read about the election of 2016 was untrue. Here are the most glaring of the election fables.
Hillary would have been better off politically to come clean long ago
We hear a few on the left lament Hillary’s two-year stubbornness in stonewalling, lying, and distorting the facts surrounding her unlawful use of a private e-mail server — as if her problems were largely a result of not being candid soon enough.
Had the president and the Democratic National Committee not intervened to massage the political climate and help to warp the primaries, or had Donna Brazile not continued to sabotage the sanctity of the debates, Hillary might well not have found herself on the eve of the election tied or ahead in the polls for the presidency. Had Bill Clinton not met Loretta Lynch on the tarmac, James Comey might well have acted earlier and with greater effect — and avoided his flip-flopping.
In other words, in all these cases of malfeasance, Clinton calculated quite correctly that Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the entire Obama administration, as well as the media and the liberal establishment, would rally to her side, even when it was evident that her denials were empty and her conduct ethically bankrupt and clearly illegal.
Lying paid off. It got Hillary this far; it could win her the presidency, and there is little likelihood in this world that she will pay a price — and some likelihood she will continue to benefit from smooth prevarication. Cosmic justice will come, as it always does, but probably in her dotage — or somewhere else.
The truth is that for all her campaign weaknesses (voice, demeanor, stamina, etc.), she remains an effective liar and cynically and correctly believes that she is largely immune from accountability — a fact borne out by the 2016 election.
‘They go high, we go low’
Clinton enjoys quoting the supposed hip ethical platitudes of Michelle Obama and, by association, her husband (of campaigning ever more nobly while Trump campaigns still more ignobly).
In fact, the Clinton campaign has matched all mud thrown by Trump, toss for toss — perhaps even more so, given its far greater cash reserves. This final week, she and the president of the United States were falsely alleging that Trump welcomed the official endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan — as if Trump had sat on a bench at a rally of the KKK the same way that Obama once had described himself as being mentored by the racist, anti-American, and anti-Semite Reverend “Audacity of Hope” Jeremiah Wright.
There was nothing “going high” about labeling millions as “deplorables” and not real Americans, any more than Obama took the high road when he gave his clinger speech, his “typical white person” speech, or his “get in their faces” and “bring a gun to a knife fight” riffs. Most recently, Obama was all but assuring that illegal aliens could vote without fear of legal consequences, once again fleshing out Trump’s rigged-election paranoia as not so paranoid.
Obamas have often gone low, Hillary goes low, Trump goes low — they all, by their very natures of being politicians, go low.
Michelle Obama in 2008 suggested that Hillary was unfit for the White House (“If you can’t run your own house, you can’t run the White House.”). She serially declared that she had never been proud of her country until her husband ran for president, that her country was “downright mean,” and that “they” were perpetually raising the bar on the one-percenter victimized Obamas. That may have been campaigning at some level, but it was certainly not going “high.”
In sum, the Obamas have often gone low, Hillary goes low, Trump goes low — they all, by their very natures of being politicians, go low. The only difference between them is that Trump has less often in hypocritical fashion bragged that he ever at all “goes high” — in the way that Hillary and the president now claim.
Clinton likely got debate questions in advance, without a peep of moral compunction over refusing such an unethical edge. Her team insulted Latinos and Catholics, and she predicated making lots of money by virtue of selling influence accruing from her public office. There was also nothing “high” in all that — any more than Obama’s own outright lying to the American people about the Affordable Care Act, or his insisting that he first learned of Hillary’s unlawful private e-mail domain in the news, or his administration’s use of the IRS to hound pre-reelection opponents.
Cruelty and coarseness are unattractive traits even in politicians, but they reek even worse when perfumed with sanctimony.
Trump’s crude past and present made him uniquely vulnerable to liberal attacks
To believe that, we would have to accept two premises. First, that a crude and vulgar Trump is cruder and more vulgar in matters of sex than, for example, were Presidents Kennedy and Clinton, both still worshiped by liberals as landmark presidents. Trump’s business deals are as questionable as the sources of the LBJ fortune, which bothered few in the media. Trump is Trump, with a personal life as checkered as Hillary’s but amplified by his money and the opportunities of gratification and crudity afforded in one’s Manhattan private life free of the worries of a discreet politician.
Second, ever since the ascendency of their “war room,” the Clinton-inspired Left has attacked the integrity and morality of all Republican presidential candidates: McCain was rendered a near-senile coot, confused about the extent of his wife’s wealth and the number of their estates. No finer man ran for president than Mitt Romney. And by November 2012 when he lost, he had been reduced to a bullying hazer in his teen-age years, a vulture capitalist, a heartless plutocrat who was rude to his garbage man, tortured dogs, had an elevator in his house, and provided horses and stables to his aristocratic wife. All were either lies or exaggerations or irrelevant and all insidiously cemented the picture of the gentlemanly Romney as a preppie, out-of-touch, old white-guy snob, and gratuitously cruel to the less fortunate.
