An expanded version of this story appears at the Huffington Post.
“She was flawed.”
“She ignored the white working class.”
“It should have been Bernie.”
A PRELUDE TO A TRAGEDY
It has been approximately one month since voters took to the polls across America to elect our next commander in chief with a general consensus having pervaded the discourse that, love her or hate her, Hillary Clinton would become president. Her erstwhile opponent, Donald Trump, a reality television star viewed as crass and inept, having boasted about possibly sexually assaulting women in a now-infamous Access Hollywood tape, had all but forfeited the race.
In the weeks leading up to the election, Clinton exhibited powerful dominance over her Republican challenger that lead some to speculate that she was running up the score as her campaign expanded into typically red states like Texas and Arizona. Following resounding victories in the election season’s presidential debates, VOX Editor-in-Chief Ezra Klein proclaimed to the world that “Hillary Clinton’s 3 debate performances left the Trump campaign in ruins.” Her polling numbers indicated a landslide was imminent. Pundits speculated that Donald Trump’s path to 270 electoral votes was slim to non-existent.
On election day, news outlets blasted footage of Donald Trump, morose, defeated, slumping across the finish line in his hometown of New York, knowingly awaiting his fate. The night before, Clinton seemed to shake the earth with massive, unified rallies in Philadelphia and North Carolina, first with the Obamas and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, and the second with Lady Gaga, Bruce Springstein, and mass crowds of college students chanting “I believe that she will win!” well into the early hours of the morning. At 3:40 am, Clinton landed back home in Westchester, New York, where hordes of fans were lined up yet to wish her well and show their support.
The mood was electric.
Fast forward 24 hours. Stunned supporters, myself included, made their way home from the official Hillary for America election night party at the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, where Clinton did not make an appearance, leaving many to wonder if she planned to wait out the counts. It wasn’t until around 3:00 am, as my Bros4Hillary colleagues Rance Collins, Jason Murray, and I sat silently in the cab ride back to our apartment in Brooklyn, that the news alert flashed across my iPhone.
“Fuck,” I muttered. “She conceded.”
As the three of us burst into tears of grief and rage, our bewildered cab driver, quiet and stone-faced till that moment, shook his head and pondered just under his breath, “how could this happen?”
THE BLAME GAME
Just hours after the stunning upset that proclaimed Donald Trump president-elect, the vultures began to circle around the scene of Secretary Clinton’s political death. The body, so to speak, was not even cold yet. Senator Bernie Sanders, her democratic rival in the primary, who spent the tail-end of that campaign impugning Clinton’s integrity and questioning her qualifications to lead, hit the talk show circuit immediately. Despite having begrudgingly supported Clinton following his primary defeat, both at the Democratic National Convention and on the campaign trail through November, he seemed to almost gloat with a “told-ya-so” self-righteousness, openly implying that he should have been the nominee and offering prescriptions to the Democratic party.
“I’m deeply humiliated that the Democratic party cannot talk to [white working class people],” Sanders professed dramatically on CBS This Morning less than a week following the election. “I think that there needs to be a profound change in the way the Democratic Party does business. It is not good enough to have a liberal elite.”
Sanders, a lifelong independent who changed his registration status to democrat in order to run for the party’s nomination, reverted his status back to independent only days after the Democratic National Convention in July.
His online supporters reveled. “I think the DNC made a fatal mistake ganging up on him and being biased towards Hillary,” said one Facebook user. “Even now, after the Dems lost the election, he is still more popular in the news than Hillary is. As much as I’m nervous about Trump being president…I’m glad Hillary didn’t win only because her supporters made me want her to lose.”
The morbid pile-on continued for weeks. “She didn’t campaign hard enough in swing states.” “The DNC rigged the primary against Bernie Sanders! Karma’s a bitch!” “She lost the white working class.””She just wasn’t likable enough.” “She had no plan for the economy.” “Voters just didn’t want her.”
“She wrote off working class people,” said Zach Carter, Senior Political Economy Reporter for the Huffington Post, in his article “Why Hillary Clinton Lost.”
The problem with all of these analyses is that they are all painfully reductive, intellectually bankrupt, and such offensive displays of revisionist history that journalists who hock them should lose their jobs. These arguments are just. plain. wrong. Entertaining them without looking at the broader systemic failure at play is contributing to a pattern of failure by the media to fulfill their journalistic responsibility as editorial gatekeepers, an historic injustice against the most qualified candidate to ever run for the presidency and who won record-breaking votes, and a heinous narrative shift that holds us back from looking at, or solving, the real problem.
Hillary Clinton did not lose the 2016 presidential election. We did.
HILLARY CLINTON WON MORE VOTES. A LOT MORE.
