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Why Did Hillary Clinton Lose a Won Race? (updated w/information from recent analysis)

Updated on August 12, 2018
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ME has spent most of his retirement from service to the United States studying, thinking, and writing about the country he served.


Hillary Clinton was supposed to have finally "shattered" the glass ceiling to the top job in America, the presidency. The word also describes how Hillary felt early in the morning of Nov 9, 2016, when Ms. Clinton finally realized she had lost her final quest. Shattered is also the name of the book written by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes - a book I just finished, almost two years from Clinton's historic, and for most of America, tragic loss. While not much of a palliative, Hillary Clinton still has the honor of being the first woman nominated by a major political party to be President of the United States. It will be left to another woman to shatter that final glass ceiling.

What did I learn from Shattered? Not much and a lot. My basic conclusions I came to eighteen months ago when I first wrote this Hub. What Shattered, and the march of time, did was offer much insight into what happened behind the scenes both within the campaign and external to the election (Russia and Comey).

In a nutshell, which I expand on in the main article, is Hillary Clinton lost for three substantial reasons;1 1) her campaign and its strategy, 2) FBI Director James Comey's mishandling of his investigation into her email server, and 3) the Russian massive misinformation campaign. The detail that Shattered brings to the table is Hillary's management style, the strategies used to got votes, the terrible infighting that distracted everybody from the main goal of electing their boss.

Two things struck me as having a particularly detrimental impact on the effectiveness of the Clinton campaign. One was her allowing, even encouraging, a sort of multi-level management style (which means no one is in charge) and the other was to mimic President Obama's scientific approach to measuring voter turnout and inclinations.

Because she had so many people giving her advice and arguing about how to run her campaign they could never figure out why they couldn't connect with working-class white males, the demographic that use to be the backbone of the Democratic Party and now are flocking to Donald Trump's message of fear.

1 I go into much more detail regarding other factors I think influenced the results.


Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign
Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign
An inside look at the dynamics of a campaign that history said was an easy win for the first woman nominated by a major political party to be President of the United States. But, beyond all reason, she lost! Why?


IT IS ONLY A MONTH AND A HALF SINCE CLINTON LOST TO TRUMP, but a lot has been learned about what happened. As I see it, there are four main reasons emerging.

Supporting Roles:

  • FBI Director Comey's letter to Congress reopening the Clinton email server investigation just days before the election and then reporting they found nothing a few days later. Unfortunately, the tone has been set and now it is becoming evident the FBI might not have even had probable cause to start it up again in the first place.
  • Only Donald Trump and his supporters disagree with the intelligence community's assessment that Vladimir Putin played a significant role in a year long disinformation campaign to sway the election to Trump.
  • The Democratic National Committee (DNC) lost its way. Dr. Howard Dean and built one of the most efficient and effective infrastructures in all 50 states, including very Red ones, It was responsible for President Obama's victory in 2008 against all odds. After Dean left, the DNC let this powerful organization atrophy to the point that they paid the price in 2010, 2014, and the ultimate price in 2016. Had Dean's efforts been maintained, Hillary Clinton would not have lost Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Dean didn't forget the blue-collar worked, the DNC did.

The Starring Role: Hillary Clinton

As will be expanded on below, Hillary Clinton lost her own race by not reading the tea leaves properly, not learning how to campaign, not meeting the email server scandal head-on, and finally, like the DNC, ignoring the white working class.and banking on minority and woman turn-out to carry the day.

It wasn't like the people didn't want her, she clobbered Donald Trump in the popular vote by receiving almost 3 million more votes than he did. But they don't count, the electoral college did and she didn't watch her back. I would argue that if any one of those four factors was missing, Hillary Clinton would be President today.

Former First Lady, Senator from New York, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Former First Lady, Senator from New York, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton | Source

What Was Behind the Biggest Upset in US Political History?

NOBODY, INCLUDING YOURS TRULY, AND I MEAN NOBODY, not the pollsters and pundits (save for the LA Times/USC poll), not the Democrats, not the GOP, not the Trump camp, and probably not even Trump, given his demeanor at the end, that that this would be the outcome. Even more stupendous was the degree of Trump's win ... he mauled her. To some degree, Clinton has only herself and her campaign staff to blame

What happened? Angry white Americans is what happened. An anger so large that it blinded otherwise intelligent person to make an emotional choice regardless of Trump's proven lack of the suitability of their hero to be president. His suitability is almost zero and Clinton was right, he has exhibited the lack of temperament for the job and has bragged about not knowing what he is doing.

