In my opinion, Hillary Clinton has every right — even a duty — to examine last year’s debacle in a political memoir. Likewise, her defenders and critics have every right to debate the validity of her explanations for it. But in rehashing why she lost, almost everybody is still engaging in the wrong debate. The far more crucial question, the one that remains unanswered, is this: Why did Trump ever even have a chance?
In modern political history, there has always been a “floor” of qualifications required of all serious candidates for President. Even the most intellectually unimpressive — Reagan and Bush — could complete a sentence. They respected the need for a minimal amount of decorum. They could read material longer than a page and a half, and could retain information and follow advice. They didn’t think themselves experts in all things, nor whine constantly about virtually everything. They had actual friends, and wives and children whose love was clearly genuine and not performative. Though some were more charming than others, none were obnoxious blowhards.
As unpleasant as I found so many of the 2016 Republican candidates — Christie and Cruz come first to mind — they all met these bare minimum criteria. And yet, even with policy proposals far more amenable to the Republican base, they were dispensed with one-by-one by Trump voters. The explanation that “they were politicians” is inadequate — as neither Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina were.
To choose Trump, his voters had to reject the proposition that there were any requirements for President at all.
I get that the “deplorables” were actually attracted to Trump’s deplorableness — that’s no different than two really ugly people falling in love and seeing each other as beautiful. That accounts for his hardcore base — Hillary said “half” of his supporters and I think she was about right. That still leaves another 30 million or so who committed the electoral equivalent of completely suppressing their gag reflex. In fact, their initial recoil seemed to have acted like a spring propelling them to “take a chance” on Election Day.
Insisting “anyone but Hillary” could have beaten Trump (except for the 17 aforementioned Republicans, conveniently) is quite obviously a claim that Sanders would have beaten him. Perhaps Bernie could have — we obviously can’t know for sure. But even the most optimistic scenarios would have had him only squeaking by in the Electoral College, and doubtfully with the same 3 million ballot margin in the popular vote that Clinton had. (Sanders might have even lost the popular vote and still won in the E.C., as Trump did.)
Hillary Clinton has every right — even a duty — to examine last year’s debacle in a political memoir.
But even a President Sanders would have left us with the reality that millions of “non-deplorables” would have voted for Trump; and to do so, all of them would have come to the conclusion that a hideously uninformed sociopathic liar who didn’t even bother hiding it was not unsuitable for the office of the President. No alternative scenario for November 8, even the most optimistic one, would have made that less true.
Ironically, we need another book called “What Happened,” but perhaps with a clarifying subtitle: “How Millions of Americans Lost their Damn Minds and Elected Donald Trump.”
Because we still haven’t figured that out.
P.S. By the way, if Bernie Sanders had lost, and all of the pundits were now insisting it was because too many people voted against his “crazy socialist ideas” or Jane’s Burlington College kerfuffle, or because of whatever other mud Trump threw at him, I would be asking the same questions. On his worst day, all of Sanders’ sins wouldn’t have amounted to a hill of beans next to Trumps hide-in-plain sight psychosis. Bernie wouldn’t have been responsible for Trump’s win any more than Hillary was.