Any and every discussion seeking to analyze why Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election MUST begin and end with the following as it’s central premise:
“Hillary Clinton won more votes than any other presidential candidate in history, second only to Obama, and she won the popular vote by 2.7 million.” (And she will likely surpass Obama’s 2012 total, for good measure.)
As of December 6th 2016, Hillary Clinton has won 65,526,371 votes nationwide for president, to Donald Trump’s 62,850,000 votes. In other words, Hillary Clinton, the first female major-party nominee for president in American history, won more votes than any white male to ever run for that office, ever, including her opponent, the man who would go on to become the president-elect.
THE SANDERS EFFECT
For posterity: Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.7 million votes, and defeated Bernie Sanders in the 2016 democratic primary with nearly 4 MILLION VOTES, an even broader margin than in the general election, and by about 1,000 delegates, a veritable landslide. The Sanders tribe who insist he would have fared better than Secretary Clinton still ignore the fact that Bernie Sanders was never even close to overcoming Clinton in the primary, and she might as well have danced circles around him.
As early as March, she pulled ahead with such a commanding lead that political insiders knew he had no chance of winning. Clinton quietly began implementing a general election strategy while publicly supporting the process, never once speaking ill of her opponent for wanting to see the process through to completion, something she herself had done in the 2008 democratic primary against then-Senator Barack Obama.
When she did it, however, she was at times within 100 delegates of overtaking Obama, and she went on to win the popular vote in the 2008 democratic primary. Still, in that primary, pundits said Clinton would never overcome Obama, despite a much smaller gap in delegates separating the two candidates.
Sanders knew this too, to be sure, but let his frustration, ambition, and contempt for his rival in the final months of the campaign get the better of him, lodging asinine allegations against the DNC of rigging (sound familiar?) and calling Clinton “unqualified,” knowing the harm that he could do to her with his impressionable and generally politically-inexperienced base. If Clinton were to even slightly suggest that she had won the primary, the response was a violent outcry. “Arrogant!” Sanders proclaimed. Whether Sanders believed he could make a legitimate play for super-delegates or wishful thinking that Clinton would be indicted for the fictitious criminal conduct he knew did not exist, he knew she had won the primary. But he fed his base the red meat. And they ate it up.
Soon enough the liberal progressive voter base supporting Sanders began to regurgitate the same right wing talking points and lies used to impugn Clinton’s integrity for decades. Once maligned for being a liberal harpy and socialist, Clinton was now subjected to the cruel injustice of having fellow progressives label her “too conservative,” a “war hawk,” an “imperialist.”
This of course was the same lot who believed it an omen of their candidate’s rightful claim to the presidency when a bird landed on his podium at a campaign event in Portland.
The Birdie Sanders phenomenon was unsurprising in an election season that seemed to view facts as a nuisance, as merely an inconvenient afterthought. When Clinton supporters grimaced at the Birdie Sanders memes, the Sanders faithful were outraged.
“Paid shill!” They cried. “HILLBOT!”
I, myself, have been accused numerous times over the past 16 months, along with Bros4Hillary, in the media and across social media, of being a paid subsidiary of the Clinton campaign or David Brock’s Correct the Record, something that is categorically false and easily discovered in a 20-second Google search.
A week before the election, I was caught completely off guard when a close friend, a fellow liberal, revealed that she refused to vote for Clinton. “She’s just corrupt. There’s too much evidence if you look out for it,” she stated, sending me this photograph to support her reasoning:
“She supports the KKK,” my friend said, stone-faced. This is an educated liberal minded millennial aged woman who lives in southern California.
The photo is, of course, of then-Senator Hillary Clinton sharing an embraced with the late democratic Senator from West Virginia, a beloved member of Congress who passed away in 2010 as the longest serving Congressman in history. Byrd and Clinton were colleagues when she won the New York Senate seat in 2000 through her departure of the Senate in 2008 to become Secretary of State. The photo was taken in 2004 and she rightfully praised him after he passed away in 2010 when she eulogized him.
The truth is: Senator Byrd was well-respected, a master parliamentarian, and Senator. People only getting involved with politics for 2016 may not know him, but many people above 30 do. And while he did join the KKK in the 1940s, he quit in 1952 and spent many decades of his adult life repenting and acknowledging it was wrong. The NAACP even MOURNED Byrd after he passed away. He had been out of the KKK for more than FIFTY YEARS when this photograph was taken.
This is just one of literally hundreds of lies that have been propagated about Clinton over the years and spread exponentially like wildfire. To spend the time to sit with each accusation, and dispel it point by point, with each person who consumed it would be nearly impossible. And I don’t totally blame my friend for believing it, although I still haven’t spoken to her since that day and for good measure I would expect every citizen to do their research before openly subscribing to this kind of bold-faced bullshit.
