President Barack Obama suggested that Hillary Clinton’s hyper-progressive, city-focused campaign strategy led to her defeat on Nov. 8, and has given the GOP a chance to win political dominance for many years.
“One message that I do have for Democrats, is that a strategy that’s just micro-targeting particular discrete groups in a Democratic coalition sometimes will win you the election but it is not going to win you the broad mandate you need,” a subdued Obama told reporters at a Nov. 20 press conference in Lima, Peru, at the tail-end of his last international trip.
Obama acknowledged that Donald Trump’s win has put the nation’s politics “up for grabs,” and could allow the GOP to win long-term dominance.
Certainly think it’s true that politics in America right now are a little bit up for grabs. That some of the old alignments in both parties, Democrat and Republican, are being reshaped. And although the results of this election involved some of the specifics of the candidates and aren’t going to be duplicated in every subsequent election, Democrats do have to do some thinking about how do we make sure that the message we have is received effectively and results in winning elections.
That’s a huge admission for Obama. He has repeatedly argued that Trump and his supporters are far outside the mainstream of what Democrats paint as an electorate split into discrete and diverse ethnic, sexual and civic minorities.
On Nov. 8, Trump won at least 8 percent of the African-American vote and at least 29 percent of the Latino vote, besting the 2012 performance of establishment candidate Gov. Mitt Romney. Trump’s new pro-American policies include trade and labor rules that help ordinary Americans instead of global businesses and their Wall Street investors.
Since Clinton’s defeat on Nov. 8, Democratic campaign staffers and reporters have noted that Clinton and her campaign manager, Robbie Mook, disregarded lower-status Democratic voters, such as traditional Democratic voters in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Instead, the campaign relied on divisive social controversies to seek record turnout among the Democrats’ urban voters, including professional women, blacks, Latinos, immigrants and gays.
For example, on Sept. 9, Clinton told a gay fundraiser that:
You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it … Now some of those folks, they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.
Clinton’s social-issue strategy did increase turnout by her urban voters in Florida and many other states. But Trump’s economic pitch generated ever greater turnout in traditional GOP districts and in the disregarded midwestern states that formed the Democrats’ so-called “Blue Wall.”
In his press conference comments, Obama did not mention Clinton even once. He spoke in his usual passive-aggressive style, during which he does not mention the person he is criticizing while he touts his preferred policy.
Ultimately the more we can talk about what we have in common as a nation and speak to a broad set of values, a vision that speaks to everybody, and not just one group at a time, the better off we’re going to be. I think that’s part of the reason why I was able to get elected twice, is that I always tried to make sure that, not only in proposals but also in messages, that I was speaking to everybody.
Obama also claimed that he won his campaigns because he pushed a broad economic message.“When you look at the proposals I put forward, they garner majority support,” Obama claimed.
The majority believes in raising the minimum wage. The majority believes in common-sense gun safety rules. The majority believes in investing to rebuild our infrastructure and create jobs. The majority believes in making sure that people aren’t going bankrupt when they get sick. The majority agrees with all the individual components of Obamacare.
However Obama did not mention his frequent use of narrow social-issues appeals to galvanize parts of the Democratic coalition. Those narrow social appeals included his support for changing marriage rules to allow single-sex couples, exempting most illegals from immigration enforcement, sharply criticizing urban police forces, and spending huge sums to subsidize solar energy. In 2016, for example, he tried to spike support among gays by demanding that the nation’s K-12 school bathrooms be opened to both sexes.
Obama also argued that Democrats must broaden their appeal if they want to win future elections, likely including a 2020 campaign against Trump.
Although the results of this election involved some of the specifics of the candidates and aren’t going to be duplicated in every subsequent election, Democrats do have to do some thinking about how do we make sure that the message we have is received effectively and results in winning elections. This is something that I have been wrestling throughout my presidency…
Doing better involves us working at the grassroots, not ceding territory, going out into areas where right now we may not stand a chance of actually winning, but we’re building up a cadre of young talent, we’re making arguments, we’re persuading, we’re talking about the things that matter to ordinary people day-to-day, and trying to avoid some of the constant distractions that fill up people’s Twitter accounts , and if we do that, then I’m confident that we’ll be back on track.
Obama also suggested he may try to lead the Democratic Party’s campaign against Trump in the years up to 2020. “I want to be respectful of the office and give the president-elect an opportunity to put forward his platform and his arguments without somebody popping off in every instance,” Obama said.
But he added, “as an American citizen who cares deeply about our country, if there are issues that have less to do with the specifics of some legislative proposal but go to core questions about our values and our ideals, and if I think that it is necessary or helpful for me to defend those ideals, I’ll examine it when it comes.”