The presidential election in November, 2016 had a shocking outcome, confounding the poll-takers and TV talking heads no end. A lot of ink will be spent, and a lot of statistics will be crunched trying to find the reason for the surprising result. But while statistics may tell us who voted how, they won't get to the bottom of why voters chose as they did.
So Donald Trump won the election, and in the few months since then there has been such whining, whimpering and lack of grace from the loser and her supporters as I have never seen before after an election, and I've seen a lot of elections. (I remember – barely – Dewey losing to Truman.) Even the candidate herself didn't have the grace to concede the election in front of her supporters; instead she was reportedly out of control with tears and rage in a hotel room. Would we be better off now with that emotional brittleness in the oval office?
And there is no sign of a let-up in the whining and placard-waving. There's faux outrage from Democrats every time you turn on the news or open a paper: "He's hiring conservatives! He's making policy! He's doing what he said he would do! Boo-hoo!" It's frankly pathetic, Democrats. Get a hold of yourselves. Trump is president, knock off the self-pity and let's get on with working together and moving the country along.
I'm an independent voter, as I think voters ought to be. This past year I supported Jim Webb, then Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. I'm certainly not happy with Mr.Trump being in the White House. So let's think about why he is there. As far as I can see, Donald Trump won the Republican primary race fair and square. He did have some advantages: he was a "celebrity" and the news media couldn't get enough of him at the beginning, giving him millions of dollars worth of free publicity before they realized he might win, when they began to tear him down, which gave him further free publicity and demonstrated their opportunism. And it didn't hurt that at least fifteen of the other sixteen GOP contenders were hyperconservative clowns. But all in all, the Republican contest seemed fair and certainly open.
But the Democratic primary affair was something else, and this is where we will find clues to the unexpected election result. Like the Republicans, the Democrats also had their super-celebrity in Hillary Clinton, whom the mass media favored from the start with nearly exclusive coverage, to the disadvantage of the remaining candidates. But the overwhelmingly odd thing about the campaign for the Democratic party nomination is that it gives every appearance of having been locked up at the start. For the first time in well over a century, no sitting Democratic office-holder showed any interest in running for president. That's incredible! The party had a sitting vice president, and it has never happened in the history of the world's oldest political party, since its founding by Andrew Jackson in 1828, that a sitting VP has declined to run after the end of his president's term. Until 2016, when VP Joe Biden – who was known to have a life ambition of being president – mysteriously opted out. (The death of his son in May, 2015 certainly depressed Biden, and was given as a reason why he chose not to run, but if Biden had been serious about running he would have made that known two years earlier, in order to position himself. By 2015 the Clintons had co-opted the game, and it was far too late.) The party had around sixty sitting governors and senators – the usual candidate pool for the presidency – plus nearly 200 representatives in the House. And none of these hundreds of ambitious politicians wanted to be president! No living American has seen anything like this. What can explain this peculiar anomaly?
The short answer is a coup by the Clintons. This clearly goes back to 2008, when after an acrimonious nomination loss to Barack Obama, Hillary (more likely, Bill) extracted a promise of Obama's support in 2016 along with the job of Secretary of State for four years against Hillary's promise to not challenge Obama in the 2012 elections, along with an offer of substantial financial support for that campaign. (Nothing but a quid pro quo can explain President Obama offering the State job to a politician with no experience in foreign affairs, whom he despised more than any other.) Obama's support for Hillary in 2016 was made known to the party leadership, and foreclosed Joe Biden's opportunity to run. Obama's security from a party challenge in 2012 was assured, but "uncle Joe" paid the price.
The Clinton team embarked on an ambitious plan that would clear the 2016 field of Democratic challengers and secure Hillary's "coronation", as the Democratic National Committee (DNC) vice chair Donna Brazile put it. The challenge was considerable. Historically, it has been an uphill battle for either party to win a presidential election with a new candidate following the end of a multi-term presidency of their own party: The only candidates who have managed this since the 19th century are the Republicans William Taft in 1908, Herbert Hoover in 1928, and George H. Bush in 1988; the only Democrat to have achieved this was the first one to try it, Martin Van Buren in 1836, one hundred and eighty years ago! The list of failures in such a situation is much longer: McCain (R) in 2008, Gore (D) in 2000, Humphrey (D) in 1968, Nixon (R) in 1960, Cox (D) in 1920, etc., and now we can add H.Clinton in 2016.
