Friday, December 16, 2016

 

Top Democratic donors think their money buys them an explanation

“A lot of people are saying, ‘I’m not putting another f***ing dime in until someone tells me what just happened.’”

In considering Hillary Clinton’s shocking electoral loss last month, a few explanations stick out. There was, for instance, the not insignificant fact that a major foreign power allegedly engaged in a concerted cyber campaign to undermine the Democratic Party and boost Donald Trump. There is also the matter of the Comey letter, in which the director of the F.B.I. renewed an investigation into Clinton’s private e-mail server, less than two weeks before the election, in a vaguely worded statement to Congress, only to clear Clinton a few days later. And while either incident could have tipped the scales against her—Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million and lost the crucial swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania by only about 80,000 votes combined—neither appears satisfactory for major Democratic donors now calling on the party to issue some kind of autopsy report explaining why they still didn’t win.

“A lot of people are saying, ‘I’m not putting another fucking dime in until someone tells me what just happened,’” one Midwestern donor told Politico, a sentiment echoed by other Democratic Party figures and fund-raisers. “Half the group is in a mourning stage,” another bundler said.

Not everyone in the party is clamoring for a postmortem, with Clinton donor Alan Patricof pointing out that in the wake of any stunning loss, “there’s always a Monday morning quarterback.” But there were obviously several key mistakes Clinton made on the campaign trail, beyond inciting the animus of Vladimir Putin and James Comey, that Democrats need to address. Over the past several weeks, a number of reports have emerged suggesting the Clinton campaign had major blind spots when it came to resource allocation and messaging strategy.

But in the past weeks, several reports have spiraled out of the campaign and the party, identifying a multitude of Clinton’s blind spots. On Wednesday, Politico reported how Clinton’s union supporters were expressly ordered not to campaign in Michigan—a state she went on to lose—despite her ground team begging for reinforcements. The volunteers were reportedly told that they needed to remain in Iowa to trick Trump into campaigning there. Other such tactics now appear equally hubristic. In the final weeks of the presidential race, Clinton poured money into traditional Republican strongholds like Arizona and Texas, while her team bragged about redirecting funds to close Senate races. Cloistered from outside opinion by her insular inner circle, Clinton never visited Wisconsin and failed to replicate Barack Obama’s turnout operation in Florida. And, of course, people griped about the campaign’s decision to ignore the advice of Bill Clinton and the lessons of Bernie Sanders and put little effort into reaching out to white, working-class voters. “They believed they were more experienced, which they were. They believed they were smarter, which they weren’t,” D.N.C. consultant Donnie Fowler told Politico, describing the failed Michigan campaign. “They believed they had better information, which they didn’t.”

Clinton’s wealthiest donors, who helped the former secretary of state raise over $1 billion, think they’re owed an accounting. But many are cautioning against moving too quickly to draw any conclusions or take drastic steps to reshape the party in Trump’s wake. While some Clinton allies, like David Brock, are maneuvering to create a new unified front, others remain divided over who should lead the D.N.C., what direction they should take, and how best to reorganize as an opposition party. It’s possible, too, that Democrats could learn the wrong lessons from an autopsy, as Republicans did when they issued their own post-2012 election report. The 100-page Growth and Opportunity Project document famously advised the G.O.P. to broaden its appeal by touting more moderate policies and embracing women, minorities, and immigration reform. Four years later, Trump crushed his primary opponents—and Clinton—by doing the exact opposite. But without a hard look at why Democrats lost what seemed to be an unloseable election—and how the party might have enabled that loss—it’s difficult to see how Democrats move forward.

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