A full year has passed since Donald Trump was elected president, yet the campaign of 2016 will not end. The president remains obsessed with it, Democrats are still wrangling over a bitter primary contest and a shocking loss in the general election, and analysts are still trying to understand better exactly how it all happened.
The public has not moved on, either. The divisions that produced the outcome on Nov. 8 remain as deep and pervasive as they were then. Views of the president, pro and con, have changed only a bit among the most partisan.
Trump has problems galore that should occupy his time, as his trip to Asia that began Friday will highlight. But in so many of his public utterances and especially his tweets, he refuses to let go of the campaign. At rallies, he has replayed his victories as if they happened yesterday. He demands respect for what he accomplished and doesn’t believe he has gotten it. He’s still trying to score points against his rival, hammering on Hillary Clinton as if the election is in its last few days.
Clinton, however, is mostly a foil as Trump seeks to distract attention from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, which has worried the president since it began.
Trump’s tactic isn’t working.
Last week’s indictments of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Manafort associate Richard Gates, along with the guilty plea of Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, demonstrated the degree to which Mueller and his team refuse to become sidetracked or intimidated by all the noise from the White House.
The Democrats, meanwhile, have been plunged back into another round of recriminations over what happened a year ago. Like Trump, they have not gotten past election night 2016. They cannot erase the sting of the defeat few expected, and the pain is still close to the surface. Clinton offered her view of why she lost in her recent book “What Happened.” But that hasn’t ended the discussion of whether she and her campaign team did all they could have to prevent Trump from winning.
Donna Brazile, who served as interim chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) during the general election, has thrown gasoline on this still-smoldering fire with her forthcoming book, “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.”
The book offers a litany of criticisms aimed at the Clinton camp and includes an incendiary section in which Brazile describes how she considered trying to replace Clinton, at the time of the candidate’s fainting spell in September 2016, with then-Vice President Joe Biden. Brazile writes that Clinton’s campaign had taken on “the odor of failure” and recounts her own concerns about the campaign’s operations.
Brazile also asserts the Clinton team wrongly took control over the finances and operations of the DNC long before Clinton was the effective nominee of the party, as a condition of helping finance an institution that was debt-ridden during the Obama years.
Brazile’s claim has been challenged as misleading by Clintonites, who say the agreement giving Clinton’s campaign power over the DNC, applied only to the general election. But the whole uproar has added to the grievances among the followers of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), that the deck was stacked against him in the primaries.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who shares many of Sanders’s views on policy, quickly waded into the controversy over whether the DNC had put its thumb on the scale for Clinton. Asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper whether she thought the nomination process last year was rigged, Warren, a possible 2020 presidential hopeful, said, “Yes.”
She could have deflected the question but chose not to.
There will be more coming from Brazile’s book when it is published next week that will grab headlines and potentially further inflame the resentment toward the Clinton team among Sanders’s followers while restarting the bigger debate over how the campaign managed to lose an election so many thought she should win.
At a minimum, the unfolding controversy among Democrats is a distraction they don’t need right now. But it could reflect deeper differences inside a party that can’t shake off 2016 and is still searching for a comeback strategy that goes beyond being anti-Trump.
That question hinges in part on which voters are seen as most important to the party’s coalition: African Americans and other minorities or the white working class. A new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think tank, offers fresh analysis of 2016 that tries to answer that question. The authors, Rob Griffin, Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, plumbed available resources to produce the analysis, one that they say provides a more accurate portrait of the electorate than did the exit polls. The study does not attempt to evaluate the impact of Russian hacking on the campaign.
Among the conclusions is the electorate on Election Day 2016 included a higher percentage of white voters than the exit polls said at the time.
More significant, the composition of those white voters was strikingly at odds with the exit poll estimates.
“Briefly put, the exit polls radically overestimated the share of white college-educated voters and radically underestimated the share of white non-college-educated voters,” the authors write.
Exit polls said white college-educated voters made up 37 percent of the electorate, while white non-college-educated voters constituted 34 percent.
The CAP analysis says whites with college educations accounted for 29 percent of the electorate while whites without college educations made up 45 percent. A post-election online poll by SurveyMonkey reached a similar conclusion.
The report looks at the national electorate as well as those in some of the key states that decided the election, including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, the three Rust Belt states that sealed Trump’s victory.
After assessing how shifts in support and levels of turnout affected the most crucial states, the authors made other calculations and argue that Clinton would have won the election if either of two things had occurred. She would have won if black turnout and support levels had been identical to those of 2012 or if white non-college-educated voters’ support had been similar to that of 2012.
Neither course was as easy as it might have seemed, however.
The authors note that any Democrat would have had difficulty re-creating black turnout and support levels of 2012, given the election involved the first African American elected to the White House.
Anyone following would have struggled to generate both the turnout and support levels of those campaigns.
Nor do the authors underestimate the difficulty of retaining the 2012 levels of support among white non-college-educated voters, given shifting allegiances among that group that have been ongoing.
But the authors argue that even a modest improvement in her performance in 2016 would have allowed Clinton to win the three Rust Belt states.
Trump will be vulnerable in 2020, but Democrats still must better learn the lessons from Clinton’s defeat. To appeal to the full range of voters they need to win, the authors argue, Democrats must “go beyond the ‘identity politics’ versus ‘economic populism’ debate to create a genuine cross-racial, cross-class coalition.” Is there a leading Democrat out there who has cracked that code yet?
Trump, meanwhile, faces the challenge of reassembling the coalition that brought him to the White House at a time when demographic and other shifts continue to shrink that group. Added to that is the fact that so far, his performance in office creates barriers to expanding beyond his 2016 coalition.
The 2016 campaign has now effectively lasted for three years, and the debates over it continue. Imagine what the coming three years are likely to bring.