Pete Buttigieg is on a roll of late. And that extends to his spot-on analysis of why Democrats – and Hillary Clinton in particular – lost the 2016 election to President Donald Trump.
“We spent, I think, way too much time on our side talking about him,” Buttigieg said in an interview with “The Breakfast Club,” a New York City-based radio show, which ran Tuesday morning. “Our whole message was don’t vote for him because he is terrible. And even because he is, that is not a message.”
That is the single best – and most concise – encapsulation of why Clinton lost and Trump won that I have heard from anyone – Democrat, Republican or independent in the two-plus years since the 2016 election.
The simple fact is that Clinton (and her team) believed that Trump had disqualified himself in the eyes of most voters by the time Election Day came. And that wasn’t an unreasonable assessment to make in the moment! From his decision to take on a Gold Star family to the “Access Hollywood” tape, every sign seemed to be pointing to the idea that Trump was just too, well, Trumpian for most voters.
And he was! Kind of.
Only 38% of people had a favorable opinion about Trump while 60% had an unfavorable one. Just one in three said Trump was honest and trustworthy. Less than four in 10 thought he was qualified to be president. Only 35% said Trump had the right temperament to be president. (All of these data points are from the 2016 exit polling.)
Those sorts of numbers have “l-o-s-e-r” written all over them!
1) Clinton’s numbers weren’t much better. Just 43% had a favorable view of her and 36% thought she was honest and trustworthy. Those numbers sort-of canceled out Trump’s own disastrous ratings.
2) People didn’t care as much about liking their candidate as they did about that candidate bringing about what they believed to be needed change. Four in 10 voters said that a candidate who could create change was the most important trait in their choosing of a candidate; Trump won more than 80% of those voters.
That Trump was someone a majority of people didn’t like, didn’t trust and didn’t think had the right temperament to be president wasn’t enough. Many people may have agreed that, in Buttigieg’s words, “he is terrible,” but they also didn’t like Clinton or have any idea what sort of change she might actually represent.
The message was simply: You’re not going to vote for this guy, are you? And that wasn’t enough.
Presidential elections, unlike midterm elections, traditionally require a candidate to make a case not only against the other side but for him or herself. (This is quite clearly not true in midterms when the party out of the White House can succeed by simply casting itself as a a check on the party in power.) Because Trump was so abnormal in terms of the traditional qualities of a presidential candidate, Clinton’s team lost that thread – and never got it back.
Now. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that. And fighting the last battle is no guarantee of winning the next one.
Still, the rightness of Buttigieg’s analysis speaks to his understanding of how voters think and the significant challenge that Trump (still) poses.
“I hate to say it, but he could absolutely win again,” Buttigieg told “The Breakfast Club” of Trump. He’s absolutely right.
CORRECTION: Buttigieg’s “Breakfast Club” interview aired on Tuesday.