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What’s The Matter With Hillary Clinton?

What's The Matter With Hillary Clinton?

As she has been apt to do since the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton made headlines this week with a tweet trolling President Trump for his alleged ties to Russia. It was snarky, comical, and many would say a valid point. Yet I couldn’t help but be reminded of one of her more recent distinctions… Hillary is unusually unpopular for a defeated presidential candidate.

John McCain took a good ‘ole fashion thumping in his contest against Barack Obama in 2008. Yet CNN and Gallup polls conducted just days after the election found him to be, certainly by today’s standards, a wildly popular national figure. You would have never guessed he’d just lost a presidential election by more than seven points, and ceded 365 electoral college votes to the Democrats.

On the opposite end of the spectrum lies Hillary Clinton. After holding Donald Trump to the lowest share of the popular vote for a winning president in history without a significant third party presence, and defeating him by a share of  48.0 – 45.9% and three million votes, her public image post-presidential loss is the poorest of any presidential loser in the modern polling era. Not only that, but she appears to have beaten her own personal low. The Gallup organization provides the two most recent data points on Clinton’s public image, and both find her at an *all-time* low (36/60% and 36/61% favorable/unfavorable, respectively). It sounds more significant when considering that Gallup has polled this question for Hillary Clinton 162 times since 1992!

I chose to write on this topic because it seemed to me that presidential losers typically get a bump in their public image after losing an election. Past polling bears that out for the most part, though with some exceptions – Hillary being one of them. This article will take a look back at presidential losers and how their public images have (or have not) changed over time.

In the roughly two years that have transpired since the 2016 election, Hillary has averaged a 39/56% favorable/unfavorable rating across twenty public surveys, and all twenty found her net favorable rating to be double-digits under water. That represents a decline from her pre-election RCP average of 42/54%. Even Walter Mondale, who suffered a devastating, 49-state loss to Ronald Reagan managed a 41/47% favorability rating in the two years following the 1984 presidential election (although the data is somewhat limited). In fact, a look back at the public image of failed presidential candidates in the two years following their defeat finds Hillary Clinton with the worst net rating of any candidate dating back to at least Gerald Ford. Consider the table below, which compares losing presidential candidate’s pre and post election favorability ratings.

What's The Matter With Hillary Clinton?

*pre-election favorability from 2004-2016 is based on the final Real Clear Politics average. Pre-election favorability prior to 2004 is based on an average of surveys conducted in the final two weeks of the presidential election.
^No favorability polling was available in the final two weeks of the 1976 election for Gerald Ford.
Gray shading indicates that the failed presidential candidate’s net favorability rating dropped following their defeat. Red text indicates a negative net favorability rating.
Data courtesy of PollingReport.com, Real Clear Politics, and Roper’s iPoll Database.

As one might expect, presidential losers aren’t always popular in the weeks leading up to their defeat, and some remain so even years later. But Hillary stands out for the magnitude of her unpopularity. Her -17 average net favorability rating is nearly three times worse than the second most unpopular post-loss candidate, Walter Mondale. It is 24 points lower than the average net favorability score (+7) for presidential losers dating back to Gerald Ford. And she is one of only three of the last eleven failed presidential candidates to see her public image decline after losing.

But why does Hillary Clinton stand out among the rest of the presidential losers in terms of her low public image? Is it as simple as the fact that she’s a polarizing figure?

Perhaps. But Trump’s inability to allow his vanquished foe to fade into the background is unique among presidential winners, and has certainly contributed to the lack of a sympathy boost experienced by the likes of John McCain, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter. Think about it: how often did Barack Obama launch broadside attacks against Mitt Romney following the 2012 presidential election, much less even mention his name? Did George W. Bush ever use the “flip-flopper” line against John Kerry again after November 2, 2004? Did Bill Clinton continue to portray Bush 41 as out of touch after tossing him out of office? By contrast, the infamous “lock her up” refrain from the 2016 election seems as popular at Trump rallies today as it ever was. Like it or not, a sitting president is as well positioned as anyone to sway public opinion towards individuals, especially if they keep up a steady barrage of public attacks. And the president’s supporters hold an ongoing disdain for his old opponent in a way I have yet to see in my lifetime. To be fair, Hillary Clinton has been no shrinking violet in the wake of her loss, responding to the president’s attacks at times, and launching her own broadsides at others. Either way, it’s safe to say that Hillary Clinton has not been a conventional presidential loser, and that shows in her unconventionally poor public image.

On the plus side for Hillary, her image still has time to improve, at least in comparison to the last two years. Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter all saw measurable increases in their public images in polling conducted more than two years after their presidential loss (on the other hand, Mitt Romney saw his worsen). But we’re now one year away from the start of the 2020 presidential primaries. At this point in the 2016 cycle, Hillary Clinton sported a 52/42% favorable/unfavorable rating in the Real Clear Politics average. If she were to launch another campaign tomorrow, she’d be starting a net 27 points weaker than she did four years ago. Think of these numbers the next time you hear speculation about another Hillary presidential bid in 2020. She hasn’t flatly ruled it out. Far from it:

Mrs. Clinton said she wouldn’t consider a possible run in 2020 until after the midterm elections next week.

