December 14, 2016
A good confidence man knows that his marks will do most of the work for him – if you just give them a chance.
People want to believe. And desperate people want desperately to believe, grasping at even the thinnest threads of hope.
Which brings us to the Democrats, circa December 2016…
The 50 states and the District of Columbia had all certified their results as of Monday: 306 votes for Republican Donald Trump and 232 for Democrat Hillary Clinton, the fewest electoral votes for any member of her party since 1988.
Now, state elections officials are summoning the 538 electors to the various capitols to cast their ballots on Monday, the results of which will be transmitted to Washington for recording and certification.
And then, the election will finally, blessedly be finished. We expect to see no tears at the interment. But in the five days that remain, some supporters of Clinton are making sure that there will be no death with dignity for this seemingly endless contest.
We have discussed the attempt to get federal intelligence agencies to provide the electors briefings about Russian interference in the campaign in a bid to prejudice them against Trump. The electors are bound by law to reflect the popular votes of their states, but as has sometimes happened before, they can chose to defy the law.
Think of it this way: Pass interference is illegal in football, but a defender might decide that stopping a touchdown is worth a 15-yard penalty.
Eminent political gadfly Lawrence Lessig a Harvard law professor, has offered to provide free legal representation to any renegade electors. He claims that as many as 20 Republican electors bound to Trump are considering defying the voters and casting their ballots for someone else. Not necessarily Clinton, mind you, but just not Trump.
Let’s assume, for the sake of folly, that was so. Lessig would still need 17 more just to put Trump under the required 270 votes. And if he could manage that, it would throw the election to the House… where Trump would win.
Peddling this hokum is certainly harmful to those – like the backers of the Green Party’s costly and pointless Midwestern recount push – who fall for it. As the Republicans who mounted increasingly absurd gambits to deny Trump the nomination found out, denial only sharpens the pain when the ax eventually falls.
But there is damage here beyond the shattered hopes of the true believers.
Worst of all, this bitter-enderism further degrades confidence in our already weakened institutions. Refusing to accept the results of a duly conducted election is straight Banana Republic business. We will all be poorer for the degree to which first Trump and now Team Clinton are diminishing our system of elections itself.
But there’s also the fact that this endeavor, which has the support of Clinton’s former campaign chairman, is ensuring that Democrats will take exactly the wrong lessons from their defeat.
The fast-hardening conventional wisdom on the Blue Team goes something like this: A toxic stew of sexism and white nationalism fueled Trump’s success with blue-collar white voters but Clinton couldn’t rally her own counteroffensive because Russian hackers and FBI Director James Comey kept dropping bombs on her head.
You can certainly preach it that way. And when Clinton gathers with her biggest donors Thursday at a campaign wrap party at the Plaza Hotel in New York, there will be lots of versions of what the campaign’s communication director said at a CNN post-election slugfest between the two staffs: “I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.”
Feeling virtuous about a defeat is nothing new. Many Republicans believed that their party lost four years ago by bribing voters with “free stuff” or that their nominee was too gentlemanly.
But the lesson in these tropes about the cause of Clinton’s defeat could greatly prolong the party’s time in the wilderness.
Rather than nodding knowingly about Russian hacks and Trump’s army of internet toads, Democrats would be better off spending their time reading Edward-Isaac Dovere’s piece on the staggering dysfunction of the Clinton campaign.
It reveals a campaign that became exactly what Democrats had feared: top-heavy, wasteful, musclebound and unable to adapt. The anecdotes would be heartbreaking for any Democrat: the desperate calls from state activists, the wasted money, the irrational data dependency. Simply a disaster.
We can say without any fear of correction that no campaign has ever spent more to achieve less.
With a weak candidate who has famously bad political judgment – you know, the kind of person who opts to run for president while under federal investigation – a campaign has to fill in the gaps. The Clinton campaign reinforced rather than compensated for her weaknesses: aloof, unadaptable and brittle.
But Democrats would rather focus on Russian interference. It’s understandable they would rather not face their own faults just yet, but they ought to think about the message they’re sending to voters.
As Megan McArdle perfectly put it: “‘The American voter had too much information about the Democrats’ is not a ringing slogan with which to argue that their party should really have won.”
A little self-pity after a big loss is understandable. But even the 2000 election had been settled by this point. It’s time for Democrats to get on with the hard part and start taking their own inventory.