The truth is that “fake news,” as it has come to be known, is a major problem. And it has had an out-sized effect on our politics and our presidential election. It is not a new phenomenon, but it has reached fever pitch. And until legislation is passed that addresses the problem and the heads of every social media company implement policies to forbid them, this is going to continue meddle with free and fair elections, the very cornerstone of our democracy.
MAN…I FEEL LIKE A WOMAN
Democratic faithful thought by November that the damage done by Sanders’ hail-Mary strategy would soften and fade. A week before the election, “Benghazi” and “Hillary Clinton’s e-mails” were still ridiculous fodder being churned out by the mainstream media and consumed ravenously by the electorate. The media failed time and time again to call these stories for what they were. Outright lies.
Some argue, and I subscribe to the notion, that the media failed to report on false equivalencies during the general election campaign, and Clinton’s adversaries were able to malign and abuse her ad nauseum without any checks by the media, because of at least one obvious reason. No one wants to admit it, her adversaries scoff at it, and even women seem to downplay it’s significance throughout the 2016 presidential campaign: misogyny. The 2016 presidential election, much like in 2008, revealed staggering gender biases, mostly in the constant and baseless scrutiny of Clinton’s character.
Women, after all, cannot seek power without being innately bad, evil, or corrupt. Gender studies experts have talked about this phenomenon at length, and yet we failed to highlight the way it was taking life in the campaign before our eyes. Sanders and Trump both made habits out of interrupting Clinton during their respective debates against her, wagging their fingers at her. Sanders accused Clinton of “shouting” during the democratic primaries. Trump famously called Clinton a “nasty woman” when she got under his skin at the third presidential debate. They both made campaign tactics out of implying or expressly stating that she was corrupt, she was bought out by the banks, she was a criminal, she was under indictment. Absolutely none of which was ever substantiated by fact.
By campaign’s end, people genuinely believed some of the propaganda leveraged against her, even having never seen a piece of factual evidence to support it.
Indeed, when a woman excels in a role we extol her virtues, but when she seeks to promote or gain more power, whether a promotion, a raise, or even the presidency of the United States, we punish her and criticize her character. We simply cannot get comfortable with the idea of a woman calling the shots. The electorate seemed to forget that when Clinton left the State Department in 2013 following a four-year tenure as Secretary of State, she was widely celebrated as being the most traveled Secretary of State in American history, with approval ratings that soared well above normal for American politicians.
The Wall Street Journal commented that her 69% approval rating at the time was “eye-popping.” The New York Times in 2012 (by an unsurprisingly prescient Nate Silver) opined that she would make a formidable candidate for president, had notably high approval ratings, but that when seeking office, for some reason, her approval ratings take a hit.
But, with centuries of patriarchal gender norms at play, she still won the democratic primary. She won by a landslide. And in the general election, she won nationally by around 2%. One can only imagine what these figures might look like had she been born with the benefit of being a man.
So if she won nationally, why didn’t she win the presidency? What happened? Of course, the popular vote doesn’t pick the president. So what does?
THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE DEMANDS REFORM
Clinton’s massive popular vote victory is important in that not only does it dispel shameful myths that this superb, historic candidate FAILED us in some way, but serves to highlight one of the real problems: the electoral college system of apportioning votes is no longer fair or representative. This is not to say that the electoral college must necessarily be abolished. But at the very least, it must see reforms that address the country’s vastly shifting demographics.
Donald Trump won the electoral college with 306 votes. 270 are needed to win the presidency. The states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, with their 10, 16, and 20 respective electoral votes, all went for Trump and gave him the edge he needed.
The chilling truth: Donald Trump won those three states with a total of 79,646 votes in an election where more than 136 million people cast their ballots. That’s less than a fraction of a percentage point.
How can this be possible? Let’s pretend for a minute that the very real possibility of foreign interventionism is not a factor, or the unaddressed fact that overwhelming evidence suggest Russia interfered, and ignore investigative journalist Greg Palast’s stunning revelation that more than 3 million absentee and provisional ballots were wrongfully disqualified and thrown away uncounted.
Even now as recounts surge ahead in these three crucial states, the outcome is not likely to change. Any honest assessment of this presidential election must look at the disproportionate power the Electoral College currently allocates to rural areas. Indeed, a vote in Wyoming has four times the power of a vote from New York, thanks to the way electoral college votes are apportioned in each state.
When the Constitution was written in 1787, the drafters conceived of it in an America that was 95% rural. Today, according to the most recent census (2010), less than 20% of America is rural. Yet in the hundreds of years since the Constitution was ratified, or since the 12th Amendment was passed defining the application of electoral college votes, there has been no reform to the process.
