Dem blame game rages over Clinton loss
Almost a month after Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump, recriminations are still flying among liberals and Democrats.
At least one prominent Clinton loyalist has turned his fire on Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), arguing that the left-winger’s challenge wounded the former secretary of State ahead of her general election campaign.
Sanders partisans, meanwhile, say that he would have been a better candidate than Clinton to win over an electorate hungry for change.
Both sides express concern that re-litigating the primary battle could be a distraction, wasting energy that would be better spent resisting President-elect Trump.
But even if all sides agree in theory on the need to focus on Trump, not everyone is ready to leave the primary in the past.
Peter Daou, the former chief executive of Shareblue, an online venture described by the New York Times as “Hillary Clinton’s outrage machine,” blasted Sanders on Twitter this week.
“I’ll be crystal clear: Bernie Sanders has absolutely no business determining the course of the Democratic Party after the harm he did to us,” Daou wrote in one tweet.
“Until certain Dems get over the denial of how badly Bernie damaged Hillary’s public image, we will make little progress as a Party,” he opined in another.
Daou’s hail of tweets raised eyebrows because, although he held no position with the Clinton campaign, Shareblue functioned as a de facto adjunct of the official effort.
The company is owned by David Brock, the onetime right-winger who has become one of the fiercest defenders of Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton. The Los Angeles Times described Brock as “a linchpin of her shadow campaign.”
The principals of the Sanders and Clinton campaigns have so far avoided public spats, but it is no secret that tensions linger behind the scenes. The blame game is being played out among rank-and-file supporters on social media, while high-profile backers also let jabs fly.
The idea that Sanders bears any blame for Clinton’s loss is “bullshit,” according to progressive commentator Bill Press, who is also a columnist for The Hill.
“Democrats — particularly the Clinton people — have to stop blaming everybody else for their loss,” Press continued. “The idea that they are going to blame it on Bernie, or blame it on [FBI director James] Comey, or blame it on the Russians … The other two [excluding Sanders] were factors but it doesn’t take away from the big picture that they lost an election they never should have lost.”
Whether Sanders would have won where Clinton failed is a question that will give progressives sleepless nights for a long time. The Vermont senator’s wife, Jane Sanders, said in the days after the election that he would “absolutely” have had a better chance of vanquishing Trump. But, she added, “it doesn’t matter now.”
Behind the scenes, Sanders partisans believe that his platform would have had a greater appeal to voters in the Rust Belt states that Clinton lost. They also think he could have energized young voters, as he did in the primary, which could have offset Trump’s unexpected strength.
But the sniping frustrates some Democrats allied with neither camp, who see it as self-destructive and pointless — even as they also agree there is plenty of blame to go around.
“Hillary Clinton deserves all the blame she gets for the candidate she was and the campaign she ran,” said one Democratic strategist who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “But it is incredibly disingenuous for Bernie Sanders and his team to suggest they would have done better. He couldn’t win the f–king primary!”
The broader issue, for Democrats of all stripes, is how they avoid the kind of traumatic loss they suffered to Trump from happening again.
Soon after his Twitter attack on Sanders, Daou posted another series of tweets that cautioned against a move to the left. He suggested that one major problem had been a failure on the part of the official Clinton campaign to push back strongly enough against attacks on her character and integrity.
“The lesson for Dems from 2016 is NOT to change our message, it’s to deliver and defend it with more conviction and fearlessness,” he wrote.
The anonymous Democratic strategist agreed, up to a point, saying that he believed the general public’s distrust of government and Washington was too great at present for the kind of government-centric solutions favored by Sanders and others on the left to carry the day.
“I don’t disagree with him philosophically but I disagree with him strategically,” the strategist said.
Others argue that the party needs to think about how to frame its message. Greater sharpness in this regard, they say, could matter more than shifting that message to the left or the center.
Evan Stavisky, a New York-based Democratic strategist, suggested that Democrats placed too much faith on data analytics and turnout models, where they are widely believed to hold an advantage over the GOP.
“Somehow, among billions of trees of data, we have lost sight of the forest,” he said.
“There has to be a fundamental reexamination of messaging more than anything else. …The reality is we weren’t winning the messaging war in states that were presumed to be safely Democratic but were ultimately, narrowly lost.”
Others, including Press, contend there was a more fundamental problem.
“The reality is that the Clinton campaign, I think, and the Democratic Party in general totally misread the electorate,” he said. “They misread the fact that millions of Americans were hurting, millions of Americans really were disillusioned with — and angry at — Washington. And Hillary Clinton could not be distinguished from that.”
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