Missing this part of the electorate was the major reason Donald Trump whupped Hillary Clinton at the polls.

Hillary and the Clinton Campaign Were There Own Worst Enemy

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM FBI DIRECTOR COMEY. Even so, Clinton could have one but for a series of bad decisions within her own campaign and the interference of FBI Director Comey. Here are some other factors;

  • The Drumbeat of Wikileaks Set the Tone - While there was never, ever any truly damaging information in Wikileaks, like an email from her server, the constant drumbeat of their release had a cumulative negative influence. One Clinton could do nothing about. They ultimately worked as Julian Assage intended, he got his revenge.
  • Not Watching Her Back - She should never have lost Wisconsin, and, most likely, Michigan, both solid blue states. She felt they were safe and spent very little of her huge war chest on them. She didn't learn from her defeats to Bernie Sanders.
  • She Ignored the Rural Areas - She should have not lost Pennsylvania either. Again like with Bernie, she focused on minorities and women in Philadelphia and surrounding areas to the excluding of the rest of the State.. Why go into solid red areas? To peel off some votes, mainly women. If she could have peeled off just 160 in each of the counties, she would have won. Clinton certainly should have gone into at least Biden's home county.
  • She was Too Defensive (though she had every right to be) - Even though it goes against the political instinct of ANY politician, Clinton should have come out with, at the get-go, the message she finally settled on regarding her email server. She didn't and it only got worse from there.
  • FBI Director Comey Did Hurt Her - Whether intentional or not, the note he sent to Congress 11 days before the election about Clinton's server was, if not criminal in itself, beyond stupid and irresponsible. y and without good reason released the not about the Anthony Weiner emails to Congress, 11 days before the election, there was an immediate narrowing of the polls. Clinton never recovered from that loss.
  • The Blacks Did Not Turn Out for Her - Honestly, I don't know what else she could have done to get them enthusiastic; maybe have President and Michele Obama;start sooner. Their message could not have been more elegant and persuasive. But it wasn't enough and Clinton didn't even come close to Obama's numbers. Blacks will rue their lack of enthusiasm. After Trump and the far-Right Supreme Court is done with them ... maybe next time ... assuming they can vote at all.
  • The Latinos Did Not Turn Out For Her - This in spite of a huge outreach effort by the Hispanic leaders, it was like she didn't talk to them at all and they don't care what Trump and the Supreme Court are going to do to them. Trump did better with Latinos than Romney did in 2012.
  • She Focused on the Young People Too Late - Clinton, near the end of her campaign, began focusing on young people, but to no avail. She did much worse with this demographic than Obama did in 2008.
  • "Deplorables", While Right, was Wrong - I think Clinton's statement about "deplorables" even though surveys back her up, went a long way toward solidifying the anti-Clinton Vote
  • Racism, and to Some Extent Sexism Played a Role - Although it is political incorrect (from the Right's perspective) to say, the sad fact is, for 75% of America's history, if you start from 1700, America has been an extremely racist/sexist nation. It wasn't until 1964 did the legal vestiges, nationally, disappear and since the 1980s, they have been creeping back again; in many Western and Southern States, there has been constant push back. The Clinton team didn't understand this and, consequently, didn't prepare for it.
  • The Hillary Clinton Factor - Clinton, from a campaign for President view, was often her own worse enemy; and she knew it; she joked about it sometime. But, she didn't or couldn't change her approach to the public and the media.
  • Finally, The Faux Clinton Foundation Scandal - Politics as usual was turned into an image killing tsunami against HRC. The optics, in my opinion, were handled very badly. But again, Hillary and her people were too close to the issue to see what the problem really was and didn't correct for it. with something that was all smoke-and-mirrors on Trump's part and never had any meat to it. If the supposed "pay-to-play" was significant and should send her to jail, then find room for almost every politician from city, state, and federal governments. The kind of thing Trump supporters found so horrible is a way of life in politics AND business.

Donald Trump and His Supporters Were Not the Problem

IT WAS HOW SHE PERCEIVED AND REACTED TO THEIR BEHAVIOR AND THREAT, that was. Before going further, please know that I write the following as a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton, I always have been and always will be. That said she needs to look to herself and her team to find the real reason she let the election slip through her fingers. While Comey had his part as did her troubles with her email server and the Clinton Foundation and Wikileaks, it was how she did, didn't, or couldn't respond to them that cost her the election.

