As those within the Democratic party reflect on Hillary Clinton’s catastrophic presidential election defeat to Donald Trump, surely the question will be posed: did we choose the wrong candidate? Of course this is a very difficult question to answer, but one thing’s for sure – Hillary just simply wasn’t good enough.
The fact is that neither Trump nor Clinton are popular at all. An NBC exit poll showed that 54% of voters saw Clinton unfavourably and 61% saw Trump unfavourably. This suggests that while Trump was clearly quite unpopular amongst large sections of the population, ultimately Hillary wasn’t well-liked enough to win. It was never going to be enough to simply not be Donald Trump. The fact that Trump won less votes than losing Republican candidates John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 also goes a long way to suggesting that Hillary’s unpopularity ultimately cost her the election.
“She ridiculously responded by claiming that she couldn’t possibly be part of the establishment due to the fact that she was a woman”
Back in February Bernie Sanders claimed that Hillary Clinton was ‘part of the establishment’; she ridiculously responded by claiming that she couldn’t possibly be part of the establishment due to the fact that she was a woman. Her time in the Senate, as secretary of state and indeed marriage to a US president would suggest otherwise. Unfortunately Hillary Clinton was never quite able to shake off this perception that she is very much part of the Washington elite. While Sanders has served in Congress for 25 years in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, he was clearly never high up in the Democratic Party – indeed before the primaries he was an Independent.
“He was both a Washington outsider and a political outsider”
When you add to this Clinton’s email controversy, it isn’t hard to see why so many Americans distrusted her. Of course, this contrasts with Trump’s fierce anti-establishment message which could be backed up by the fact that he was both a Washington outsider and a political outsider. Of course Trump’s lack of political experience should have dissuaded people to vote for him, but let’s not forget this is the same country which voted for actor Ronald Reagan twice (yes I know he was governor of California, but he was still an actor!). On the other hand, Sanders had the perfect blend of plenty of political experience, but at the same time possessing a genuine anti-establishment claim.
Another area where Trump had an advantage over Clinton but wouldn’t have had an advantage over Sanders was the issue of free trade and manufacturing. Trump, unusually for a Republican, put forward an anti-free trade message and a promise to bring back manufacturing jobs. On the other hand, Clinton’s position as usual was less clear cut: she had previously supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as secretary of state but flip-flopped, arguably in response to Sanders’ surge in popularity for his strongly protectionist views. Manufacturing no doubt played a key role in the election, as over the last 15 years an estimated 5 million manufacturing jobs have been lost and those states hit hardest are the crucial swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. Trump won all of these states.
“She has changed her mind on so many issues”
However, despite all this there has been the suggestion that ideologically Sanders was just simply too left wing to ever become president. However, since Clinton lost this argument has been weakened somewhat. Clinton theoretically should have had a broad appeal, being firmly positioned in the centre ground, but this ultimately didn’t prove to be the case, perhaps because she has changed her mind on so many issues.
And let’s make things clear: Sanders is NOT a socialist, he is a social democrat. His calls for universal healthcare are hardly radical seeing that numerous polls have shown that the majority of Americans support this. Furthermore his calls for campaign finance reform and the idea that money has too much of an influence on election is also something which a majority of Americans support, regardless of their political affiliation.
There is certainly a strong case that Sanders would have beaten Trump; people voting for him would have been as passionate as those that voted for Trump. Why? Because he offered change, something which Clinton simply didn’t. There is also evidence in Sanders’ favour from the primaries: Sanders gained more votes than Clinton in Wisconsin and Michigan, both important states won by Trump in 2016. Significantly, Trump also said back in May that he ‘would rather run against crooked Hillary Clinton than Bernie Sanders’. The Democrats went for what they thought was the safe option and sadly it backfired; let’s hope the same mistake isn’t made in 2020.
Featured image courtesy of ‘AFGE’ via Flickr.