“I’m not even going to even think about it until we get through this Nov. 6 election,” she said. “But I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure we have a Democrat in the White House come January of 2021.”

Yet as silly as it sounds, her supporters may have a point:

“Chalking the [2016] loss up to her being a failed candidate is an oversimplification,” Reines said. “She is smarter than most, tougher than most, she could raise money easier than most, and it was an absolute fight to the death.”

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177 thoughts on “What’s The Matter With Hillary Clinton?

  1. Her popularity ratings were very high after she left her post as Secretary of State. It could be argued that she was the target of an intensive smear campaign by Republicans in the House and right wing media, with the result that average Americans who tend to be poorly informed and most of whom never read any of her biographies, actually know very little about Hillary Clinton.

    The endless and expensive Benghazi investigations were a lot of smoke with no fire, but people only remember the smoke. Right wing hit jobs like “Clinton Cash” which were not well fact checked, and a slew of anti-Clinton books that all seemed to make the best-seller lists, pretty much sealed her fate. By the time the Republicans were done with her, her reputation was permanently tarnished–by slander & innuendo alone.

    And of course, she committed the ultimate unforgivable sin of being a woman who presumed to think she could be President.

    I think her only role from now forward would be to be a power behind the scenes. The “most unpopular” mantle is also worn by Donald Trump–just to put things into perspective. At this point, it seems there’s nothing he could do to rehabilitate his image with more than half the country, as he’s provided so much evidence of his being “temperamentally unsuitable.”

    It’s completely possible for Republicans to do the same to ANY Democratic candidate who starts to be popular, and threatens their hegemony. You can see them homing in on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It’ll be interesting to watch the lies and innuendo to come. I understand they’ve already circulated fake nude photos of her online.

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    • If you can call it a “nude photo” at all, yes. It’s a photo someone took of their own feet on the edge of the tub while they had a bath. So even if it had been a photo of AOC it would have been about 0% scandalous to me.

      But I guess if the scandal, fundamentally, is that AOC dares to think she can influence the laws of the country from within a female body, then it might have highlighted that message to those already receptive to it.

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    • While you do have a point and a solid one I don’t think the HRC phenomena is replicable. The GOP had 30 years to brand Hillary* and on top of that Hillary was pretty much the face of the end times in the mind of the social conservative right. She was pretty centric in both the news and right wing “news” throughout their precipitous decline. Neither of those factors are replicable for the GOP with a new candidate.
      The Republicans, for instance, tried mightily to make Barak Obama into their new devil of the decade and failed entirely outside of their own unswerving base.

      *Which certainly isn’t to say HRC never made errors of her own. At some point it’s clear that the Clintons decided that roughly 40% of the voting electorate was flat out lost and moved appearances of propriety a number of ticks down their priority list below raking in cash and influence.

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          • The Bernie or Busters I’ve known basically began sprouting talking points about HRC from the 1990s. Probably stuff they overheard when they were pre-puberty. It wasn’t quite Vince Forster or Whitewater but it was close.

            I’ve said this below but everything about 2016 screams Murc’s law and mainly from a bunch of middle-aged white guys who were never that keen on Democrats in the first place. So we have to deal with George’s racist arguments against California and topsy-turvey logic on the popular vote we can’t call them racist just like NBC told their correspondents not to call Steve King’s remarks racist. We have people doing quadruple mental backflips (while blindfolded!!!) to avoid dealing with Sam’s arguments against the electoral college because pushing for constitutional reform is the long and slow-boring of hardwood that could take decades (or might never happen). Instead we just get “Bernie coulda won” arguments which are cheap, unprovable one way or the other, and easy.

            I can’t prove or unprove whether Bernie would have beaten Trump in 2016. No one can. I suspect he would have lost and possibly lost the popular vote too. I suspect the campaign against Bernie’s Jewishness would have made the campaign against Al Smith’s Catholicness in 1928 look like a pillow fight. But we don’t have a hypothetical machine that we can plug these things into.

            But this doesn’t make Bernie would have won a great argument, it makes it a petulant argument from diehard cultists.

            Jesse is right. Pillsy is right. North is right. Richard is right.

            I can’t prove whether Bernie would have won or not. I suspect not. I suspect the campaign against Bernie

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            • Saul, I submit to you: you have inadvertently picked up a *LOT* of very bad information from news and the right-wing before you were too old to process it and realize it was bad information.

              You don’t even have the tools to be able to tell that it’s bad information.

