Democrats need to get a grip if they want to win next time

This is no time to lose your head, but that isn’t stopping a lot of liberals from doing so anyway.

Democrats who spent months horrified that Donald Trump might not honor a clear election result then gave millions of dollars to Jill Stein (!) to pursue pointless recounts in states that were close, but not recount-level close.

Now they are hinting at the idea that the Electoral College should refuse to elect Trump, without quite coming out and saying so out loud.

For some reason, former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta piped up to say electors ought to get intelligence briefings about Russian election interference – briefings that would only be relevant if the idea was electors might change their votes based on the information they contain.

This is stupid

This reaction is bad, for two reasons. One is that baseless challenges to the election result (including by obliquely lobbying the Electoral College to nullify the result) undermine the very electoral institutions that Democrats were correctly saying we need to honor before they knew they would lose the election.

The other problem is that the obsessive focus on what was so unfair about this year’s election – the Electoral College, the FBI, Russia’s interference, sexism, and more have all been mentioned – allows Democrats to avoid focusing on how their own errors to contributed to the loss.

Saying you lost because the system was rigged against you is self-flattery, and it doesn’t help you learn anything about what to do next time.

A healthier thing would be for Democrats to focus on their own strategic mistakes so they don’t repeat them.

caption
Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
source
Associated Press

Next time, nominate better

FBI Director James Comey’s interference in the election was inappropriate and quite possibly swayed the outcome. The best way to prevent that from happening again is to do what political parties usually do: nominate a candidate who is not under investigation by the FBI.

Clinton failed to offer a compelling message on how she would help middle-income Americans get ahead through work – a failure that has been common for Republican and Democratic politicians in recent years, but that Trump managed to avoid. The next Democratic nominee will need to figure out how to convince voters he or she can succeed in fixing the job market where Trump fails.

Most importantly, Clinton had major conflict-of-interest issues that positioned her poorly to take advantage of Trump’s corruption.

I have been amazed by the way so many liberals fully understand in general the insidious power of money and influence in politics, but will not apply their usual critiques to the Clintons – or even understand why voters do apply them.

source
REUTERS

Ivanka, meet Huma

For example, people have quite reasonably raised concerns that Trump’s children will play a role in staffing and policymaking in Trump’s administration while also running businesses that are affected by public policy decisions. That is an obvious source of conflict of interest.

But Hillary Clinton kept Huma Abedin on the payroll in a senior role at the State Department while she was also being paid by both the Clinton Foundation and Teneo Group, the international consulting firm founded by close Clinton associates.

Must this not have been awkward when Clinton Foundation donors or Teneo clients had an interest in decisions made by the State Department? This situation created Trump-like conflicts of interest that did not seem to bother most Democrats at all.

Few voters could probably tell you what Teneo Group is, but they looked at Clinton and assessed correctly that her family’s business and philanthropic interests created a thicket of conflicts of interest around her.

Voters were reasonably suspicious of how much money she and her husband had been able to make by monetizing their contacts and influence, and of what favors they might owe as a result of that.

They did not worry as much as they should have about Trump’s indebtedness – probably because most of the establishment, by any reasonable definition, was in Clinton’s corner, and it was hard to imagine Trump was beholden to a group of people who mostly seemed to hate him.

Pick a candidate who can capitalize on Trump’s failures

One lesson from all this is that Democrats should not nominate Clinton again. But since she (presumably, hopefully) will not run again, the bigger and more relevant lesson is that they need to pick a candidate who can effectively hit Trump where it hurts – a candidate to whom the label “crooked” will not stick so easily.

If they had done so this time, they likely would have beaten Trump.

They should also revisit their economic agenda. Over the last eight years, Democrats have offered a suite of policies, many of them quite effective and admirable, that have directed their most obvious benefits at the poor. The proposition was less obvious for middle-income voters – people who were already employed and insured, but perhaps upset their incomes weren’t rising fast enough and their communities seemed to be crumbling.

A candidate with a better pitch for these voters – one who understood the skepticism of new, complex government programs at a time of low trust in institutions – probably would have beaten Trump.

I’ll be writing over the next few weeks with some ideas about what a new Democratic economic pitch for the middle class would look like. It’s a question that should be at the top of mind for lots of people in our party.

It’s a much better question than, for example, whether something fishy happened with the voting machines in Wisconsin. Seven million dollars to the Green Party later, you learned that Hillary’s problem in Wisconsin was that she got fewer votes than Trump.

caption
Donald Trump at a meeting with tech leaders at his tower in Manhattan.
source
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Less whining, more winning

For all the complaining about how unfair everything was this time, Democrats had the easier hand to play in this campaign than Republicans did.

Democrats faced an often-hostile FBI and a meddlesome Russian government. Republicans had Donald Trump at the top of their ticket. I wouldn’t trade.

Clinton’s failure to beat such a disliked, distrusted, and undisciplined candidate as Trump was appalling, and Democrats have a great deal of control over whether they fail similarly next time.

As Luigi Zingales wrote last month, drawing on his experience observing Silvio Berlusconi’s opponents in Italy, the way you beat the inept clown who runs your country is through normal politics. Instead of focusing your message on how ridiculous he is, focus on how what he’s doing isn’t working, and how you have better ideas.

If Trump is as bad a president as Democrats expect him to be, it should be easy to make that a winning comparison – so long as they keep their wits about them in the meantime.