In no particular order, here are some initial reflections on the lessons the Democrats ought to take on board when they conduct their post-mortem on Hillary Clinton’s flawed campaign for the American presidency.
* Don’t let your opponent dictate the agenda. Everyone knew exactly what Trump was promising to do if he became president. It is doubtful whether anyone could remember the policy planks Clinton was pushing other than helping women to “break through the glass ceiling”. Trump won because he constantly fed the media with the one thing it craved — the outrageous which fueled outrage. Clinton, in contrast, was extremely cautious and took no risks. Her tactic of not holding press conferences only succeeded in shutting her out of the campaign, whereas closer contact with the media have provided her with far more opportunity to push her policies. She needed to put some fizz in her campaign to get people excited about what she was going t9 do when she made it to the Oval Office. Confident Trump would self-destruct, she sat back and did not do enough to show how she would make a difference as yet another Democrat in the White House.
* Be cautious about how much you ridicule your opponent when someone like Trump makes it very tempting to do so. In doing so, you are ridiculing the people who are thinking of voting for that candidate. You risk making those people even more determined to do so. Hillary Clinton ‘s belittling of Trump during the televised debates between the pair might have gone down a treat with liberals. For those conservatives in Middle America who were leaning towards Trump, her performance in those debates exuded the very arrogance which made them so angry with the Washington establishment.
* Be careful who you get to do your dirty work. Both Barack Obama and Michelle Obama made cleverly-written and impassioned speeches during the campaign defending Clinton and attacking Trump. Those speeches had two effects. They made Clinton look as if she could not handle Trump on her own. It sent another message that a Clinton presidency would not be much different from an Obama one. That was a fatal image to project in what looked to be a “change” election. In that regard, a president whose power is about to fizzle out is best only seen but not heard.
* Ditch the practice of celebrity endorsements. Such mutual admiration societies are seen by voters for what they are — people who do not know each other using each other for self-promotion. But the major problem with such endorsements is that voters silently bristle at the implicit message that they are wanting if they fail to back the candidate being endorsed. People don’t like being told how to vote by someone enjoying their 15 minutes of fame and who probably understands less about politics than they do. Such endorsements look even more self-serving when there is a vast difference in age between the politician and the celebrity or artist endorsing him or her. There are not a lot of things which qualify as being more embarrassing than watching someone who is not far off turning 70 trying to look funky and dancing on stage as if Woodstock had only ended yesterday.
*It’s the economy, stupid. The maxim coined by James Carville, the campaign strategist behind Bill Clinton’s victory in the 1992 battle for the keys to the White House still remains as relevant as ever. In spite of Trump’s whale-sized ego, his narcissism, his racism, his misogyny, and his never having held public office at any level, he was the only candidate was on the same wavelength as the great bulk of middle America. He may have been an unreconstructed populist. But when he spoke he was saying what people wanted to hear. And what they wanted to hear was someone offering solutions to the loss of jobs and drop in real incomes. Those two things are fundamental when it comes to winning any election anywhere. Trump’s message of hope struck a real chord in the Rust Belt, where companies which were household names closed down, having been unable to compete with the cheap labour enjoyed by Asian conglomerates. In this part of America, globalisation meant only one thing — the death of small town America and inner-city urban decay. Those states which could no longer maintain even the pretence that they could satisfy their citizens’ aspirations to live the American Dream include Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. Trump’s wins in those states were crucial in his securing the presidency.
* Never take for granted those who have supported your party through thick and thin. Wisconsin was considered by Hillary Clinton’s strategists to be so safe for the Democrats that she did not stump in the state during the whole campaign. There is no better measure than that of just how much the Democrats were out of touch with one of their traditional constituencies — white working-class males. They flocked to Trump. He was speaking their language. Clinton did not. A scathing critique by an anonymous Democrat contributor which appeared on Huffington Post after the election described Clinton as “card-carrying member of the global elite who helped usher in this era of inequality” and “who seems most at ease in a room of Goldman Sachs bankers”. The article went on to say her shortcomings had been obvious from the start to those who “bothered to open their eyes”.
The article went on to say the party had thrown its lot in with “the shiny world of corporate professionals, Wall Street financiers, and Silicon Valley gurus.”
* Note who is pulling in the punters. Early on in the primaries, foreign television crews regularly vox-popped people in the long queues waiting to get into Trump’s rallies. Those reporters wanted to know why those people were backing Trump. Fair enough. But they missed the real story. The men and women in those queues were almost all white and looked to be dressed by Walmart. They did not look or talk like people who spent much time thinking about politics or politicians. That they were prepared to spend time queuing up to see one in person, rather than staying home, was more than a hint that there was a seismic shift in American politics under way.