Election night 2016 was incredibly painful for everyone who fought tooth and nail to defeat Donald Trump. The only thing saving me from still sucking my thumb from the fetal position is the fact that Florida’s 29 electoral votes weren’t decisive. We are reminded of the pain from last November every time an outrageous statement or dangerous act comes from our president. We should lean in to that pain and use it as motivation to go that extra mile when we think that we are too tired to keep fighting the good fight. That being said, we need to take a hard look at why we lost in 2016 and make course corrections if we hope to be successful in future elections. While every campaign makes mistakes there is one overriding reason why Democrats snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory again last year: arrogance.
I finished the book Shattered recently, which chronicled the Hillary Clinton Campaign from the inside, and the book both confirmed things I suspected and shed light on other things that made me want bang my head against the wall while muttering, “Why are we so bad at this!” I give a pass to the Clinton Campaign on a lot of their decisions as I understand that they took what any reasonable campaign professional would think was the best path forward at the time. There were some very costly decisions/mistakes, though, that they either should have seen coming from a mile away or were completely self-inflicted. The best campaigns chart out the best strategy they can and executes that strategy to the best of their abilities, but having blind faith in a strategy and arrogantly refusing to verify whether fundamental assumptions that underlay your strategy still hold is political malpractice.
The Clinton Campaign refusing to verify their data models is the most striking unforced error. They didn’t compare their models to voter contact data, polling, other modeling done by outside data firms, or through any other method. These methods of verifying data should have been standard operating procedure. Anyone in the world of political data should use as much data as they can reasonably rely on to make sure that it is all telling the same proverbial story. I used five different models for the Presidential Election in Florida last year, and when averaged they hit the nail on the head with both the overall result and the fact that Election Day voters were going to be much more conservative than those voters who cast their ballots before Election Day. This all reminds me of the sage advice by Mark Twain, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
The arrogance of the Clinton Campaign may have been exceeded only by those on her left that opposed her nomination last year. This is not a knock again those who supported Bernie Sanders in the primary. This is a knock against those Bernie supporters who refused to support Hillary in the General Election because she wasn’t “good enough”. This is a knock against liberals who arrogantly obsess over ideological purity among Democratic candidates to the detriment of getting people elected who will work towards policy goals that they agree with a vast majority of the time. The Paris Climate Agreement, the balance of the US Supreme Court, gutting Obamacare, and responding to Russia attacking the United States through cyber warfare are just a few examples of how President Trump is different than a President Clinton would have been. Does anyone still think that Clinton would have been as bad as Trump?
One thing that continues to astonish me is how those on the left who don’t think that candidates like Hillary Clinton are “good enough” never seem humbled by the campaign process. Campaigns are humbling endeavors, and if they don’t at some point humble you then you are doing it wrong and likely don’t win many elections. Yet, those who focus the most on ideological purity never seem to be humbled or deterred despite the fact that their approach ends in electoral defeat far more often than not. The arrogance of the Clinton Campaign and those on the left who never supported her were two of many factors that led to Hillary Clinton losing last November. As Democrats look forward to making electoral gains here in Florida next year we all need to dramatically dial down the arrogance, come together to support whoever we nominate, and focus on doing the hard work of beating Republicans instead of ourselves.
(Author’s Note: Please feel free to send any comments, suggestions, column ideas, or hate mail to ThePhlipSideFL@gmail.com.)
Sean Phillippi is a Democratic strategist and consultant based in Broward County. He has worked for campaigns on the federal, state, and local levels, including the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Sean is the Managing Member of TLE Analytics LLC, the political data and consulting firm he founded in 2012.