By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Here is a second post debunking common talking points by Clinton loyalists and Democrat Establishment operatives; the sort of talking point you might hear on Twitter, without caveats or context. For both talking points, I’ll give an especially egregious version of the myth, followed by a rebuttals. (Three previous talking points are debunked here.)
Talking Point: The Clinton Campaign Was Well-Managed
Here are two examples of the talking point. From the Washington Post (November 10, 2016):
At Brooklyn headquarters on Wednesday, Podesta expressed his gratitude and support for the team, and for Mook. “We have the No. 1 campaign manager,” he said, in a staffwide gathering in the afternoon. “I’ve been doing this since 1968, and I’ve never seen a culture and a spirit like we created in this campaign.” On the conference call with thousands of staff across the country, Clinton also called in [how kind] and thanked her team for their dedication.
Mook tried to end the campaign on a high note.
“What you’ve created is going to live on,” he told his troops. “Leaders all over this country, local networks around the nation, future candidates who are going to step forward. Someone in this room is going to manage a presidential campaign one day.”
The subtext here is that Clinton’s 2016 Democrat strategists did nothing wrong, and we should expect to see the same operatives and power players hanging around election after election after election (rather like eight-time loser Robert Shrum after the Democrats brought on the Reagan era by running Dukakis). In fact, liberal Democrats in 2016 were out-strategized, out-organized, and out-hustled by people they regarded and still regard as their intellectual and moral inferiors, and in election where they framed the stakes as a government takeover by fascists. That said, there are three reasons this talking point is false.
First, the Clinton campaign was a technical and managerial debacle. WaPo, in a storyline that seems to have dropped from sight:
Ada is a complex computer algorithm that the campaign was prepared to publicly unveil after the election as its invisible guiding hand. Named for a female 19th-century mathematician — Ada, Countess of Lovelace — , including where and when to deploy the candidate and her battalion of surrogates and where to air television ads — as well as when it was safe to stay dark.
The campaign’s deployment of other resources — including county-level campaign offices and the staging of high-profile concerts with stars like Jay Z and Beyonce — was largely dependent on Ada’s work, as well..
According to aides, a raft of polling numbers, public and private, were fed into the algorithm, as well as ground-level voter data meticulously collected by the campaign. Once early voting began, those numbers were factored in, too.
What Ada did, based on all that data, aides said, was run 400,000 simulations a day of what the race against Trump might look like. A report that was spit out would give campaign manager Robby Mook and others a detailed picture of which battleground states were most likely to tip the race in one direction or another — and guide decisions about where to spend time and deploy resources.
So where did Ada go wrong?
About some things, she was apparently right. Aides say Pennsylvania was pegged as an extremely important state early on, which explains why Clinton was such a frequent visitor and chose to hold her penultimate rally in Philadelphia on Monday night.
But it appears that the importance of other states Clinton would lose — including Michigan and Wisconsin — never became fully apparent or that it was too late once it did.
The 2012 Romney campaign’s tech debacle was Orca, a vote tracking and GOTV system that crashed on election day. The Ada tech debacle is far worse, since as WaPo points out, Ada informed every strategic decision the Clinton campaign made from day one to November 8.
Even worse, Ada was a management debacle as well: Clearly, a campaign with multiple staffers approving individual tweets either didn’t check that Ada’s simulations bore any relation to what was happening on the ground, or Ada’s parameters and algorithms were tuned to the strategists’ confirmation biases, which checks by those same strategists would also have been subject to. (This reminds me of the management dysfunction in the ObamaCare launch debacle, where nobody told Obama the program was in trouble.)
Second, the Clinton get-out-the-vote operation contributed to Trump’s success by targeting Trump voters (!). Sanders organizers Becky Bond and Zack Exley write in HuffPo:
[A]n examination of the mechanics behind the Clinton’s get out the vote efforts – reaching out to Clinton voters in key states at the door, on the phone or by text messages – reveals evidence of what appears to be a pretty shocking truth. Clinton volunteers were inadvertently turning out Trump voters. Possibly in significant numbers.
Volunteers for the Clinton campaign in Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Carolina have reported that when reminding people to vote, they encountered a significant number of Trump voters. Anecdotal evidence points to anywhere from five to 25 percent of contacts were inadvertently targeted to Trump supporters. This is a big deal because when voters are engaged by a volunteer they are significantly more likely to cast a ballot in an election. To make matters worse, because Republicans had a non-existent ground game in many areas this cycle, this powerful reminder from a Clinton volunteer to get out and vote might have been the only personalized GOTV communication these Trump voters received. The campaign’s text messaging GOTV effort may have been the worst offender. Volunteers reported as many as 30% of the replies they received from voters they were urging to get out were Trump supporters.