There is no question that Trump and his followers knew no moral or ethical boundary or, for that matter, any feeling of guilt in their historic use of lies, hyperbole, distortions, misrepresentation, and an almost total aversion to anything truthful in their assault on Hilary Clinton. Its was probably more effective in getting his followers to go out and vote than changing anybody's mind. He played to every fear the white working class has about race, income, and a changing world; that was his job.

Clinton's ad campaign, in normal times, would have been extremely effective by using Trump's own vile words against him; she needed no original content of her own for the negative part of her campaign. The problem she fell victim to by not noticing, was Nobody Cared!!! Nobody cared about about policy or the lack there of; Trump could have been Hitler, and nobody would have cared (he has most of Hitler's traits, btw.)

The white working class had bought into 8 horrible years of a professionally produced, Joseph Goebbels-style propaganda effort by the GOP and Trump. And they were angry ... in spite of all the evidence to the contrary; they simply didn't give a damn what the truth was, and loudly repeated the lies. And Clinton didn't notice.

Or if she (meaning her and her team) did notice, they made bad choices on how to respond. They responded with the Truth ,,, Trumps own words. But they thought they were dealing with rational people; they weren't. Instead they were dealing with very emotional people who felt left out and wanted to make somebody pay for their bad feeling. She forgot that emotional people, logic (her forte) means nothing. She should have designed her campaign address that emotion. But she didn't and hear we are, on the precipice of having Caesar fiddling while America burns; unless Trump can change his spots..

Hillary Clinton's Concession Speech

The Forgotten

ALL CLINTON HAD TO DO WAS WIN TWO VERY BLUE STATES, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The problem is, of course, she didn't (even though she might approach beating Trump by 3 million popular votes, it doesn't matter). In my opinion, as well as most others now pontificating on this, she forgot that there more than women and minorities living in the big cities and there was many more other people living in the suburbs and rural areas. She did this with Bernie Sanders which is why he did so well; she didn't learn her lesson, obviously.

It wasn't her platform. Between the policy parts of her speeches and her website there was plenty of detailed policy to find; all you had to do was listen and look. Her campaign was, however, devoid of ideas on how to translate in such a way to catch the attention of the white working class; it needed to be translated in a way they could remember.

Both she and Bernie had many wonderful ideas on how to fight income inequality (probably the greatest thing on these voters minds), racism, terrorism, foreign affairs and the like. They did, very good ones in fact. The difference between the two is that Bernie knew how to talk to the people at the center of Trump's base (but not his extremists hangers-on). Hillary, on the other hand, obviously did not. Bernie used hard hitting emotional, yet not hateful, one-liners that could be understood while Hillary stuck to trying to explain complex policy that went above many people's heads.

Hillary Clinton is a policy wonk which is her greatest strength AND her greatest weakness. She knew the details of issues inside and out but unfortunately that knowledge does not translate into simple one-liners and sound bites that people can understand; that is impossible to do with complex topics unless you are a very accomplished speaker. Further, it is clear, most Americans do not want details, it bores them1. They do like Trumps type of histrionics however. Regardless of what he said, they bought into it hook, line, and sinker. Unfortunately for Hillary Clinton, she is one of the worst campaigners in American politics. She didn't have to be that way; she isn't that way one-on-one, I am told. But she and her staff did not know how to do what Bernie did. They failed, even to my accepting eyes, to get the words right, they couldn't even get the cadence of her speech right.

Trump, on the other hand, had no platform at all and few non-general ideas other than what came to mind the moment he opened his mouth, but nobody cared. They wanted to hear his insulting, inflammatory rhetoric that spoke directly to their fears about race (Black Lives Matter), terrorism (Islamophobia), the perceived lack of jobs (hasn't been true for awhile). The males ignored his misogyny because, down deep, many American males (and some females I have found) think women have over stepped their bounds; that has been our history. This is not said, except by Trump, but it is felt; I see and hear it all around me in my own part of rural Florida. Trump's talk about sexually abusing women simply didn't shock much of the nation as the Hillary Camp thought it would. Those women who were going to vote for her still did and those who weren't going to thought it was all lies and overblown.

Knowing she had a weakness with these mostly rural, hard working white people why didn't she dive deep into their territory? Why did she ignore Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania's interior? Granted, she might not have won even one of those precincts, but she might not have lost so badly in the them. Donald Trump understood this and capitalized on it ... BIG TIME, even though his tactics were despicable.

