Donald Trump’s victory and some of the, yes, deplorable chants that accompanied it do not mean that a majority of Americans are irredeemable bigots (though too many indeed are). Plenty of Trump voters chose him, reluctantly, to be an agent of disruption, which they craved keenly enough to overlook the rest of him.
Democrats need to understand that, and they need to move past a complacency for which the Clintons bear considerable blame.
It’s hard to overestimate the couple’s stranglehold on the party — its think tanks, its operatives, its donors — for the last two decades. Most top Democrats had vested interests in the Clintons, and energy that went into supporting and defending them didn’t go into fresh ideas and fresh faces, who were shut out as the party cleared the decks anew for Hillary in 2016.
In thrall to the Clintons, Democrats ignored the copious, glaring signs of an electorate hankering for something new and different and instead took a next-in-line approach that stopped working awhile back. Just ask Mitt Romney and John McCain and John Kerry and Al Gore and Bob Dole. They’re the five major-party nominees before her who lost, and each was someone who, like her, was more due than dazzling.
After Election Day, one Clinton-weary Democratic insider told me: “I’m obviously not happy and I hate to admit this, but a part of me feels liberated. If she’d won, we’d already be talking about Chelsea’s first campaign. Now we can do what we really need to and start over.”
Obama, too, contributed to the party’s marginalization. While he threw himself into Hillary Clinton’s campaign, he was, for much of his presidency, politically selfish, devoting less thought and time to the cultivation of the party than he could — and should — have. By design, his brand was not its. Small wonder, then, that its fate diverged from his.
He anointed Clinton over Joe Biden, though Biden had more charisma and a better connection with the white voters who ultimately supported Trump. Had Biden been the nominee, he probably would have won the Electoral College as well as the popular vote (which Clinton indeed got).
And had Bernie Sanders been? Michael Bloomberg would almost certainly have jumped into the fray, sensing unoccupied territory in the political center, and an infinitely saner and more capable billionaire might well be our president-elect.
Frank Bruni, “The Democrats Screwed Up”, The New York Times (13 November 2016), SR3.