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            • Another way that 2016 is a great example of Murc’s Law, which to recap is that only Democrats have agency, is that it was apparently the responsibility of the Democratic Party to take Clinton’s unfavorability into account despite the fact that Democratic Party members wanted Clinton to get. Yet, the Republican Party had no similar responsibility in regards to Trump even though Trump was obviously going to be a malicious boob wanna be dictator of a President.

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              • Are you really saying a national political party shouldn’t consider candidate favorability? It seems like one of the most basic functions.

                I actually see this as the opposite of what people call ‘Murc’s law,’ with her progressive supporters disclaiming any agency of their own. The only reason it might look like anything else here is that OT in its current iteration is mostly a debate between broadly progressive and broadly liberaltarian voices. With very few exceptions most of us could be in the same big tent coalition under the right circumstances.

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              • I got the impression that the Republican Party *did* keep putting forth alternatives to Trump, but nobody wanted to talk about them because talking about the latest rotten thing Trump said felt so good. And besides, everyone else had something wrong with them. Cruz was a horrible business-sucker, Rubio was a dope, Carson was a religious nut, Walker was , and so there just wasn’t anyone.

                So if whoever shows up will be Obviously Just The Worst no matter who they are, then why not go whole-hog?

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    • Regarding your last point, I agree that the right will relentlessly attack AOC. I’m more interested in seeing who from the left attacks her, myself. If/when she gains enough political capital to threaten some entrenched Dem interests I fully expect to see smears coming from her supposed allies as well.

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  2. The answer to your question is at the end of your third paragraph. She’s been in public life at the national level for approaching 30 years. It’s not that she’s particularly unpopular for a defeated candidate its that she’s never been consistently popular at any time going back to when she was first lady. Blips here and there but that’s it. I guess we can debate how much of it is fair. Some of it certainly comes with the baggage of being in the fray so long. But then, none of that is really the kind of talk you hear from a winner.

    She also just lost a very winnable election to the stupidest Republican nominee in the modern era, and I would venture a strong candidate for the stupidest Republican nominee of all time.

    Only in the bluest of the blue bubbles is it surprising that she isn’t exactly loved.

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    • Yeah, this, she was never really adored on the left side of the political spectrum and losing to fishing Trump pushed that down even lower. HRC got the 2016 nomination by logistics, deal making and cashing in a lifetime of IOU’s with the party actors. Now she is a not enormously popular former political actor with few favors left to call on and absolutely no sense that she’s owed anything. I have no doubt her political career at the national level is pretty much over.

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    • It is important here to note that her loss involved winning actual voters by three million(ish) votes, a fact that is always dropped out of discussions about her, which imply that the country really liked Trump. It didn’t. The country’s remarkably conservative and remarkably anachronistic method of choosing presidents doomed her. That is, predictably, held up as something was entirely her fault, rather than being rightly identified as a horrendous way to choose presidents.

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    • When I looked at historic Gallup polling a few years ago, opinions of Hillary Clinton going back to the 1992 could be more negative than positive at times.(*) At least up until Bengalli, she had favorable views at State, but that was at a traditionally non-partisan job. I was looking this up, because Paul Krugman had warned that Republicans were trying to do her, what they did to Gore. To my surprise, the same polling failed to show Gore being viewed more unfavorably than favorably until December after the election. The SNL ridicule Gore received may not have been that significant.

      (*) For instance, in April of 1992, 38% had a favorable and 40% unfavorable view of her. Granted a lot of people had no opinion, but I wonder if a major party ever nominated any candidate that had ever had net unfavorabilities prior to the last election.

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            • Thank’s for looking into that.

              I looked back to see why Hillary Clinton’s net favoribility would plummet btw/ March 20-22 and April 20-22 (net +13 to net -2) The shift appears to have entirely came from people who previously told the pollster they had “never heard of” her before.

              On April 5, 1992, she did an interview claiming the existence of rumors of George HW Bush’s marital infidelities that the media is refusing to cover. The media coverage sees her acting as an attack dog for the campaign.

              Otherwise, before the first poll, the first part of March had whitewater coverage, Jerry Brown’s accusation at a primary debated that the Governor corruptly funneled money to the Rose law firm, and Hillary Clinton’s disparaging remark that she “could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas.” Still, these don’t appear to have impacted the polls, other than Gallup started polling opinions about Hillary Clinton that month.

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              • Jerry Brown’s accusation at a primary debated that the Governor corruptly funneled money to the Rose law firm

                Remember when she swore under oath that those records had been destroyed, she didn’t know where they were and they ABSOLUTELY weren’t in her possession? Good times.

                Her reputation for being a lying shitweasel probably stems from decades of her being a lying shitweasel. I mean how bad do you have to be for other democrats to decide that your hands are too dirty to go after Richard Millhouse “I am not a crook” Nixon?