Her "basket of deplorables" actually does exist, sadly, in America; and in large numbers. Instead of ignoring them, as she did, why didn't she try to embrace the few that might be able to be reached; her campaign had lots of money to spend; they just needed a new approach. It would only have taken a few in each precinct. Instead, she focused on the women, blacks, and Latinos where polling was shown early enough to do something about it that they weren't going to come out in Obama-size numbers. Even though Bernie Sanders did his level best to get the young people to come out and vote for her, a surrogate wasn't enough; she should have personally started much sooner in the campaign. Using President and Michele Obama was brilliant, but too little too late to get the momentum going among blacks even though they made block-buster performances.

She has proven herself a very adaptable women, but one thing that needed improving the most was her speaking style. Her emphasis were in the wrong place and, as I said before, her cadence was distracting. For example, at the end of the campaign she was tying hard to get people out to vote. She raised her voice and tone as she went leading up to a crescendo. But then at the peak, instead of finishing off forcefully, she dropped her voice, lowered the pitch, and finished with three weak words "on November 8th". Granted, she did increase the pitch and volume, but not to the level where she started.

What is done is done, unfortunately, but it does seem a direction which the leadership of the Democratic seems to be drifting. If they are going to want to win elections, up and down ballot, then they are going to do their own "postmortem" to determine what went wrong.

1 Only 10% of American actually "likes" that kind of stuff, and she is one of them while Trump is not. Another, 30% MIGHT want to listen to the detail; Trump isn't one of these either. That leaves at least 60% of the American population who either doesn't care, because it bores them, or are not wired to understand the details (like I am not wired to play the piano ... or flute apparently).

January 2017 Polling Suggests Why Clinton Lost a Won Race

The "Forgotten" are starting to explain why they either voted for Trump (white working class) or didn't vote at all (minorities). PACs that support Democratic candidates began conducting polls and focus groups to see what when wrong. The results, of course, aren't that surprising to those outside the Clinton camp.

The research looked at two groups of voters who voted for President Obama in 2012. One was Obama-Trump voters and the other were Obama voters who simply didn't vote (drop-off voters). They surveyed voters nationally as well as in Michigan and Wisconsin, two very Blue states that wen Red. Here is what they found:

  • Bottom line - An overwhelming number of Obama-Trump voters felt the Democrats, as represented by Clinton, favored the wealthy in their economic policy. They did not feel that way about Donald Trump, specifically.
  • The Clinton message, even with the help of President Obama, did not resonate with Obama voters who did not vote in 2016; even though this group was very anti-Trump
  • Many of the Obama-Trump voters feel they are economically losing ground and are skeptical of Democratic solutions to their problems.

Some of the findings are:

  • 81 percent of Obama-Trump voters said their incomes are falling behind the cost of living or is merely keeping pace with the cost of living.
  • 30 percent of Obama-Trump voters votes were anti-Clinton votes. This group would have been susceptible to propaganda from Vladimir Putin and FBI Director Comey late announcement that the Clinton was reopened.
  • 42 percent of Obama-Trump voters said congressional Democrats' economic policy favors the wealthy while only 21 percent said the same about Trump. 40 percent said the same of congressional Republicans.
  • A total of 77% Obama-Trump voters said Trump’s policies will favor some mix of all other classes (middle class, poor, all equally), while a total of 58 percent said that about congressional Democrats
  • 92% of drop-off voters said they are worse off or the same economically
  • While Democrats have a perceived "Wall Street Problem" with the public, the fact is polls show Democrats favor far more in the way of Wall Street accountability and oversight than Republicans do.
  • The polling also shows that, among the Obama-Trump voters, large percentages of the more cautious supporters of Trump are concerned that he will go through with deep cuts to social programs and the repeal of Obamacare.

The above suggests several things to me when viewed in the contest of Sen Sanders surprising showing and upset victories in the states which Trump took away from the Democrats. If ????? had conducted this poll after Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination to determine why Sanders did so well, it is my believe they would have come up with the same results. Either they didn't or they did and the Clinton campaign blew off the results. And because they were unaware of the feelings of those Obama-Trump cohort or the Drop-offs, they didn't change their approach to conducting the general election.

Following from that major failure, she set herself up for what was to come next. With everything we know, Clinton should have had an easy victory. Instead her and the DNC screw-ups it made it a very tight race in states where it should not have been. That, therefore, set the stage for Comey's decision to make public a couple of weeks before the election that he was reopening the Clinton investigation1 and for the Putin disinformation campaign to have a real impact on the outcome by setting the very negative tone about Clinton.

1 Immediately after Comey's announcement, I saw a distinct move away from Clinton in critical states.

© 2016 Scott Belford


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