Politics & Policy

Stop Blaming Hillary Clinton’s Loss on Racism

Hillary Clinton delivers her concession speech in New York, November 9, 2016. (Reuters photo: Carlos Barria)
Many Obama voters switched to Trump because they were disappointed in the former’s policies.

Only in the fever swamp imagination of the race-obsessed Left can a white man beat a white woman and the reason is racism. Yet that is emerging for some as the explanation for 2016. The campaign wasn’t about Obama’s policies, or Hillary’s corruption, or Trump’s massive celebrity. It wasn’t about the threat of Islamic terror or the declining prospects of the white working class. It was about white supremacy.

How do we know? Well, according to the Huffington Post, liberal icon Ta-Nehisi Coates explained it “perfectly” to The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah. Here’s the exchange:

If I have to jump six feet to get the same thing that you have to jump two feet for ― that’s how racism works.

To be president, [Obama] had to be scholarly, intelligent, president of the Harvard Law Review, the product of some of our greatest educational institutions, capable of talking to two different worlds. . . . Donald Trump had to be rich and white. That was it. That’s the difference.

This is pure, unadulterated nonsense. There’s no better word for it. For proof, look no further than Barack Obama’s two presidential campaigns. Can Coates look America in the face and say that Obama had to jump higher than John McCain to win the presidency? McCain was shot down over North Vietnam, badly wounded, tortured in enemy prison camps, and put in solitary confinement for two years. Yet he still refused an offer of early release unless every person captured before him was released as well. McCain then went on to serve in the House and then, for two decades, in the Senate before he ran for president against a first-term senator barely removed from the Illinois legislature. But, yeah, Obama had to do more.

Mitt Romney can’t match John McCain’s record of public service, but his pre-campaign biography was formidable as well: An elite education (like Obama’s), decades of near-legendary business success (which included turning around multiple companies), a successful term as governor, and saving the Salt Lake City Olympics gave him a presidential résumé far superior to Obama’s pre-election record. But Obama won, handily.

Don’t forget that Clinton was rich and white also. And a former senator. And a former secretary of state. And a former first lady. So, no, you don’t just have to be rich and white to win the presidency.

Coates’s Daily Show appearance comes on the heels of his extended valentine to Obama in The Atlantic, where he made the same point — but only stronger:

Pointing to citizens who voted for both Obama and Trump does not disprove racism; it evinces it. To secure the White House, Obama needed to be a Harvard-trained lawyer with a decade of political experience and an incredible gift for speaking to cross sections of the country; Donald Trump needed only money and white bluster.

And lest anyone think that Coates is all on his own, he’s actually more moderate than some. In Slate, Jamelle Bouie called Donald Trump and Dylann Roof “brothers in white resentment” and declared that the “ideas that radicalized” a racist mass murderer will now “thrive from the Oval Office.” With both Bouie and and Coates, the argument is that in rejecting Hillary Clinton, America somehow rejected not Obama’s policies but Obama’s blackness.

Again, this is total nonsense. Obama is leaving office with his highest approval ratings since his reelection. He’s far more popular than Trump. And Trump’s own electoral coalition is less white and more diverse than Mitt Romney’s. Clinton got a smaller share of the black and Hispanic vote than Obama did in 2008 and 2012. And, of course, as Coates notes and dismisses, Trump won in part because people who voted for Obama also voted for Trump. That’s not racism. It’s disappointment with failed policies.

Obama is leaving office with his highest approval ratings since his reelection.

There are indeed vicious alt-right racists who support Trump. They’ve threatened journalists, invaded comment boards, and — helped by Russian accounts — dominated Twitter timelines. While these people should be condemned, opposed, shunned, and prosecuted (when their harassment becomes truly threatening), they are a microscopic constituency in American politics. Their conventions are incapable of filling a decent-sized conference room.

Trump got more than 62 million votes, and there is simply no evidence that any meaningful number of his voters were influenced by (or even knew the existence of) the alt-right. It’s grotesque that a man like Steve Bannon self-consciously gave them a platform, and it’s even worse that Trump still keeps him close. But the alt-right did not win the election for Trump. There’s no actual evidence that it was even a factor. Clinton likely got more votes from outright Communists than Trump did from bona fide members of the alt-right.

#related#Instead, there’s abundant evidence that he was facing a historically bad opponent. Voters didn’t trust Trump, but they also didn’t trust Clinton, and it’s stunning to consider how little effort she made (compared with Trump’s) to win the election. As Damon Linker noted in The Week, between the end of the Democratic convention and the first debate, she was “largely out of the public eye.” Unlike Obama, she didn’t even bother to seek Evangelical votes. Her campaign rejected calls for help when Michigan was slipping away. She was arrogant. She assumed she would win. Her aides popped champagne corks on Election Day. But, yeah, white supremacy.

It’s tempting to ignore Coates’s absurd argument (and Bouie’s even more absurd linkage of Trump to a mass murderer), but their ideas are heard in the halls of power and soon may harden into leftist conventional wisdom. This would be terrible for race relations and therefore terrible for a healthy republic. It further (and needlessly) polarizes an already divided nation. White people didn’t embrace racism. They rejected a Clinton. That’s a profound and meaningful distinction.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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