There have been enough post-mortems about the 2016 presidential election to make your head spin. Explanations for Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss to Donald Trump have been blamed on everything from Jim Comey to Russian interference. Many of the reasons given are intangible so there’s no way to know for sure. But the debate is never-ending.
If you remove emotion and politics from the equation, there is no doubt that Clinton had the better resume. She had been active in government for 20 years as first lady, U.S. senator and Secretary of State. She was clearly qualified in terms of experience. Trump, on the other hand, had no prior government service and gained fame as a real estate developer and reality show host.
So what gives?
One answer is that political outcomes aren’t always based on “experience.” For voters, their decisions are often more an emotional than a practical one. In 2016, people were fed up with politics as usual. Trump’s ability to appeal to voters was obvious from the way he took down 17 GOP primary opponents who all had more experience in politics than he did.
There were ominous signs for Clinton in the Democratic primary when Bernie Sanders made an impressive run even though he started out at 3 percent in the polls. It’s almost counter-intuitive to think that a 74-year-old, grandfatherly type candidate could have such mass appeal to younger voters, but his populist message connected. Sanders exposed Clinton to the fact that the general election would not be a smooth ride.
The best explanation I found for why Clinton lost is in a fascinating new book by Amy Chozick, “Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two President Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling.” It is part memoir and part campaign expose. Chozick is a New York Times writer who was assigned to cover Clinton back in 2007 and she is able to provide insight into Clinton’s personality and campaign style that is hard to find elsewhere.
From Chozick’s personal history one wonders why anyone would want to be a writer covering a national campaign, especially as a female journalist. You’re on duty 24/7. You have to travel constantly, stay at ratty motels, are constantly abused by male campaign staffers, ignored by the candidate, eat junk food, gain a ton of weight and get roasted by the most X-rated emails and texts imaginable. And, if you’re married, you’re either standing up or ignoring your spouse all the time.
What kind of life is that?
The only explanation is that journalists are caught up in their profession akin to drug addicts and politicians. They can’t live without that “high.” The “thrills” of covering a campaign are worth all the downsides that go with it. Chozick was getting beaten up on all sides whether they were Clinton, Sanders or Trump supporters. They all thought she was in the pocket of the others. Clinton hated the New York Times and wouldn’t give her the time of day.
Despite all that, Chozick had enough access to the Clinton campaign to see all its flaws. And she was not unsympathetic to them. But it didn’t make for a successful campaign. Clinton was instinctively distrustful of the press and not comfortable in public gatherings. Everything had to be scripted. And she relied on a campaign staff that believed in “metrics” and “statistical models” (whatever those mean) instead of retail politics.
The fact that Clinton took the Rust Belt states for granted (her “firewall”) and didn’t campaign there enough came back to bite her. Her campaign was sure she had those states (Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania) wrapped up. She even went to “red state” Arizona in the last week to campaign thinking the Rust Belt was safe.
Bill Clinton saw the need to campaign in the Rust Belt, but his wife’s campaign ignored him. He may have lacked common sense (his meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the Phoenix airport tarmac being Exhibit A) but he had great political instincts. Hillary apparently lacked both. Chozick’s description of election night was gut-wrenching for the Clintons and their supporters. They didn’t anticipate defeat.
What makes Chozick’s memoir so appealing is the personal touch. The reader really gets inside the campaign but also gets to know the author herself. There are always so many quirks that can affect the outcome of an election that it’s impossible to point to one specific cause. “Chasing Hillary” shows that campaigns and covering them are not fun but a great way to get to know the candidate. Chozick’s book is an insightful read.
“Stay Hidden,” by Paul Doiron, provides so many bizarre plot twists you can’t help but be drawn in. Doiron’s recurring character, game warden Mike Bowditch, is investigating a woman’s shooting apparently by a deer hunter. The hunter claims his innocence and the next day the woman herself appears alive and well. What’s going on? It’s much more complicated than we could ever imagine.
“The Comeback: Greg LeMond, the True King of American Cycling, and a Legendary Tour de France,” by Daniel De Vise, tries to set the record straight on who is the real American “hero” of bike racing. Back in 1986 LeMond stunned the world by becoming the first American to win the Tour de France and followed it up with a second title in 1989 after a near career-ending hunting accident. While Lance Armstrong got most of the acclaim as the greatest American cyclist ever before a doping scandal destroyed his legacy, De Vise tries to make sure that LeMond gets his due.
“My Journey Through Ellis Island,” by Lynda Arnez, provides an easy-to-read description of the port of entry for many U.S. immigrants. Learn what it was like for a young foreigner to get a taste of this country for the first time. This children’s book offers an entertaining perspective on one of America’s most historic landmarks.
Because of changes at The Cooperstown Crier, this will be my last edition of “From the Librarian.” It’s been a pleasure to write this column these past nine years, and I appreciate all the wonderful feedback I’ve received. In the future I will be writing a blog (simply called “Dave’s Blog”), which can be found at www.villagelibraryofcooperstown.org on the Village Library’s website.