                Or maybe it’s all a vast right-wing conspiracy. The evidence supports either version/

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  3. Hillary Clinton was subjected to a rightist smear campaign since she became part of national life during the 1992 Presidential campaign. As the first Baby Boomer First Lady with a career on her own, combined with the Republican decision to wage war against Bill Clinton, rightists were bound to hate her. Many young people absorbed this inchoate hatred from their childhoods and therefore have feelings towards Clinton that they don’t understand.

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  4. The Right is very good at the Grand Smear, and at keeping it up decade after decade. Democrats have not had a counter to this, though there are early signs that Ocasio-Cortez might have cracked that code. The result of the Grand Smear is a public perception that is unrelated to the actual person. How many people panicking over Nancy Pelosi becoming Speaker have the least bit of actual information about her? The thing is, the Right is so good at this that the smears filter into Democrats’ heads. Hence the hand-wringing about Pelosi coming from the Democratic side. One advantage Obama had in 2008 was that he was a newcomer on the national stage, and the smear machine didn’t have time to work its magic. Hillary Clinton has been in the gun sites since the 1992 election. No additional explanation is really necessary.

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    • I’ve never been persuaded by the argument that Dem voters views of Hillary are corrupted by the GOP smear machine since the main left/center-left criticisms of her are free standing. Personally, I think folks who puzzle over why she’s so disliked have a very simplistic (ie., Cillizza-esque) view of politics.

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      • Ummm maybe not Dem voters but some non aligned voters have gone hook line and sinker for some of the crazier theories about her. And some just have a free floating hate that is hard to explain outside of the crazy R smears and fears of strong women. Heck i’m seeing a bit of that with AOC. One of my conservative cousins regularly post dipshit facebook memes of her. They are an angry pic of her with some made up and very stupid thing for her to be saying. From scrolling through the responses to his memes half the people enjoy a good guffaw at her and they buy the swill. The other half so seem to be pointing out that he may have an unhealthy obsession with her. But there is a strong hate on for her that is disconnected from anything other then some mortal terror she strikes in them.

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        • Then believe your own eyes. What has she done to suggest she’s running again? The invisible primary is happening right fishing now. She won the previous nomination by a logistical and favor cashing in feat that had foundations stretching all the way back to her loss in 2008. That avenue to the nomination is utterly gone; those favors are spent; the goodwill is spent and she lost to Donald Fishing Trump. The Party doesn’t owe her anything and she has no passionate constituency in her corner that belongs to her alone. Any characteristic she could run on has an alternative candidate younger and without her baggage and, again, she isn’t running in the invisible primary that is happening right fishing now.

          So outside the sweaty dreams of her detractors what on earth is there suggesting that Hillary Rodham Clinton is trying for the presidential nomination for 2020?

          Short of the Democratic National Convention collectively losing their minds and nominating her out of the blue I see absolutely no path from here to the nomination for her. And based on what HRC is doing currently and has been doing (and most importantly not doing)? Neither does she.

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  5. What’s the matter with Hillary Clinton? She is bad at this

    She never won a pitched electoral battle. Plus, and more importantly, she’s managed to make a decision on the record on the wrong side of a lot of big issues five minutes before that decision went from popular to unpopular. And this is despite taking the Senate path, instead of the Executive (i.e. Governor) path, where ‘hard choices’ are much more a feature of the job.

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  6. Personally, I think that if she does exactly what she did last time, she’ll get a similar result to what she did last time.

    Perhaps even a worse one.

    That said, I say this as someone who kept criticizing her last time and not as someone who supported her, so everything I say about how she shouldn’t run again should probably be assumed to be done in service to getting Gary Johnson elected.

    Did you know he didn’t even know where places in the Middle East were? Places that we should oppose Trump pulling out of?

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  7. How much time did Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, or even Barack Obama spend attacking their opponents after they’d beaten them? I mean, Obama kept some blame on Dubya for the economy, but aside from that, it’s not as if House Democrat’s were bringing up John McCain as the reason why everything was bad in 2010.

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  8. This is about the 10th Hillary redemption posts I’ve read in a week. How very strange. I can’t decide if it’s that D’s still don’t want to face the fact that they ran a really weak candidate or if this is really a very very misguided attempt at rehabbing her reputation for a future run. (no. just no)

    From where I sit, Hillary Clinton is grossly unlikeable as are many of her closest supporters/confidantes. IMO not only did this suppress turnout hugely, the only reason she got as many votes as she did was because Trump is also grossly unlikeable. I despise her, have always despised her, was thrilled when Obama beat her and was happy to vote for Obama in 2008. I would not have voted for her in 2008 (even if I would have had to vote McCain, of whom I was not a fan) and I would never vote for her EVER.

    I find any confusion regarding the reasons behind her unpopularity completely baffling. There are hundreds, if not thousands of things that she’s done – really, really done, not a vast right wing conspiracy, but actual events that really transpired – that are appalling by any metric and the continued blind-bordering-on-worshipful support for her from some quarters has really, really harmed the overall reputation of the Democrats (at least for me).

