Thursday, December 8, 2016

Why Hillary Lost

If you want to know why Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton as President, this story by Gallup, though written in mid-September, tells it all.  Here is Donald Trump's word cloud, based on the leading stories about him, week after week:

The word cloud does not have a single theme, but the main words, speech, immigration, convention, President, make, people and Mexico are presidential words, policy words, words you would expect to hear about a normal candidate doing presidential things and setting forth is views on the important issues facing this country. Week by week, the top words were "President," "convention," "Russia," "Obama," "family," "campaign," "immigration," "Mexico," "Mexico," and "Obama."  Other important words included "speech" and "immigration."  Certainly there is nothing here to suggest that Trump was anything other than a normal candidate, nothing to suggest his unprecedented lack of experience, his extraordinary conflicts of interest, his nature as a crook or a bully, his association with the semi-fascist Alt Right, his fondness for conspiracy theories verging on the paranoid, or any  of the countless reasons why he was not a normal candidate.

Now look at Clinton's word cloud:

What more is there to say?  With the exception of the week of the convention and the week when she collapsed with pneumonia, the leading story about Hillary Clinton every single week for two months was about her e-mails.  And after e-mails, the usual words were lie, scandal, foundation, health and pneumonia.

And let us give credit where it is due.  Trump, erratic is he may have been in some ways, maintained superb message discipline.  He hit on the e-mails over and over again, making clear that sending State Department e-mails on a private server was the most heinous offense any candidate for office had ever committed in the history of the Republic, that her missing e-mails showed she was hiding something worse, that only her status as candidate for President was keeping her out of jail, and that, if elected, he would remedy that.  In this, Trump got a lot of help for a cooperative press that breathlessly looked through every new revelation to see if there was any appearance of impropriety.  And sure enough, it turned out that as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton sometimes spoke to people who had made large donations to her foundation, and that some of them wanted special access as a result, although none seemed to have gotten any.  Trump also got an assist from the Russians hacking and Wikileaks printing DNC and campaign e-mails that had nothing to do with the State Department or national security, but by then the voters had heard the terms "Clinton," "e-mails" and "scandal" together so many times that the details scarcely even mattered.  And, of course, there was the FBI's surprise announcement eleven days before the election that they were reopening the investigation.

Things eventually reached the point where you could expect something like this:
The latest e-mail revelations for Hillary Clinton reveal further potential conflicts of interest as growing numbers of large-scale donors to the Clinton Foundations appear to have met with her as Secretary of State.  While no evidence of any improper influence was found, and scheduling appears to been done by persons independent of the ones soliciting donations, the fact that donations did not come with a clear disclosure that making a donation meant that Clinton would never speak to the donor again raise troubling ethical issues. 
In further news today, Donald Trump shot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue.
Of course, Trump had plenty of scandals, too.  The problems was not the lack of scandals, but that there were too many.  Confronted with such an embarrassment of riches, important publications like the Washington Post, USA Today and Newsweek published a new scandal a week, but none of them stuck around long enough to achieve any traction.  It would appear that leading an exemplary life with one slip is worse for a candidate than being a walking scandal because walking scandals don't allow for much focus.

The only Trump scandal that achieved any traction was the "pussy" tape.  Imagine, then, if the tape had been released in July.  Imagine if Trump promptly denied having done any of the things he bragged about on tape, and for the next two months the leading Trump story each week was a new woman coming forward to say that he had groped her.  Imagine if every interview with Trump had focused on the latest groping allegations.  Imagine if, just as things seemed to have settled down and the tapes seemed to be behind us, the mysterious woman who claims that Trump raped her when she was 13 years old came forward with her story.  And hell, suppose that two days before the election the word came out that her story had been found to be unsubstantiated.  Would it have made a difference.  Suppose that the leading words in Trump's cloud had been "pussy," "grab," "grope," "assault," and "tape."  It seems plausible that the election would have gone the other way.

Trump's response to the women who accused him of groping them was to say that they were all liars and paid shills of the corrupt Clinton machine.  That was a flagrant, shameless lie.  But it does seem reasonable to assume that if a new accuser had come forward each week for two months (or more) on end and accounts investigating hers story, in salacious detail, had dominated the news week after week, it would start to look as is there was a coordinated element to it.  But honestly, so what?  There is ample evidence that the Clinton e-mail revelations were also released in a calculated manner, to do most damage, by Republicans in the House Oversight Committee, the FBI, the Russians, and Wikileaks.*

For that matter, it wouldn't have to be the "pussy" tape.  Suppose litigation had been more intense on Trump University and week after week a new and embarrassing pleading was filed in court (public documents).  Or, on weeks when one wasn't filed, reporters started digging in the old pleadings in the case and revealing more and more about the Trump University had been up to.  And only after the public had been softened up by weeks and months of stories about Trump University did the story  break about the Trump Foundations illegal donation to a Florida Attorney General who was considering an investigation.  Trump's word cloud would have been more like "fraud," "lawsuit," "deception," and "bribe."  Of course, Trump could have spiked that simply by settling.  Or suppose reporters had become obsessed with his bankruptcy and how he looted the company and left shareholders holding the bag.  Or possible conflicts of interest in international relations (there are A LOT!), with a new one breaking week after week. (Instead of only noticing after he was elected). Any grand unifying theme would have been sufficient.**

The real question has to be, why did the media all play along with this?  Trump accused the media of being biased against him, as evidenced by so many leading media personalities being so dismayed when he won, and I think he is right.  Yet if the media were so biased against him, why did they focus so obsessively on Clinton's e-mails and conflicts of interest and fail to show Trump up for what he really was?  I think the only answer can be in a strange sort of way that they focused so harshly on Clinton precisely because they were biased against Trump.  One person commented that they considered Trump being a crook to be a "dog bites man" story.  But more to the point, I think they never bothered to fully expose him because it never occurred to them that he could actually win. They came down so hard on Clinton precisely because they expected her to be the next President and assumed that they should hold the next President's feet to the fire.

And look where it got us.
*Although, to be clear, there is no evidence that any of these organizations except the Russians and Wikileaks coordinated with each other, and none whatever that they coordinated with Trump.  It is pointless to complain about Congressional Republicans.  They were simply playing politics as usual, using their powers of investigation to hurt the opposing party.  The FBI, on the other hand, is not supposed to meddle in elections, and they clearly behaved improperly in doing so.  And as for the Russians and Wikileaks -- well, I suppose they were doing what intelligence services do, but that it succeeded is troubling in the extreme.
**Though probably not Trump stiffing his contractors.  That did get a good deal of play but never bothered his supporters.  I assume the reason was that, although they did not condone his ripping off contractors, they appreciated that he knew how to drive a hard bargain and couldn't wait to see him do that to all the people ripping us off.

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