Hillary Clinton was a flawed candidate who never connected with the whole of America. How do progressives make sure they get it right next time?by Sam Tanenhaus / October 10, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
The one enduring truth of American politics is that no one really understands how it works, which doesn’t stop many (me included) from thinking they do. A year ago the smart money was on Hillary Clinton to win the US presidential election in a big way. There was excited speculation of a redrawn election map, with longtime red (Republican) states turning blue (Democrat). “Could Hillary Clinton Win Texas?” the New York Times wondered two weeks before election day. (In the end she lost it by nine points—far better than Obama in 2012, but not close.) There were also hopes she might sweep in a fresh tide of Democrats in the national elections held on the same day. But she didn’t. Republicans held onto their small majority in the Senate and won the popular vote for the House of Representatives by 1.4m.
The worst misreading was of the main result. With less than a month to go, Clinton’s lead in the polls was nearing 10 points—landslide proportions. In the end, she did win the popular vote, by about two points—some three million votes. It was a small but decisive margin, but her biggest victories came in two giant states—New York and California—and weren’t enough to offset her narrow defeats elsewhere.
This strange and at times surreal election gave us the same muddled outcome US elections often do. And it pitted the same groups against one another. Democrats owned the coasts and the cities. Republicans ruled the heartland and small towns. The suburbs were up for grabs. If, in an electorate totalling 130m, 39,000 voters in three rust belt states (Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) had changed their minds, Clinton would be president today.
And oh, how different things would look. Or would they? Clinton’s new book, What Happened, a surprisingly un-bitter post-mortem, includes a tidy summary of her domestic proposals:
First, we need the biggest investment in good jobs since World War II. This should include a massive infrastructure programme… Second, to make the economy fairer, we need new rules and incentives to make it easier for companies to raise wages and share profits with employees and harder for them to ship jobs overseas and bust unions… Third, we have to modernise workforce protections with a higher minimum wage, equal pay for women, paid family and medical leave, and affordable childcare… Fourth, we can pay for all of this with higher taxes on the top 1 per cent of Americans who have reaped the lion’s share of income and wealth gains since 2000.