    She has serious racial issues and feminism issues. She has a Bill issue. She’s a corporate shill. She’s a warmonger. She’s power hungry. She clearly believes she is entitled to the presidency. SHE CHEATED TO WIN THE NOMINATION. She left the Democratic Party in tatters and in debt to its eyeballs. She spent a billion dollars and she had the full support of the media and Hollywood and she still didn’t win. Saying “Beyonce and Jay Z support me” is NOT a viable election strategy.

    And beyond her overall public reputation, her behavior since the election has seemed petty, ungracious, small minded, divisive, mean spirited, bitter, egomaniacal, and quite frankly weird. She and her supporters ignore all the real live weaknesses she had as a candidate and make all these stupid excuses for her absolute ineptitude. She had the chance to show to the world what a big person she was, how much better she was than Trump, how she was much more mature and would have been a much better leader, and she’s blown every opportunity she had to do that. That’s why her approval rating is in the toilet. It’s her behavior since the election that’s done it and all the stuff that’s come out since then.

    I would run from her as far and fast as you can, guys.

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    • I don’t think this is a Hillary redemption post.

      I think it’s trying to take a balanced look at the situation and the future. Looking at the numbers, without getting personal.

      And I say this as someone who pretty much agrees with everything else you say here starting with “I find any confusion…” My gut agrees with you entirely on everything from that point forward.

      I just think it’s misaimed at this writer, whom I do not believe has any interest in rehabbing her; he seems to want to look at what *else* is going on.

      I mean, I feel the same way about Bill Clinton (different reasons, but same total ugggggggggh reaction), and a majority of people still love him….

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      • Hillary was the one American, out of 350 million, the Dems could have run against Donald Trump that could have made 2016 a contest. Just a spectacularly bad choice.

        I agree with you re: Bill Clinton, but he is a likeable man, so his shenanigans are often brushed aside as being non-fatal flaws.

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        • Then we’re in a place where the Party Leadership did not know that they were running the one freakin’ guy who would lose to Trump.

          Maybe they figured that they’d be running against Jeb! and figured that the same gameplan would work against Trump.

          For what it’s worth, I think that Ms. Clinton would have beaten the tar out of Bushitler V3.0.

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          • I really don’t know how to explain the national party’s blindness to how bad a candidate she’d be. Maybe it was the whole first woman to head a major party ticket thing. The fact that Trump was always hanging around in the polls, never really ahead, but never out of reach either, should have tipped them off.

            , inter alia, makes the great point re: how the Electoral College can change elections, negating the popular will. This, however, is what it was designed to do. What the framers may not have foretold was candidates playing to win the electoral vote at the expense of the popular. As long as you can convince poor white folks that the ones shafting them are poor black and brown folks the an electoral win will always be in play.

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            • I really don’t know how to explain the national party’s blindness to how bad a candidate she’d be.

              Seems to me the answer is pretty obvious. The National Party was comprised of individuals with a set of priorities and interests and they thought Hillary was the best person to promote and protect them. That the electorate didn’t share their views of her, or more precisely, that it didn’t share the same set of priorities and interests, was beyond their decision-making ability.

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              • I hate to beat this horse again but can we please dispense with this idea that the party sat down sometime in 2014 or 2015 in a cigar smoke filled room and said “Yep… Hillary’ll do the trick.” Likewise can we please dispense with this idea that her nomination represented some indication of a profound structural problem with how the Democratic party apparatus works?

                Hillary didn’t steal the nod, and she wasn’t given it. She very methodologically and relentlessly built up to it over the course of eight bloody years. She swallowed her pride in 2008, accepted defeat graciously and told the PUMA crowd to get with the program. The party exhaled in relief and made note. Obama took note. In 2012 Bill set the convention on fire for Obama’s reelection while over in the GOP convention Clint Eastwood bellowed at an empty chair like a patient with Alzheimer’s. The party actors and Obama were grateful. The Clintons racked up money and influence and they doled both out to political candidates across the country earning gratitude every step of the way through Obama’s terms. Then, finally, when the run up to 2016 was happening all those potential candidates looked at the history and the favors and the money HRC had accumulated and said either “Ya know what? I like Hillary and she’s ready for this. I’ll sit this run out.” Or they said “Ya know what? Hillary is going to cream anyone who runs against her. I’ll sit this one out.” And she ran virtually unopposed except for good ol’ Uncle Bernie.

                There’s nothing nefarious about that; there’s no norm busting to it (quite the opposite really) nor is there anything crazy or irrational about it. Just a really long game and a lot of individual actors making very rational self-interested decisions all along the way. If you wanted to go back in time and stop Hillary’s 2016 run you’d probably have to start almost a decade earlier. This isn’t some hack or some flaw in the decision making process; it was just a very unique person using her unique history to logistic her way to the nomination. It isn’t repeatable. She’s finished now that she’s lost. And it’s not replicatable (not even remotely easily at least).

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                • There’s also the matter of the Democrats having a very weak bench. They’d been losing state offices for six years, and President Obama made the mistake (unfortunately very common, at least recently) of failing to develop the bench with his appointments. Those few who could have stood a chance in the primaries didn’t try. I’m sure the national party wouldn’t have welcomed them, but still, they didn’t take the chance. Fortune favors the brave.

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                    • I disagree. There’s simply no way serious candidates looked at her polling and favorables and electoral history and thought “hmmm, she’s a juggernaut”. The more likely reason they didn’t throw their hats in the ring is because the big establishment interests had already decided to back her come what may and that hill was too steep to climb.

                      This goes back to the institutional critique I offered above: Dem power was (and still is) overly concentrated in a few king-maker’s hands to the detriment and health of the party. And at the risk of affirming the consequent here, the evidence supporting that view is that Hillary lost an election just about anyone else would have won.

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                      • If we’re running scenarios, we should consider whether Trump would have gotten the R nomination if Clinton didn’t get the D. It was easy to look at Clinton and say, the system’s broken anyway, let’s throw a wrench. If some fresh-faced liberal with a reputation for honesty was making strides toward the nomination, the Republicans might have chosen differently. The Sanders phenomenon was largely a response to Clinton’s cynical institutionalism. A younger candidate could have possibly taken her down. Then, would the Republicans have chosen Trump? It’s not obvious. A Rubio runs better in that scenario. And parties do step back from the brink – recall the shift from firebrand Dean to safe choice Kerry starting just before the Iowa caucus.

                        Anyway, my point is that your assertion that “Hillary lost an election just about anyone else would have won” makes a questionable assumption. (I’m not saying that she was a great candidate or that your scenario is wrong, of course, just that the assumption of Other D vs. Trump isn’t a gimme.)

                        I guess the question I’d have to answer is, who would be the fresh-faced liberal who could have taken the nomination from Clinton? It happened once before, but I can’t think of an obvious candidate in 2016, and I think you’re right that Clinton did everything she could through the institutions to prevent that from happening.

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                        • I guess the question I’d have to answer is, who would be the fresh-faced liberal who could have taken the nomination from Clinton? It happened once before

                          Correction on “it happened once before. It happened *every time*. :)

                          If the nomination process were truly open to all comers, the evidence supports the conclusion that she would have lost. (Which might be why the Dem field was so, uhh, narrow.) It’s impossible to say who would have thrown their hat in the ring in those circumstances, so impossible to say who would have won.

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                      • There were two groups of potential candidates as I said before. Those who didn’t run against her because they liked her/supported her or owed her and were happy to let her take the nod and those who didn’t run against her because they feared her or calculated that they would either fail to get the win or worse yet damage her so badly that they could be blamed for a loss and become the Ralph Nader of the two thousand and teens.

                        That’s the core of our disagreement. You look at the Dem institution and say it’s got some broad reaching dysfunction that allowed Hillary to get the nod. I look at the Dem institution and say that Hillary was uniquely tailor made to win the nod and since a phenomena like her candidacy is not probably possible for another few decades then it doesn’t suggest any significant institutional problem.

                        Happily we’ll both find out who’s right over the next year. The Dems will have to choose a new nominee with a crowded fractious field. We’ll see how they do.

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        • It is rather telling that Bernie lost the 2016 primary very quickly. He was never able to crack a serious base of the Democratic Party, older African-American women or older women in general. Bernie had nothing to offer them.

          And the problem with “Bernie would won” is that it can’t be unproven. I don’t think it is true. But in the United States, if you can’t unprove something and someone wants it to be true, it is true.

          No one wants to deal with the electoral college being fucked up because it is nearly impossible to reform. So we look for blame in other places.

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    • I’m a little baffled as to how this piece could be read as a “Hillary redemption post.” I mean, the primary point that I make in the article is that she’s the most unpopular failed presidential candidate in modern polling. I see nothing redemptive in that, and am not sure how anyone else could.

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      • To certain people, if you don’t treat Hillary as the worst person in history who obviously blew an unloseable election and as a result, everything happening now is Her Fault (since we can’t dare ever to make actual Trump voters responsible for their choices), you’re a shill for her.

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        • What Hillary did as a front runner was no different than what any number of front runners have done for literal centuries in political all around the world.

          I mean, just for instance, why if your Cory Booker should you run in 2016 when you basically agree with Hillary on 95% of issues and realize she’s more well known, have more connections with various sections of the primary electorate, etc.

          Do you not think the same thing happened in 2000 when the 2000 Democratic Primary race was Al Gore and Bill Bradley?

          I mean, if anything Hillary treated the whole Bernie campaign with kid gloves and people outside of the Left and Right and this weird place on the Internet that continues to treat Hillary as Machiavelli in a pantsuit realize that.

          I swear to God, people for the next 50 years are going to take the wrong lessons from the these two primaries in 2016. Spoiler Alert – Cory Booker and Liz Warren running wouldn’t have changed the election results.

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          • In 2008 Hillary was the front runner … until Obama ran right by her.

            My view of things is a bit different than yours in this way: if Booker ran on a platform indistinguishable from Clinton’s he likely would have won the primary, primarily because he isn’t so universally disliked.

            Also, the suggestion that other candidates didn’t run (ie., challenge Clinton) because they shared all her policy positions makes the decision to run *only her* even more tragicomedic.

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            • Remember Obama barely beat Hillary, and he was a once in a generational political talent, had actual policy differences with Hillary, and most importantly, had a message beyond “I’m not Hillary.” Cory Booker was Diet Obama.

              Booker would be dead meat in South Carolina in 2016 for the same reason that Bernie was – because Hillary could go to every African American pastor in the state she’d spent the last 25 years building up a relations with that community.

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                    • The 2017 New England Patriots were the worst team in the AFC.

                      Yes, they beat all the other AFC teams to win the conference, but still, it should be obvious that they were absolutely a rotten team, because they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles.

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                      • I still can’t figure out what’s being argued here. Instead of saying that the Dem field was restricted to fluff a bad candidate the argument seems to be that she was the best the Dems had to offer. Which strikes me as a self-own, to be honest.

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                        • Who is this mystery candidate who would have beat Trump?
                          Would this mystery candidate increased Dem turnout? Suppressed GOP turnout? Flipped GOP to Dem voters?

                          No one ever addresses these questions. Its always just assumed that the above things would have happened, without bothering to demonstrate why.

                          Oh, and:
                          Why does anyone think Trump was bad candidate?

                          Shouldn’t we admit the fact that Trump truly represents the desires of about 40% of Americans?

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                          • Who is this mystery candidate who would have beat Trump?

                            Maybe Biden?

                            Would this mystery candidate increased Dem turnout?

                            Sure, if Obama had ridden hard for him.

                            Suppressed GOP turnout?

                            Which GOP turnout? The Jebsters? Probably not really.

                            Flipped GOP to Dem voters?

                            Some of the Trumpsters? Yeah. I think that they would have been impressed by Biden’s candor.

                            Why does anyone think Trump was bad candidate?

                            I think it has to do with signaling strong tribal membership. You have to not think that Trump is good at anything where he might have been better than Hillary at it unless the thing is a bad thing.

                            Since “being a candidate” is a good thing, you can’t admit that Trump was a better candidate than Clinton if you don’t want to be seen as a closet MAGAroni.

                            Shouldn’t we admit the fact that Trump truly represents the desires of about 40% of Americans?

                            So run a candidate that addresses those desires. Maybe Bernie?

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                            • I don’t know why anyone should think that there is anything good or bad about being a candidate.

                              Trump was a great candidate. He accurately tapped into the main burning desire of his base to express white supremacy. No one else in the GOP had the brass to do that openly.

                              Maybe Biden could have juiced Dem turnout, we will never know.

                              But one thing we do know for a certainty. About 40% of Americans have taken a long deep look at Donald Trump, and decided they really, really like him and everything he represents, no matter who he is compared to.

                              So whether against Hillary or Biden, Trump was going to get 60 million votes. And may again.

                              We need to face that, and not daydream about mystery unicorn candidates.

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                              • I don’t know why anyone should think that there is anything good or bad about being a candidate.

                                Under some virtue ethics theories, the whole idea of being good at what you’re trying to do is considered virtuous in itself (if the thing is not, like, being a brigand or something).

                                If you are a blacksmith, it is good to be a good blacksmith. That sort of thing.

                                Trump was a great candidate. He accurately tapped into the main burning desire of his base to express white supremacy. No one else in the GOP had the brass to do that openly.

                                That’s certainly one interpretation.

                                Maybe Biden could have juiced Dem turnout, we will never know.

                                Finding yourself saying that, do you have a better insight into why “No one ever addresses these questions”?

                                But one thing we do know for a certainty. About 40% of Americans have taken a long deep look at Donald Trump, and decided they really, really like him and everything he represents, no matter who he is compared to.

                                I think you’re reading more into the question (and the answer) than is actually there.

                                So whether against Hillary or Biden, Trump was going to get 60 million votes. And may again.

                                If the question is about the ~200,000 in the Midwest, I’d sincerely explore what’s going on rather than retreat into some weird fantasy that involves a moral fight.

                                We need to face that, and not daydream about mystery unicorn candidates.

                                Ah. Now I know you know why “No one ever addresses these questions”.

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                              • Ok I think some climbing down is required. Trump wasn’t an amazing candidate, he didn’t perform astonishingly well over all but he performed decently in some specific and important voting areas; specifically the Midwest; where other candidates like, for instance, vulture capitalist Mitt Romneys ilk would have had no hope in hell.

                                Hillary lost- she did- based on the rules of the election which aren’t rigged, they just are what they are. She lost for many reasons which lump into two categories- errors she and her campaign made and unusual choices by outside actors (Comney chiefly, also the media’s blind spots regarding Trump and outside interference by foreign actors). Hillary lost because of BOTH those categories of reasons. If HRC and her campaign hadn’t made a series of bad choices campaign wise then Comney’s letter, Russian interference, the medias unbalanced covered etc wouldn’t have tipped the scales to trump. If the outside actors hadn’t done what they’d done then HRC would have eked out a narrow win over Trump.

                                That is just the reality. Pointing out she won the popular vote is a time honored tradition and historically suggests the President should behave modestly because the electorate didn’t give them much of a mandate (but Presidents usually don’t pay attention to this).
                                What is pointless is being one sided about this. I see my own tribe trying to ignore HRC’s own failings and errors and point at the outside actors intervention. They are right but incomplete when they do this. I see HRC’s detractors and the right wingers trying to ignore the outside actors intervention and focusing only on HRC’s own failings and errors. They are also right and also incomplete.

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                                • And all the focus on HRC (and the structure of the Electoral College or whatever) allows everyone to ignore the uncomfortable fact that still, to this very day, about a third of Americans like Trump.

                                  They like him. They like what he says, they like what he does, they support and share his opinions about their fellow Americans.

                                  Even if Mystery Candidate had won, this would still be true. There is no plausible scenario of a Democratic landslide in 2016.

                                  It will still be true in November 2020.

                                  Maybe we can boost Dem turnout, and maybe peel off a few votes and precincts here and there, but we have to admit that Donald Trump is the embodiment of a lot of Americans political preferences.

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                                  • That is a true and fair statement I would say. I also say it nervously since a wild cat nomination fight is coming for my own tribe this year (and is under way already really) and I wonder who shall emerge as the nominee.

                                    I think the party and the liberals are not as decayed as the Republicans and the right. But then I thought HRC would flatten Trump. The God(ess?)’s laugh at our hopes and predictions sometimes.

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                                  • allows everyone to ignore the uncomfortable fact that still, to this very day, about a third of Americans like Trump.

                                    While I would agree with this fact, I’m not seeing it as morally compromising.

                                    I’m kinda in a place where seeing it as morally compromising is one of the things that got us to the place where we are right now, actually.

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                          • Why does anyone think Trump was bad candidate?

                            Moving Goal Post Alert! “Look, Hillary was a great candidate, and all you folks who say otherwise are either misogynists, right wing propaganda drinkers, angry aging Berniebros, or delusional about what a great candidate she was up against.”

                            Chip, this is tiresome for both of us, I’m sure, so I’ll say it one last time, clearly, and maybe that will be the end of this phase of our dispute. The claim that Hillary was the best the Dems could do is *itself* an indictment of the institutional structure and functioning of the Democratic party. Everything else, in my view, is an argument in defense of the above claim. Eg., if no one thought they could beat her in the primary, then there’s something wrong with the Democratic Party. If the big donors and king-makers supported her exclusively, there’s something wrong with the Dem party. If prospective candidates didn’t run because they didn’t have a competing platform to run on*, there’s something wrong with the party. You’re response seems to be that HRC was a great candidate, so there’s nothing wrong with the Dem party. Everything’s WAI! (Reminder: she had the highest disapprovals of any candidate in history until Trump won his primary; she lost a previous primary where she was front runner; in every campaign she’s been in her approvals go down over time. As Tod Kelly said so eloquently long ago, “People don’t like her”.) What exactly is wrong with the party, seems to me, is the subject of the dispute, at least insofar as *any* of the above (and others I didn’t list) are regarded as evidence of dysfunction.

                            *This one always makes me laugh when liberals toss it out. “Hillary already had a platform they agreed with!” Politicians are, if anything, ambitious and (almost always) put their own personal interests above The Party’s interests.

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  9. As satisfying as the usual cries of sexism! and Republican smear machine! might be, I think the answer is pretty straight-forward. After her spell as SoS, people regarded Clinton as retired and everyone’s popular when they’re retired. Her return to the public sphere reminded of everyone of how corrupt, incompetent, duplicitous and establishment she was and how she regarded the Presidency as something she was owed. And her continued unpopularity is, at least in part, because she managed to blow the easiest election in history through sheer incompetence and is still trying to blame everyone else for it.

    I voted for Clinton because Trump was worse and I would still rather she be President (modulo having a Republican Congress). But I do so with open eyes, knowing what I was voting for (much a my parents voted for Nixon, who was awful but better that McGovern).

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