Subsequently, the Electoral College has not been updated to reflect the massive population and demographic shifts in America, or update the strength or apportionment of the votes. There has not even been a solid legal challenge to the winner-take-all formula of allocating of electoral votes at the state-level, instead of a proportional model. Winner-takes-all is a practice that Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig says is violative of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protections Clause, and the more proportional allocation would have rendered Hillary Clinton the victor in 2016.
This is without even eliminating the electoral college. These reforms are possible and should have been sought a long time ago.
HILLARY CLINTON WON THE WORKING CLASS
Hillary Clinton, accused of having lost the 2016 presidential election because she neglected to address the needs of the white working class, did in fact WIN the white working class. CNN exit polls out of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania showed that she fared better than her opponent on the economy throughout the rust belt and nationwide.
The truth is Hillary Clinton made the working class and middle class jobs a central tenet of her campaign. She talked about these issues, and she talked about them a lot. To claim otherwise is a troubling revision in history that overlooks 16 months of campaigning on this issue. From Derek Thompson’s piece in the Atlantic:
She detailed plans to help coal miners and steel workers. She had decades of ideas to help parents, particularly working moms, and their children. She had plans to help young men who were getting out of prison and old men who were getting into new careers. She talked about the dignity of manufacturing jobs, the promise of clean-energy jobs, and the Obama administration’s record of creating private-sector jobs for a record-breaking number of consecutive months. She said the word “job” more in the Democratic National Convention speech than Trump did in the RNC acceptance speech; she mentioned the word “jobs” more during the first presidential debate than Trump did. She offered the most comprehensively progressive economic platform of any presidential candidate in history—one specifically tailored to an economy powered by an educated workforce.
The truth is that white working-class voters did favor Clinton on the economy, but on issues of terrorism or immigration, defected to Donald Trump, indicating that his often-times xenophobic, anti-immigration, and racially charged message resonated with a certain portion of the electorate. Indeed, no one has been able to answer to which era Trump was referring when he campaigned on the slogan “Make America Great Again,” but it is clear that this was merely pretext for a message of white nativist protectionism.
These are the same voters who crave social democracy, just so long as it isn’t called socialism, a dirty word amongst the majority of the American populace, and a flaw that Sanders, untested on the national stage, would have seen exposed in a general election match up.
Moreover, the cumulative total of 79,646 votes by which she lost Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania cannot in good faith be conflated to represent the white working class as a whole, especially when she won a historic number of votes with around the same numbers as 2012 Obama. With a margin so narrow, isn’t it possible a variety of factors were at a play, any one of which might have shifted the outcome?
THE REST OF IT
There has been a real and demonstrable systemic failure to protect the integrity of our elections that Americans, and yes the Electoral College, must wholly reject. This isn’t conspiracy theory. This isn’t conjecture. This isn’t poor sportsmanship. This isn’t even about Hillary Clinton anymore. This is about protecting our democracy. Free and fair elections are one of the cornerstones of American democracy and we have now seen credible reports that our rights thereto have been impeded upon by:
1) Voter suppression in North Carolina* and Wisconsin; 2) Russian interventionism via hacking in Florida’s election systems*; 3) FBI Director Comey’s willful and intentional release of documents meant to suggest criminal wrongdoing by the Democratic nominee a week before the presidential election; 4) The use of Wikileaks as an agent for a hostile foreign power to meddle with our election; 5) A systemic failure by the news media to serve as editorial gatekeepers, differentiate false equivalencies, or to report on falsehoods propagated about the Democratic nominee.* 6) A voter-cross check system that allowed millions of valid absentee, provisional, and machine-error ballots to be wrongfully disqualified.
Is it possible that any one of these may have contributed to the 79,646 votes across Michigan, Wisconsin, or Pennsylvania that contributed to Donald Trump’s victory?
Is it possible that third party votes spoiled the election?
Jill Stein is now officially the Ralph Nader of 2016.
Stein votes/Trump margin:
— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) December 1, 2016
Is it possible that any number of these issues, non of which are the fault of the superb candidate who won record-breaking votes, lead to Donald Trump skipping past her with 79,646 votes?
And what of exit polls conducted by Edison Research, which show that “Clinton won four key battleground states (NC, PA, WI, and FL) in the 2016 Presidential Election that she went on to lose in the computerized vote counts.”*
“Trump voters lied in the exit polls!” exclaims Twitter.
If it helps you sleep at night.
Ultimately, framing the conversation so as to blame Hillary Clinton for losing the presidential election, whether expressly or impliedly, is the great American lie of 2016. And it is a historic injustice that, if allowed to continue, only hurts us as a nation and as a democracy.
Alex Mohajer is the political director of Bros4Hillary and a contributing writer and commentator for The Huffington Post. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.