Hindsight is easy, but in retrospect there were plenty of clues that Clinton would lose Michigan, and the general election. Before the primaries, I noticed an unusual amount of enthusiasm about Bernie Sanders, including from people who are not normally very vocal about politics. Sanders went on to upset Clinton. I saw no signs of enthusiasm for her campaign. I saw a lot of Sanders bumper stickers, a fair number of old Obama bumper stickers, and even a few old Kerry bumper stickers into November. I saw exactly one for Clinton, and that wasn’t until later in November after the election. I know of a street, and I mean one single street, which had a number of pro-Clinton yard signs around where I live. While I had signs up for Kerry and Obama in the past three elections, my yard sign from this election can be seen in the picture above.
My antipathy for both major party candidates was shared by others. An unusual number of patients started talking to me about voting for third party candidates (without first hearing of my plans). It was notable to see Clinton rush to Michigan in the final week of the campaign after she earlier had a double digit lead. I questioned her strategy when I saw her ads. Those which I saw solely concentrated on personal attacks (even if valid) against Donald Trump, in contrast to the ads from Trump making promises (regardless of their credibility) of jobs and a brighter future. If someone was already on the fence despite weeks of news about the vile things Trump had said, it was clear which ads had a better chance of sealing the deal.
Such anecdotal experiences are not enough to safely predict an election, but Politico reports on multiple errors by the Clinton campaign in Michigan. I fear that the same attitude seen by the campaign would have been reflected in the type of presidency we would have seen if Clinton had been elected. These included failing to listen to the views of others, and to utilize volunteers from the SEIU:
Turn that bus around, the Clinton team ordered SEIU. Those volunteers needed to stay in Iowa to fool Donald Trump into competing there, not drive to Michigan, where the Democrat’s models projected a 5-point win through the morning of Election Day.
Michigan organizers were shocked. It was the latest case of Brooklyn ignoring on-the-ground intel and pleas for help in a race that they felt slipping away at the end.
“They believed they were more experienced, which they were. They believed they were smarter, which they weren’t,” said Donnie Fowler, who was consulting for the Democratic National Committee during the final months of the campaign. “They believed they had better information, which they didn’t.”
The SEIU was not the only union which the Clinton campaign ignored. While the strength of labor in Michigan might have declined in recent years, to ignore the UAW in Michigan sounds like an inexcusable mistake:
Clinton never even stopped by a United Auto Workers union hall in Michigan, though a person involved with the campaign noted bitterly that the UAW flaked on GOTV commitments in the final days, and that AFSCME never even made any, despite months of appeals.
The anecdotes are different but the narrative is the same across battlegrounds, where Democratic operatives lament a one-size-fits-all approach drawn entirely from pre-selected data — operatives spit out “the model, the model,” as they complain about it — guiding Mook’s decisions on field, television, everything else. That’s the same data operation, of course, that predicted Clinton would win the Iowa caucuses by 6 percentage points (she scraped by with two-tenths of a point), and that predicted she’d beat Bernie Sanders in Michigan (he won by 1.5 points)…
Michigan operatives relay stories like one about an older woman in Flint who showed up at a Clinton campaign office, asking for a lawn sign and offering to canvass, being told these were not “scientifically” significant ways of increasing the vote, and leaving, never to return. A crew of building trade workers showed up at another office looking to canvass, but, confused after being told there was no literature to hand out like in most campaigns, also left and never looked back.
“There’s this illusion that the Clinton campaign had a ground game. The deal is that the Clinton campaign could have had a ground game,” said a former Obama operative in Michigan. “They had people in the states who were willing to do stuff. But they didn’t provide people anything to do until GOTV.”
The only metric that people involved in the operations say they ever heard headquarters interested in was how many volunteer shifts had been signed up — though the volunteers were never given the now-standard handheld devices to input the responses they got in the field, and Brooklyn mandated that they not worry about data entry. Operatives watched packets of real-time voter information piled up in bins at the coordinated campaign headquarters. The sheets were updated only when they got ripped, or soaked with coffee. Existing packets with notes from the volunteers, including highlighting how much Trump inclination there was among some of the white male union members the Clinton campaign was sure would be with her, were tossed in the garbage…
Most importantly, multiple operatives said, the Clinton campaign dismissed what’s known as in-person “persuasion” — no one was knocking on doors trying to drum up support for the Democratic nominee, which also meant no one was hearing directly from voters aside from voters they’d already assumed were likely Clinton voters, no one tracking how feelings about the race and the candidates were evolving. This left no information to check the polling models against — which might have, for example, showed the campaign that some of the white male union members they had expected to be likely Clinton voters actually veering toward Trump — and no early warning system that the race was turning against them in ways that their daily tracking polls weren’t picking up.
People involved in the Michigan campaign still can’t understand why Brooklyn stayed so sure of the numbers in a state that it also had projected Clinton would win in the primary.
“Especially given what happened in the primary,” said Michigan Democratic Party chairman Brandon Dillon. “We knew that there was going to have to be more attention.”
With Clinton’s team ignoring or rejecting requests, Democratic operatives in Michigan and other battleground states might have turned to the DNC. But they couldn’t; they weren’t allowed to ask for help.
State officials were banned from speaking directly to anyone at the DNC in Washington. (“Welcome to DNC HQ,” read a blue and white sign behind the reception desk in Brooklyn that appeared after the ouster of Debbie Wasserman Schultz just before the July convention)…
Nor did Brooklyn ask for help from some people who’d been expecting the call. Sanders threw himself into campaign appearances for Clinton throughout the fall, but familiar sources say the campaign never asked the Vermont senator’s campaign aides for help thinking through Michigan, Wisconsin or anywhere else where he had run strong. It was already November when the campaign finally reached out to the White House to get President Barack Obama into Michigan, a state that he’d worked hard and won by large margins in 2008 and 2012. On the Monday before Election Day, Obama added a stop in Ann Arbor, but that final weekend, the president had played golf on Saturday and made one stop in Orlando on Sunday, not having been asked to do anything else. Michigan senior adviser Steve Neuman had been asking for months to get Obama and the first lady on the ground there. People who asked for Vice President Joe Biden to come in were told that top Clinton aides weren’t clearing those trips…
“I think it’s true, they executed well. I think it’s true that the plan was accomplished,” said a former labor leader in the state. “But the plan was not the right plan.”
While they clearly failed to use the right plan to win in 2016, Clinton supporters are ignoring their mistakes and placing the blame on external factors such as James Comey and Russia. In a race which turned out so close, many factors could have change the result, but it makes far more sense to place the blame both having a flawed candidate and the many mistakes made during the campaign. The same close minded thought processes seen in the campaign could be seen in Hillary Clinton throughout her life, leading Clinton to having been wrong on virtually every major decision of her career. While his appointees and many statements from Donald Trump make me fear a very poor outcome from his presidency, this is still an open matter. Hopefully Bill Gates is right in his optimistic prediction. Clinton’s history of poor judgement, both on campaign strategy and public policy, makes it very doubtful she could have been a competent president.