Seems to have come out today, and his thesis seems to be identity, not policy. (My bolds)
What Didn’t Happen
“I’ve spent part of nearly every day since November 8, 2016, wrestling with a single question,” writes Hillary Clinton in What Happened. “Why did I lose?”
1 What Happened is an unusual book. Published mere months after the 2016 presidential election, it is the defeated candidate’s effort to understand how she fell short. At its core is the belief that something extraordinary and bizarre occurred in 2016—an outcome beyond the boundaries of the normal give-and-take of American politics, an aberration that must be explained.
If Mitt Romney had won in 2012, Barack Obama would not have released a book entitled What the Hell? So, too, if John Kerry had swept to victory in 2004; George W. Bush would not be joined by millions in puzzling over the breach. In American politics, loss is part of life. Thrumming through Clinton’s book—and in the anguished flood of postelection commentary from liberals and never-Trumpers—is the belief that 2016 was not like 2012 or 2004. Reality had ruptured. We were owed answers.
To be fair, something strange had happened. Donald Trump won the election.
Even Trump’s team didn’t believe he was going to win. Plans were afoot for him to start a television channel in the aftermath of his loss. And then came election night. He won the electoral college even though 61 percent of voters, in Election Day exit polls, said he was unqualified to hold the presidency; even though most voters had a higher opinion of Clinton and believed Trump lacked the temperament for the office he sought. 2 The US presidency is a sacred trust, its occupant the wielder of unimaginable destructive power, and here, we had handed it to a human hurricane. And we had done so knowingly, purposefully.
It is this affront that motivates What Happened. …
With a margin that narrow—more than 136 million votes were cast in total—anything can explain the results. And that is where Clinton focuses her efforts, …
But such analyses pose the easy question rather than the hard one. Rather than asking how Trump won, we should be asking how Trump was close enough to win. How did a candidate like Trump—a candidate who radiated contempt for the party he represented and unfitness for the job he sought—get within a few thousand votes of the presidency in the first place?
This was a question I posed in mid-2017 to Larry Bartels, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University. …
… After I had worn myself out, he replied in a way that has tormented me since: What if nothing unusual happened at all?
The premise of my questioning, Bartels calmly explained, was that the 2016 election was weird. And he was right, that was my premise. …
But Bartels had been looking at the data and he disagreed. The 2016 election didn’t look like a glitch, he said. It looked, for the most part, like every other election we’ve had recently. The simulation was, if anything, too stable, like we had unleashed tornadoes and meteors on our virtual city and only a few windows had shattered. It was the normalcy that was unnerving.
Take gender. Clinton was the first female candidate nominated by a major party for president. Trump was a male id in a suit, bragging about grabbing women by the pussy and offhandedly rating the sexual desirability of those who challenged him. This was, then, an election designed to split us more deeply by gender than any in recent history.
But turn to the exit polls. In 2004, the Republican candidate for president won 55 percent of men. In 2008, he won 48 percent of men. In 2012, 52 percent. And in 2016? Trump won 52 percent of men, precisely matching Romney’s performance.
The story is similar among women. In 2004, the Republican won 48 percent of female voters. In 2008, he won 43 percent; in 2012, 44 percent. And in 2016? 41 percent. Lower, but only two percentage points beneath John McCain in 2008. No earthquake.
Let’s look at it a different way. This was the white nationalism election, when the alt-right came into its own, when Trump promised to sweep in after the first black president in American history and put America back the way it was, to build a wall and make America great again. And yet, in 2004, the GOP candidate won 58 percent of white voters. In 2008, he won 55 percent of white voters. In 2012, he won 59 percent of white voters. Fast-forward to 2016: 57 percent.
Of course, there was no group Trump assailed more regularly than Hispanic immigrants. He launched his campaign by descending a golden escalator and proclaiming, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you.… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” In 2004, the Republican candidate won 44 percent of Hispanic voters. In 2008, he won 31 percent. In 2012, 27 percent. And in 2016, 28 percent.
After the GOP’s 2004 victory, the Republican Party’s dominance was widely ascribed to Bush’s deep, authentic bond with white, born-again Christians, of whom 78 percent pulled the lever for his reelection. In 2008, the GOP candidate won 74 percent of these voters. In 2012, it was back up to 78 percent. But Trump was different. He was a morally louche adulterer who flaunted his wealth, and when asked, on the campaign trail, if he ever turned to God for forgiveness, he said, “I am not sure I have.” So how did he do among white, born-again voters? He won 80 percent.
Perhaps this is best viewed through the lens of partisanship. In 2016, Republicans nominated a thrice-married billionaire who had been a Democrat mere years before, who was dismissed in a National Review cover story as a threat to conservatism, 4 who had few ties to the Republican Party and viewed its previous standard-bearers with contempt, who spoke openly about his affection for Social Security, Medicare, and Planned Parenthood. In 2004, the Republican candidate won 93 percent of self-identified Republicans. In 2008, he won 90 percent. In 2012, he won 93 percent. In 2016, he won 88 percent. A drop, to be sure, but nothing calamitous.
The popular vote margin is also telling. In 2004, the Republican candidate won by 3 million votes. In 2008, the Democrat won by more than 9 million votes. In 2012, the Democrat won by almost 5 million votes. And in 2016, the Democrat again won by almost 3 million votes. The intervention of the electoral college overturned this margin, of course, but if you’re just looking to the winds of popular support, 2016 isn’t an obvious aberration.
Here, then, is Bartels’s point: if you’d been given a printout of voter data from the past few elections and been asked to identify which campaign was the bizarre one, the one that would rock American politics and lead to book after book trying to explain the outcome, would you be able to do so? The results in 2016 mostly looked like 2012 and 2008 and 2004, even though the winning candidate is one of the most bizarre figures ever to crash into American politics.
What’s surprising about the 2016 election results isn’t what happened. It’s what didn’t happen. Trump didn’t lose by 30 points or win by 20 points. Most people who voted chose the same party in 2016 that they’d chosen in 2012. That isn’t to say there was nothing at all distinct or worthy of study. Crucially, white voters without college educations swung sharply toward Trump, and their overrepresentation in electorally key states won him the election.I5 But the campaign, by the numbers, was mostly a typical contest between a Republican and a Democrat.
The fact that voters ultimately treated Trump as if he were just another Republican speaks to the enormous weight party polarization now exerts on our politics—a weight so heavy that it can take an election as bizarre as 2016 and jam the result into the same grooves as Romney’s contest with Obama or Bush’s race against Kerry. We are so locked into our political identities that there is virtually no candidate, no information, no condition, that can force us to change our minds. We will justify almost anything or anyone so long as it helps our side, and the result is a politics devoid of guardrails, standards, persuasion, or accountability.
And yet, we have not changed so much, have we? We still coach Little League and care for our parents, we cry at romantic comedies and mow our lawns, we laugh at our eccentricities and apologize for harsh words, we want to be loved and wish for a better world. That is not to absolve us of responsibility for our politics, but to trace a lament oft heard when we step away from politics: Aren’t we better than this?
I think we are, or we can be. But toxic systems compromise good individuals with ease. They do so not by demanding we betray our values but by enlisting our values such that we betray each other. What is rational and even moral for us to do individually becomes destructive when done collectively.
How American politics became a toxic system, why we participate in it, and what it means for our future is the subject of this book.
Thinking in systems
Let me be clear from the beginning: This is not a book about people. This is a book about systems.