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Commentary: How It Went Downhill For Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton gives her concession speech on Wednesday, Nov. 9, as her husband, former President Bill Clinton, applauds behind her. (Matt Rourke/AP)
Hillary Clinton gives her concession speech on Wednesday, Nov. 9, as her husband, former President Bill Clinton, applauds behind her. (Matt Rourke/AP)
This article is more than 6 years old.

Let me count the ways the campaign of Hillary Clinton was taken down or collapsed of its own incompetence.

FBI Director James Comey destroyed Clinton’s momentum just 11 days before the election, claiming the emails of disgraced ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner “might” be pertinent to the closed investigation on Clinton. His “nevermind” several days later was ignored or wryly dismissed by the press, which for almost a year treated Clinton’s email server as a fatal character flaw.

The WikiLeaks disclosures, engineered by Julian Assange, with an assist from Russian sources that probably were at least blessed by Trump pal President Vladimir Putin. The never-ending email leaks were Assange’s revenge for Clinton’s attacking him for his reckless disregard of U.S. national security secrets. Assange’s leaks knee-capped Clinton every month. Meanwhile, Trump University, his boasting of sexual abuse on Access Hollywood, his documented falsehoods and pants-on-fire lies were treated as Trump-being-Trump by the news media. The non-partisan PolitiFact found 72 percent of Clinton’s claims to be true, while Trump’s were true just 14 percent of the time; Clinton got a Pants-on-Fire rating for only 7 percent of claims, while Trump did for 57 percent.

The Clinton candidacy lacked an urgent rationale. “Stronger Together” was no match for "Build a Wall," "Ban Muslims," "Bring Back Jobs," "Beef Up The Military" and "Make America..." (you know the rest).

Endless descriptions by every member of the news media every day of both candidates as highly disliked, minimized the multitude and severity of Trump’s egregious sins and misbehaviors, making them no more contemptible than Clinton’s emails.

Cable TV, especially CNN, turned on their cameras at Trump rallies and walked away while he spewed lies and attacks without editorial comment. The president of CNN, Jeff Zucker, confessed, “We shouldn’t have put on as many [Trump] rallies as we did.”

The refusal or inability of mainstream media to reveal Trump's falsehoods, distortions, racism, misogyny, sexual criminal conduct or just plain ignorance made those tantalized by Trump feel like there was no disgrace in what The Donald was putting out there. “They’re both bad,” voters were heard saying over and over.

Choosing Sen. Tim Kaine, a white D.C. insider, instead of a Hispanic for VP, helped her carry Virginia, but generated no intensity of support from Hispanics, who were targets of Trump's attacks and should've been Clinton's answer to President Obama's African-Americans. She got 65 percent of the Latino vote, which is OK until you learn that Obama got 71 percent in 2012.

Other mistakes: Using Facebook and Twitter, not to identify supporters, but to ask supporters almost daily for money while raising millions from the super-rich; failure to pick one or two policies where she disagreed with Obama; the arrival of higher health insurance premiums two weeks before the election; the reckless comments of one-time First Husband-in-Waiting Bill Clinton, whose careless mouth deepened his wife’s troubles, especially agreeing with GOP critics on Obamacare; and the option for voters to throw away their votes on Libertarian Gary Johnson and the Green Party's Jill Stein.

Trump feasted on the myths and cliches from America’s dark side: Bad guys attack the U.S.? Nuke 'em. Jobs going to Mexico? Bring 'em back. Women too pushy or standoffish? Grab 'em by the crotch. Too many foreigners? Build a wall, deport all the illegals. Crime too high? Black neighborhoods are full of lousy murderers and drug dealers. Climate change? C’mon, the weather changes all the time. Nuclear weapons? Let’s fire a small nuclear rocket at North Korea. ISIS? “I know more about ISIS than the generals.” I'll get rid of all of ‘em and fast! Trade deals? Terrible, tear 'em up and write ones that give us the advantage. Taxes? Cut 'em for rich guys and they create jobs for everyone. Schools suck? Get rid of Common Core. It’s all so simple -- just like you hear in bars from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Butler, Pennsylvania, to Detroit, Michigan, where I grew up.

Trump offered easy answers, Clinton gave us sermons about being good and working together.

We may never know how many votes Johnson and Stein siphoned away.

Clinton's message was what Hollywood calls "low concept," hard to grasp, subtle. (Low concept movies: "Fargo," "The Big Lebowski.") Trump's was "high concept," easy to understand, blunt. (High concept movies: "Ghostbusters," "Jaws.")

Her campaign ignored the plight of so-called displaced workers or offered members of unions fair wages and “good working conditions,” an irrelevant promise when you’re out of work. She never understood the 50-year-old breadwinner who only wanted a job with wages to support his family. Blue-collar union workers and small town citizens have not been comfortable with the Democratic Party since Vietnam, Martin Luther King, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights and Ronald Reagan. Clinton gave them no assurance, while Trump boasted, “I am your voice.”

"Never Trump," was an empty GOP slogan. Mitt Romney disappeared after his speech in May; the Bush family sat it out; Speaker Paul Ryan would disagree one day, then hide for months; Republicans like Gov. Charlie Baker didn’t have the stomach to urge a strategic vote for Clinton.

She could never decide how to play the First Woman. One day she’d make it her badge of courage, the next she’d act like it should never be uttered in public.

As every pundit everywhere said the night of Nov. 8, voters wanted change and Clinton didn’t offer enough of it. She ran on her experience, her credentials. Many analysts, including this one, said she was the most qualified candidate ever to run, ignoring the jobs George H.W. Bush had held. Voters heard: She’s the most Washington-centric, establishment candidate in the race, a guest speaker to Wall Street where she bagged hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.

Lots of things went bad for Hillary Clinton — some of her campaign’s own doing, some she could do nothing about. But one of the biggest was a belief that when the polls tightened, an aggressive voter identification and Get Out The Vote operation could make up for any deficits of support in key states, like Michigan, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania. Alas, there’s no message like a message.


Dan Payne Democratic Political Analyst
Dan Payne is a Democratic political analyst for WBUR.



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