Hillary Clinton's job as Secretary of State was a key element in the election strategy. Her 2015 book, "Hard Choices", relates how she was "surprised" when President-elect Obama asked her to accept the position. (Given Hillary's devotion to the truth, who can doubt the veracity of this claim?) Hillary traveled overseas more than any previous Secretary of State, to benefit from the appearance of international expertise. Photo-ops with foreign leaders gave the desired publicity, and donations from foreign countries and firms to the Clinton Foundation followed, clearly with a view to a favorable relationship when Mrs.Clinton would become president, as foreign leaders were led to expect. When she retired from the job after Obama's first term to prepare her book, give massively compensated short speeches (mainly to financial institutions), and concentrate on the domestic details of campaign planning, Hillary's star was shining bright, at least in the media. Oddly, she was still the most reviled of politicians in national opinion polls.
Those who appreciate irony may want to consider the phone call placed by Bill Clinton to his old friend Donald Trump in the spring of 2015, shortly before Trump announced his candidacy. According to the Washington Post (Sep.5, 2015), the former president urged Trump to get more involved in politics, and told Trump he would be a valuable addition to the Republican party's discourse. Clinton may or may not have directly urged Trump to run, but he knew Trump was near the moment of decision. Was Clinton sowing the seeds of tumult in the Republican camp? Setting up a perfect foil for his wife's barbs? Dangerous sport, exchanging barbs with Trump. In the end, would it turn out that Mr.Clinton's advice to Donald was Mrs.Clinton's undoing?
In addition to the Clinton team's impressive fundraising from banks and other financial firms, it was vital to gain control of the DNC, which would regulate the primary election phase. In 2011, Hillary managed to get her 2008 presidential campaign co-chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, installed as chair of the DNC, and Schultz proceeded to set debate and other conditions that she thought would favor Hillary. Next, the ingenious "Hillary Victory Fund" was created to ensure support from state superdelegates to the nominating convention. The fund was designed to circumvent legal limits on direct donations to a political campaign, by using a loophole that allowed donors to Hillary's campaign to donate to state parties, who then could donate to the HVF. The "laundered" funds would then be promised back to the states for use in the general election, presumably after the superdelegates had voted correctly at the convention. Apparently, very little of the collected funds, which were managed by Hillary's campaign chief, Elizabeth Jones, actually made it back to the states. The net effect of the hyper-organized Clinton juggernaut was as planned: Hillary Clinton became the only serious candidate, which proved fatal for the party in the fall election.
Too many books will be written about this election, and will attempt to assign credit and blame for the victory and loss. As I see it, there was a lack of planning and self-analysis in both the major parties. Neither party's platform proposed any meaningful and achievable program to tackle the most serious difficulties in the nation or in the world. Nor was this expected by experienced voters; party platforms are intended to be flexible, to contain as little as possible in the way of promises. While in the Republican camp the lack of national party guidance resulted in a messy and unpredictable free-for-all, among the Democrats too much national control resulted in what was essentially a take-over of the entire election process by a dedicated group – the Clinton team in the guise of the DNC. It was, in effect, a coup that sank the Democratic party in an election that almost any other Democratic candidate would have won in a heartbeat.
So will the Democratic party learn from this fiasco? On the basis of the party discussion after the election, on the few occasions when this has risen above self-pity and hand-wringing, it seems that they will not. To the degree that the discussion has been introspective, it has centered on tactics and strategy of campaigning, on fund-raising (even more money than the obscenely huge amounts spent in this election is apparently needed), and on the recommendation of the Democrats' new Rasputin, David Brock: opposition to the current administration on every point. Even on legislative proposals that would benefit the country, Brock's advice is to oppose, oppose, and oppose. So far, the party leaders seem to take this destructive advice seriously. Unfortunately, these are the same leaders that were responsible for the incompetence shown in the 2016 campaign, and they are most likely to lead the party into further disasters.
In my view, the Democratic party, if they are to regain relevance, must listen to Bernie Sanders and other reformers and understand that the people are truly sick of the self-indulgence in Washington. The voters want candidates committed to cleaning up the corrupting connection of politics and money by controlling election financing, banning gifts and emoluments to all public officials, lobbying activity, and similar self-serving behavior by politicians. The people know that the politicians are the problem, something that both parties are seeking to sweep under the rug. That the tactic of ignoring the problem has not worked is conclusively demonstrated by the election of Donald Trump, the only candidate on the November ballot who could make a semi-credible claim to an attempt to clean up Washington. However, he will find that neither party in Congress will go along with any plan of reform that might diminish their power or longevity in office.
As there is little likelihood that either the Republican or the Democratic party will carry through the reforms demanded by voters, I conclude that the United States is ready for a third wheel on the cart of national politics: A party dedicated to election reform and clean-up of corruption is needed, but this won't appear overnight. In the interim, my recommendation is to vote independent candidates committed to reform into Congress. Breaking the power of the corrupt duopoly is the only way to get politicians in Washington who will place the people's welfare ahead of personal or partisan gain. Then we can aspire to actually become a democracy.