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Trump was certainly more vulgar than either McCain or Romney, but what voters he lost owing to his crass candor he may well have gained back through his slash-and-burn, take-no-prisoners willingness to fight back against the liberal smear machine. We can envision what Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, or Ted Cruz would look like after six months of “going high” from the Clinton-campaign treatment.
It is a mistake to believe that any other candidate would have better dealt with the Clinton-Podesta hit teams; all we can assume is that most would have suffered far more nobly than Trump. It would be wonderful if a Republican candidate ran with Romney’s personal integrity, Rubio’s charisma, Walker’s hands-on experience, Cruz’s commitment to constitutional conservatism, and Trump’s energy, animal cunning, and ferocity, but unfortunately such multifaceted candidates are rare.
The campaign marked a new low
One does not have to go back to 18th- and 19th-century smear-mongering to see that the crude electioneering this year was not so unusual. In 1944, an ailing FDR accused his Republican opponent of wanting to replicate the very Fascism at home that Americans were defeating abroad. The existential cover-up of FDR’s terminal health in November 1944 made Hillary’s dodges about her conditions minor stuff. McGovern often likened Nixon to Hitler. The 1964 LBJ “daisy” ad (resurrected by Hillary Clinton) trafficked in the charge that Barry Goldwater — the World War II pilot — was an utter nut who would blow up the world with nuclear weapons. The year 1968 saw riot, assassination, and blood in the streets.
When the noble patrician George H. W. Bush and his good-ol’-boy henchman Lee Atwater got done with the gentlemanly Michael Dukakis in 1988, he was a water polluter, murderer-releasing, wannabe-tank-driving wimp — dirt matched by a Dukakis campaign manager, Donna Brazile, who stoked rumor-mongering that the family man Bush was a philandering hypocrite.
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When Bill Clinton’s hit team (fending off charges that he was a pro-Communist, marijuana-smoking draft dodger) finished with George H. W. Bush in 1992 (now without the services of the brilliantly demonic Atwater), the old combat fighter pilot was a wimp and near-planner of Iran-Contra — and likely to be indicted like his cronies such as the good but unfairly hounded Caspar Weinberger.
Again, spare us the sanctimony. Character assassination and cruelty have been trademarks of U.S. elections. In 1864, what Frémont, McClellan, and the Copperheads over the year said about Lincoln makes today’s disparagement seem tame. During that election year, newspaper grandee Horace Greeley flipped and flopped over the down-and-up Lincoln more than a Republican Never/Sometimes/Always Trumper up for reelection.
What was new in 2016 was not Hillary’s hit-team campaign (eerily reminiscent of Nixon’s 1972 CREEP operatives) or Trump’s “crooked Hillary” refrains but the social-media age of the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, and 24/7 cable news. For the first time, the electronic, lidless eye of millions hunted down race/class/gender politically incorrect “gaffes” to offer them up as a supposed window into a candidate’s dark soul.
There were no issues
The biggest myth of the election was that it was merely about who was worse between two unsavory candidates whose character flaws made issues irrelevant. The initial premise may be true that both were unattractive figures, but they certainly had quite different political agendas — a fact known to the voters.
On matters of Obamacare, fossil fuels, trade, the Supreme Court, abortion, illegal immigration, defense spending, the debt, taxes, regulation, and a host of other issues, Hillary, in her convenient hard-left remake, took an unapologetic hard-progressive stance. Donald Trump, in his latest incarnation, adopted positions mostly identical to those of most conservatives. Both were candid in their views about a future Supreme Court. Hillary would likely expand sanctuary cities; Trump would deny them federal funds. Hillary could not have been more antithetical to Trump on Obamacare. And on and on.
Clear choices on the issues in 2016 were far more distinct than in 1960, 1968, or 1992. Ironically, two unattractive candidates canceled each other out, and had the odd effect of turning attention to the Supreme Court or health care in a way not true of prior “nice” campaigns.Also in mythical fashion, perhaps a few Never Trumpers clung to a fantasy that the real Hillary was only playacting hard-left. Once safely elected, supposedly she would revert to centrist Bill Clinton themes of the 1990s, as she welcomed former “bipartisan” neo-cons back into her advisory circle and service as newly minted neo-liberals to follow Dean Acheson’s visions. And it was an even greater myth that Trump was going to revert to his 1980s libertine self and govern to the left of Obama.
Both ran on partisan, contrary agendas, and supporters of both were correct to see each as the opposite of the other.
The year 2016, for all its carnival barking, ended up as a clash of visions, and a fork in the American road.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals.