Hillary Clinton's "What Happened" Finally Explains Why She Thinks She Lost
One of the final chapters of Hillary Clinton's memoir, What Happened, is simply and hauntingly titled "Why." It begins with a quote from John F. Kennedy that encapsulates the debate that has ravaged America in the months following Election Day: "Victory has a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan."
Though Clinton takes responsibility for her own role in the loss throughout the book ("I was the candidate. It was my campaign." she writes. "Those were my decisions"), she does not suggest that she alone was responsible for Trump's win. Countless factors — James Comey, the Russian hacking scandal, and of course, racism, sexism, and bigotry — played a huge role in Donald Trump's victory, and she writes about them all in the final sections of her book.
In a well-researched, data-driven analysis of the election, Clinton breaks down why she lost into a few key points. Here are a few of the reasons people have commonly attributed to Donald Trump's win, and what Clinton has to say about them:
Hillary Clinton's so-called "Midwest problem" has been long discussed by the press. Why didn't she spent more time in Wisconsin? critics and supporters asked. What the hell happened?
Clinton argues, however, that she did spend time in those states. In Pennsylvania, for example, her campaign had nearly 500 staff members on the ground, more than Obama's campaign four years earlier, she explains. She felt confident that the polls and data — which looked good in the states that eventually tipped the election — would prove to be correct. In the end, however, Wisconsin caught her by surprise." "If our data had shown we were in danger, of course we would have invested even more," she writes. "I would have torn up my schedule, which was designed based on the best information we had, and camped out there."
Although the factors she discusses later in the chapter (racism, economic unease, her perceived unlikeability etc.) played a role in shifting those states towards Trump, she says ultimately that there wasn't a Republican surge at all. Rather, Democrats either stayed home or shifted to a third-party candidate. (If you recall, Jill Stein received a little over 30,000 votes in Wisconsin, and Trump won the state by just over 22,000 votes.)
Lack of Economic Message
Another common criticism of Clinton's campaign is that she didn't do enough to speak to the economic anxieties of the working class, particularly the white working class. These criticisms have come from Republicans and Democrats alike (and she pretty brilliantly claps back at Vice President Joe Biden for suggesting that she didn't stand for the burgeoning middle class.)
However, Clinton argued that she did talk about the middle class, but her efforts were either A) overshadowed by press attention to Trump's antics or B) sidelined because she was forced to deal with the fallout from Trump's antics.
"The day after I accepted the nomination in Philadelphia, Bill and I hit the road with Tim Kaine and his wife, Anne, for a bus tour through factory towns across Pennsylvania and Ohio," she writes, later adding: "Tim and I talked about plans to create jobs, raise wages, and support working families."
"But you probably don't remember hearing anything about this bus story," she writes. "In fact, you may well have heard that I didn't campaign like this at all; that I ignored the Rust Belt, didn't have an economic message, and couldn't connect with working class voters."
Her explanation? The week she and Tim Kaine spent campaigning in Pennsylvania and Ohio was the same week that Donald Trump picked a fight with the Khans, the Gold Star parents of a Muslim American soldier. "That sucked up all the oxygen in the media," she writes.
"I have come to terms with the fact that a lot of people — millions and millions of people — decided they just didn't like me," Clinton writes. "Imagine what that feels like. Imagine what that feels like. It hurts. And it's a hard thing to accept. But there's no getting around it."
Although debate over her "likeability" can be pretty much be boiled down to one talking point (sexism, duh), Clinton writes in her memoir that years in the spotlight and years as a politician (the precise thing that made her most qualified for the job) also tarnished her image.
"People remember years of partisan attacks," she writes. "That have painted me as dishonest and untrustworthy."
In an earlier chapter titled "On Being A Woman In Politics," Clinton talks in-depth about the sexism and misogyny faced by female politicians, even in subtle ways. She writes of how she is lambasted by the media as "guarded" while President Obama is praised for the same character trait.
"I think before I speak," she writes. "I don't just blurt out whatever comes to mind. It's a combination of my natural inclination, plus my training as a lawyer, plus decades in the public eye where every word I say is scrutinized. But why is this a bad thing?" She adds: "President Obama is just as controlled as I am, maybe even more so. He speaks with a great deal of care; takes his time, weight his word. This is generally and correctly taken as evidence of his intellectual heft and rigor.... and yet, for me, it's often experienced as a negative."
Later, she writes of the "impossible balancing act" women in politics face between being warm and emotional (and thus perceived as inexperienced and unable to handle the pressure of foreign diplomacy) and being thoughtful and cautious (and thus perceived as cold and unlikeable.)
She writes: "Can you blame us for feeling like we can't win, no matter what we do?"
The Last Week & James Comey
Who can forget the final days of the election, when James Comey's infamous letters shook the election and changed the course of history? The importance of those letters cannot be understated, and FiveThirtyEight (as mentioned by Hillary Clinton in the book) did a detailed data analysis that indicates the letters probably cost Clinton the election.
