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Grant Bosse: What (Actually) Happened

December 04. 2017 11:45PM

I'd like to welcome former first lady, former senator, former secretary of state, and former future President Hillary Rodham Clinton back to New Hampshire today.

Clinton is scheduled to stop at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord at 1 p.m. to sign copies of her book, “What Happened,” which tells the story of her nearly impossible quest to become the worst presidential candidate in American history.

She did it!

Clinton blames, well, everyone else for her defeat last November. She somehow fails to identify the person most responsible — Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Clinton was a bad candidate

In winning the presidency in 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama put together a broad, liberal coalition based largely on a cult of personality. But Obama’s electoral mojo was not transferable. Democrats suffered huge losses up and down the ballot in 2010 and 2014, at least in part because they could not replicate the spike in turnout from African-American voters.

Obama cloaked his identity politics as an appeal to history, and Clinton attempted to do something similar in 2016.

The central premise of the Clinton campaign was that the United States was overdue to elect a female President. I think this idea has a lot of appeal, but Clinton was ill-suited to benefit from it. Obama was a blank canvass to most voters. Clinton was well-known, and largely disliked.

Clinton and her cadre of loyalists portrayed every criticism as sexism from people unwilling to elect a woman President. Clinton cultists may still cling to this resentment, but it was never an adequate argument to win over skeptical voters.

Clinton decided to use a private email server to shield herself from the Freedom of Information Act when she served as secretary of state. That decision, and the years-long effort to keep those emails away from the public, were her responsibility.

Clinton blames then-FBI Director James Comey for bringing her email scandal back up shortly before the election. But I think Comey’s earlier decision to scold Clinton, while letting her off the hook, reinforced the perception that electing Clinton would lead to four to eight more years of the Clintons getting away with whatever they wanted.

Clinton ran a bad campaign

More people voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 than for Donald Trump. That’s as useful as a football team winning time of possession, but losing the game.

Clinton ran up the score in California, where Republicans didn’t even have a Senate candidate on the ballot. But crucially, Trump picked up 99 electoral votes from six states carried by Obama, as well as Maine’s Second Congressional District.

The bulk of those came from the Rust Belt of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Clinton improved on Obama’s performance in the suburbs. But she lost ground with working-class white voters, a demographic unmoved by “I’m With Her” T-shirts.

For good reason, these voters saw Clinton as more concerned with her place in history than with their economic and cultural worries.

Clinton changed the rules

It took some doing to lose to Donald Trump, a candidate as disliked and distrusted as any in modern American history. I’ve long held that nominating Clinton and Trump for the presidency were acts of political negligence from two broken political parties.

Hillary Clinton was uniquely unsuited to take advantage of Trump’s unpopularity. She attacked women who accused her husband of sexual harassment and assault, yet wanted voters to reject Trump over similar accusations.

Clinton attacked critics in the media. She used the levers of power to benefit herself, her family, and her political cronies. She and Bill Clinton proved that if politicians are truly shameless in the face of shameful behavior, their partisan loyalists would stick by them.

Republicans learned this last lesson well, and largely stuck by Trump. He was their scoundrel. And he wasn’t Hillary.

Hillary Clinton has many talents. Self-reflection isn’t one of them.

Grant Bosse is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News.

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