We’ve all watched a game where an umpire makes a terrible call and it changes the outcome. In the post-mortem of the 2016 election, one can make the case that the results were inevitable before the final teams were chosen. Despite the best efforts of the umpires — the media elites — the odds were never in her favor.
I’m certain that brings no comfort to her or her supporters, but the 2016 presidential race was going to be a “change” election. For more than a year, national polls asking their version of “do you think the country is on the right track or the wrong track” were getting a very firm “wrong track” with most polls showing that between sixty and seventy percent of Americans believed that the country was headed in the wrong direction. When that many likely voters agreed on the “directional” question, there’s little doubt that President Obama would not get a so-called third term with the election of someone who pledged to continue to govern along the same ideological path. Voters were determined to make a change.
I am not sure how that giant red flag was missed by so many — perhaps her own pollsters had nightmares about this simple number — and with good reason. I can’t imagine they ignored it, but instead they probably reasoned with it: if you are up against a candidate that is perceived as racist, sexist and bigoted, surely people won’t vote for him if they have been informed of the horrible things he has said. Perhaps they assumed (or hoped) that the change people were looking for would be satisfied by a woman president or even by flipping the Senate. Either way, the narrative developed by her campaign highlighting her experience and contrasting it with his shortcomings completely backfired, motivating dissatisfied Democrats to vote Trump and inspiring people who wanted change to turn out and vote, bigly.
I have to believe that the big red flag of change was also missed because of the smoke coming from the media elites. I have a tremendous amount of respect for reporters — it’s a thankless job and can be a dangerous one — but I have to wonder about the producers and editors who could see these poll numbers and glossed over that directional question, instead choosing to highlight President Obama’s healthy job approval number. Or how about those whose coverage of a Trump rally included only Trump’s offensive comments rather than note that 10,000 people in the audience were clapping and that they had waited three hours to get in? While they hoped to help her get elected, the smokescreen effect was so thick that everyone missed the story. Everyone bought into the narrative that America couldn’t possibly elect Donald Trump, so the shock was huge — uuge.
I don’t know that President-elect Trump was destined to be our agent of change, but the role seemed to be written for him. With a country is screaming for something different, he was outsider with sky-high name recognition in a primary field chock full of governors and senators who were shocked by his bad manners and could barely defend themselves. Most could only stand there and elaborate on their weakness: they had been part of the government that voters were hell-bent on rejecting. The media elites were so tickled by his candidacy since he was someone that Clinton could surely beat that they practically ignored the others and followed him around with his own camera pool. They went to mock him and highlight his lack of depth on the issues and instead they raised him up as a legitimate candidate with hours of free media. They gave him a satellite uplink while the others shouted into Styrofoam cups with strings attached.
Many Bernie Sanders supporters are wondering if his brand of change would have won the election. Certainly Sanders had attracted huge crowds of the very voters that ended up voting for Trump — and Clinton did not inspire women or minorities to vote — but would an aging socialist have embodied the kind of change people were looking for? We’ll never know.
In the days and weeks to come, there will surely be a very thorough post-mortem by the Clinton campaign, the Democratic party and the national media. My ultra curious mind would like to know if Wikileaks has any more juicy e-mails to share that show whether there was a voice of truth inside the campaign or if everyone was too consumed reciting the narrative they’d been given to think for themselves. While looking back will be instructive — and will perhaps highlight a “never again” moment for many — looking ahead is the only thing most of us should do. There’s a new team on the field and it’s time to watch what they will do.