"Exit polls would later find that voters who were still making up their minds in those final days broke strongly for Trump," Clinton writes, adding that Democratic-leaning voters who have flirted with the idea of third-party candidates "actually ended up pulling the lever for them."
This intervention by Comey exacerbated the existing fears of Americans that Clinton would not be an agent of change, but rather a return to the status quo. "From the beginning of the general election, we had understood the race to be a contest between voters' fear of risk and desire for change," Clinton writes. "Convincing Americans that election Trump was too big a risk was our best shot at overpowering the widespread desire for change after eight years of Democratic control." She adds: "Now voters were worried my presidency would be dogged by more investigations, maybe even impeachment."
Her numbers dropped, and her lead in battleground states shrunk within the margin of error. By the time the second Comey letter came out, the damage had been done.
"Comey himself later said that he was 'mildly nauseous' at the idea that he influenced the outcome of this election," she writes. "Hearing that made me sick."
Though she talks more in-depth about Russia in other chapters, in the section specifically about why she lost, Clinton keeps it simple: Russian coordinated an attack against democracy, and they succeeded in doing so. However, the attack went so brilliantly because of factors already at play: the media's insistence on scrutinizing everything involving Hillary Clinton for weeks at a time but letting Donald Trump's antics pass after a few days; her perceived unlikeability; and years of negative press coverage that painted her as a corrupt politician.
"Together the effects of Comey's letter and the Russian attack formed a devastating combination," she writes. "[Nate] Silver concluded after the election that if it hadn't been for these two late-breaking factors, I likely would have won Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania by about two points."
"The emails Russia stole from John Podesta and provided to WikiLeaks ensured that the words Clinton and emails were in the headlines even before Comey's letter," she writes. "The subterranean torrent of fake news added to the problem."
Together, James Comey's letters and the Russia attacks — both about "emails" but very different issues — "formed a devastating combination," she writes.
"There's an old saying that 'Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line,'" she writes, adding later: "Many were surely disgusted by his outrageous behavior, including his treatment of women. Yet when it came down to it, the R next to his name was more important than anything else."
This stands in stark contrast, she notes, to the election of centrist Emmanuel Macron over extremist Marine Le Pen in France. "In France, patriotism trumped partisanship," she writes. "Some analysts say French voters watched what happened here and acted to stop it there."
However, she doesn't attribute the entirety of Trump support to partisanship politics. She acknowledges that the American people were looking for a change, particularly after eight years of a Democratic president. "I castigated Republican obstruction in Congress and offered lots of solutions to make the economy fairer and politics cleaner, but I never escaped being pigeonholed as the candidate of continuity rather than change," she says. "Certainly, if voters wanted to 'shake things up' or 'burn it all down,' they were more likely to choose Donald Trump over me."
Bigotry & Racism
You can't talk about the 2016 election without talking about the rampant racism and xenophobia that marked the campaign, and Hillary Clinton dedicates huge portions of the book to talk about those issues.
She acknowledges in strong terms that many of the ideologies held to by those in Trump's camp can be described as nothing other than "deplorable." (She does, at another point, mention that she "regrets" and is sorry for the deplorables comment because it was a "political gift" to Trump and many "well-intention people" were insulted by it.)
However, she also talks in-depth about the idea of Trump's presidency as a response to eight years of a black president, something scholars and writers, including Ta-Nehisi Coates, have contemplated and argued in the months since Election Day.
Scholars, she notes, have studied a phenomenon called "racial priming." Basically, it's the idea that when white voters are encouraged to view the world through a racial lens, they tend to vote more conservatively. The 2016 election was one that asked white voters to view the world through a racial lens more than ever before. From his very first speech as a presidential candidate, Trump made his campaign about the fear of "the other." He slammed Mexicans, undocumented immigrants, Muslims, and black people every chance he got. He continued to perpetuate the lie that President Obama was not born in the United States.
"It made sense that by Election Day, more white voters may have been thinking about race and identity than in 2012, when those issues were rarely talked about on either side," she writes.
She adds that the debate about whether economic anxiety or cultural anxiety were to blame for her loss is a false choice. "If you listen to many Trump voters, you start to see that all these different strands of anxiety and resentment are related," she writes.
Hillary Clinton talks at length about the role the #fakenews and, well, the real news played in her election. "Many in the political media don't want to hear about how these things tipped the election in the final days. They say their beef is that I'm not taking responsibility for my mistakes — but I have, and i do again throughout this book. Their real problem is they can't bear to face their own role in helping elect Trump," she writes.
"Gallup compiled a word cloud depicting everything Americans read, saw, or heard about me during several months of the campaign. It was dominated by a single giant word: email. Much smaller, but also visible were the words lie and scandal," she writes, adding later: "This was the result of a relentless barrage of political attacks and negative coverage. But I also know that it was my job to try to break through all that noise and convince the American people to vote for me.
"I wasn't able to do it," she concluded.