8.5.17

TRAGEDY OR FARCE?

The 2016 presidential election combines elements of each, and I'll leave it to the reader to decide whether P. J. O'Rourke's How the Hell Did This Happen: The Election of 2016 and Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes's Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign are more tragic or farcical.  I'll combine these two as Book Reviews No. 8 and No. 9, with the expectation of working off the political hangover more quickly.



Mr. O'Rourke, of course, is a humorist who can turn a phrase, say, about Russian poverty, or health care, or overweening (primarily Democrat) politicians, and he does not disappoint in How the Hell.  Although he went on record as preferring Mrs Clinton to Mr Trump, on the grounds that she could be dealt with or contained or written about along relatively conventional lines.  But he also attempts to comprehend how we got Mr Trump.   Consider Page 196:
The elites fail and don't suffer any consequences from their failures.  As it is with elite carelessness about refugees, so it is with elite carelessness about immigration.  To elites immigration means nannies, household staff, and fun new ethnic restaurants.  Elites don't see any similarity between Trump's border wall and the gated communities where they live.
Meanwhile, the "Kenmore repairman at Sears has now enlisted as a foot soldier in America's opioid addiction attack.  How do I get my refrigerator into the FedEx drop box when the icemaker quits working?"  Plus a glossary of political euphemism, er, pundit-speak.

Shattered, on the other hand, purports to be serious reporting, but, again, dear reader, decide whether Team Hillary is performing in a farce or a tragedy.  At page 178, we read an echo of Mr. O'Rourke's takedown of the elites.
Whether [Mrs Clinton] was perceived as hostile to working- and middle-class whites or just indifferent, it wasn't a big leap from "she doesn't care about my job" to "she'd rather give my job to a minority or a foreigner rather than fight for me to keep it."  She and her aides were focused on the wrong issue set for working-class white Michigan voters.
Right up to the eve of the election, when a surrogate went into Macomb County, northeast of Detroit, to wind up the troops over ... global warming.

The candidate herself?  Pages 277-278, a campaign stop at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention.
Hillary knew she hadn't won over a lot of the veterans.  No matter what she tried, it was hard to convince people who didn't want to envision her as president that they should vote for her anyway.  This was as true for a group of mostly conservative veterans as it was for many other Americans, including a lot of less-educated whites who had long ago made up their minds about her.  For some, her education, privilege, and perceived sense of entitlement were more off-putting than her agenda, her secrecy, or even the way her voice hit their ears.  She wasn't like them.
And students of campaigning will study for years the way in which campaign managers relied on Big Data rather than polling, and focused on getting out base voters rather than offering an expanded appeal.  That part of the story was instructive.  Here I thought Mrs Clinton's final weekend stops at Detroit's Eastern Market and a Beyonce concert in Cleveland were a signal of weakness.  It transpires that pushing for maximal base turnout was, throughout the primaries and the general election, the strategy.

Tragedy also blends with farce in the way Team Clinton succumbed to dizziness through success. The authors spelled out Mr Trump's core electoral vote strategy, something the campaign strategists should have understood.  From pages 231-232.  "Together, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida accounted for ninety-three electoral votes.  If Trump won any four of the five and held onto Romney's states, he would be president.  In some scenarios, he only needed three of them."  But some of those Romney states appeared to be in play, perhaps bigly, and disaffected Bernie Sanders voters who were not quite ready for Hillary had this sort of information from friendly pundits.


We now know Mx Maddow was confidently wrong, but who knows how many viewers voted Green or slept in on November 8?

Meanwhile, Mrs Clinton's wonky approach was at odds with the voters who were paying attention.  "There's no nuance in the business end of a pitchfork," campaign staff understood (p. 180) as early as the Michigan primary, and when the returns started coming in from Florida and the Carolinas, "[Robbie Mook and Elan Kriegel] were looking at the early warning signs of a wave; all they could do was hope that it didn't wash over the Rust Belt." (p. 377)  And when John Podesta went to the Javits Center to rally the remaining true believers to hang in until all the votes were counted, he went there hoping (p. 386) that the campaign would find "baskets of votes in late returns in the key Rust Belt states."

Those votes were in the basket of deplorables.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

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