The latest Democratic autopsy indicates that Clinton lost primarily because large numbers of Obama voters defected to Trump. This is good news for our politics.
In their new book Shattered, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes described a Clinton campaign that favored mobilization over persuasion. Campaign chief Robby Mook believed that attempts at persuasion were generally futile and inefficient even when possible. Better just to crank out the people who already strongly support you.
The downside of such a strategy is that it can be an excuse for staying in your comfort zone. You just say the things you are used to saying to people who already agree. Everyone else doesn’t matter. It is good that the comparatively underfunded — and allegedly amateurish — Trump campaign won by doing exactly the kind of persuasion that the Clintonites believed was either doomed or impossibly expensive. This isn’t just a Trump story. This gives hope to people of all political persuasions.
I think that the idea of staying in a comfort zone is key to many of the Clinton campaign’s decisions. To the extent that they had a persuasion strategy, it was to win over professionals with social liberalism and to mobilize non-whites by arguing against border walls, deportation, and any kind of immigration enforcement.
This strategy was a bit disappointing. It turned out that supporting government-subsidized, partial-birth abortion was not the best way to maximize potential gains among college educated Republican-leaners. It turned out that all the talk of amnesty didn’t allow her to match Obama’s performance among non-whites.
And that was with targeted groups. The Clinton campaign had little to say to the white, wage-earning woman who didn’t particularly care if the presidential glass ceiling was broken by Hillary Clinton or some other woman in 2020 or 2024.
The irony is that many of the Obama voters who switched to Trump are (as Henry Olsen has pointed out) secular and moderate to liberal on social policy. They just don’t vote on those issues. Those voters could listen to Clinton speeches and know that they were a low priority — well behind amnesty and who can use what bathroom. And that was when Clinton wasn’t explaining how she was going to put them out of the best-paying jobs in their communities.
We should also consider that the Clintonites (with the exception of Bill) didn’t want to reach out to those Trump-curious Obama voters. Reaching them might have involved concessions — on trade, immigration, or energy policy — that the Clintonites were not willing to make.
But that doesn’t explain all of it. Obama was for free trade, amnesty, and cap-and-trade, and he still did much better among these voters than did Clinton. After the election, Obama pointed out that his margins were better among these voters just because he showed up and listened and made his case. Mook argues that he kept Clinton away from these voters because the more they saw her, the less they liked her.
That gets to the weird ethnic and class politics of all this. She was a wealthy white woman. If Clinton had spent more time in counties that were heavily populated with white wage earners, she would have been taking the risk that some (probably white) graduate of an elite liberal-arts college would write a viral post about how Clinton had sold out women (not white wage-earning women but, you know, real women), African Americans, and Hispanics in order to win a few more votes from the deplorables of Carbon County, Pa.
Obama was in a stronger position to reach out to white working-class swing voters partly because, as the first African-American Democratic presidential nominee, he was less vulnerable to those kinds of intra-Left status games from the trust-fund snotnoses.
Some of these observations apply not just to the Democrats. In the 2016 cycle, the ultimate example of a candidate who was all about mobilization over persuasion was Ted Cruz.