Granted, this is anecdotal data (and that may be all we have for awhile. Can any readers confirm?) but if we make the easy assumption that the call lists were generated by the Ada algorithm, the anecdotes rapidly scale to a default setting.
Third, the Clinton ground game ignored key swing states and swing counties that Trump won. The Wall Street Journal:
For all their analytical prowess and muscular ground game, the Clinton campaign didn’t spot the rebellion brewing in states they largely took for granted: Wisconsin and Michigan. So confident were they, they seemed focused at the end on a landslide victory that would reshape the map for years to come. Less than a week before Election Day, Mrs. Clinton showed up in Arizona, a state that Democrats hadn’t won in 20 years. She made repeated trips to North Carolina, a state that wasn’t necessary to reaching the 270 Electoral Vote threshold. On the weekend of Oct. 22-23, she said she was done responding to the latest provocations from Mr. Trump and devoted chunks of her speeches to helping Democratic Senate candidates. She appeared to be looking beyond Nov. 8, envisioning her presidency.
Had she never stepped foot in North Carolina and instead blanketed the longtime Democratic strongholds of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, the path to 270 might have stayed intact. One longtime Democratic donor describes Mrs. Clinton’s approach as tantamount to “malpractice.”
Bill Clinton seemed to grasp the threat. In early September, he spent part of a day campaigning in largely white counties in southwestern Pennsylvania, trying to peel away Trump supporters and limit the damage. He told crowds that Mr. Trump was offering no real answers to the anxieties of disaffected white voters – the heart of the Trump coalition. It wasn’t enough.
Mrs. Clinton wound up losing both counties her husband visited that day – Fayette and Washington – by far larger margins than President Barack Obama did in 2012. She went on to lose Pennsylvania, a state that Mr. Obama won twice.
Here’s more detail on Pennsylvania. From the Allentown Morning Call:
In recent elections, Democrats have won Pennsylvania in presidential years by piling up huge margins in the urban centers of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, as well as the state’s suburban counties, while leaving the sparsely populated rural counties to Republicans.
Democrat Hillary Clinton executed that strategy well. She came out of Philadelphia with a 450,000-vote margin, won all four of the suburban counties surrounding Philadelphia and carried Allegheny County by 8,400 more votes than President Barack Obama in 2012.
But there is another ingredient in that winning formula. Winning Democratic candidates pad their lead with votes from counties whose cities were former industrial powerhouses, onetime union strongholds such as Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Bethlehem and Erie.
“They didn’t finish the job,” said Mark Nevins, a Philadelphia Democratic political consultant. “If you want to point to one county where it really fell apart it would be Luzerne — this Wilkes-Barre, coal area, blue-collar county.”
… Trump visited the area multiple times during the general election campain, holding two rallies in Scranton and one outside Wilkes-Barre.
“He talked about how the system is rigged against them,” Nevins said.
Trump won Luzerne County by more than 25,000 votes, a 30,000-vote swing from 2012, when Obama won the county by 5,000 votes. Trump also trimmed 23,000 votes off Democrats’ 2012 advantage in Lackawanna County, home to Clinton’s childhood summer home of Scranton. Trump lost Lackawanna by a slim 3,500 votes.
So, for this talking point to be true, we have to believe that betting a campaign on closely held and poorly tested software is a good idea, that getting your opponent’s voters to the polls is a winning strategy, and that a narrow focus on urban and suburban counties has very little tail risk.
Talking Point: The Clinton Defeat Had Nothing To Do With Economics
Here’s an example of the talking point. From, naturally, Amanda Marcotte (November 11, 2016):
Because this anger is so real and so palpable, there’s been an unfortunate tendency in much of the media to assume that this anger must also be valid. The entire election cycle was a clusterfuck of articles demanding empathy for Trump voters, insisting that their rage must have some rational roots — perhaps economic insecurity?
The persistence of the “economic insecurity” angle in the face of overwhelming evidence against it was a testament to the power of hope over reason.
(The subtext here is usually that if you don’t retweet approvingly, you’re a racist yourself, and possibly a racist Trump supporter.) There are four reasons why this talking point is false.
First, the swing from Obama to Trump was greater in counties that were economically stressed. FiveThirtyEight:
Instead, to understand what drove Trump’s victory, we can look at how Trump’s margin against Clinton in 2016 compared with Romney’s against President Obama in 2012. Sure enough, the swing toward Trump was much stronger in counties with a higher share of routine jobs; the swing toward Trump was also stronger where unemployment was higher, job growth was slower and earnings were lower. It is clear that the places that voted for Trump are under greater economic stress, and the places that swung most toward Trump are those where jobs are most under threat. Importantly, Trump’s appeal was strongest in places where people are most concerned about what the future will mean for their jobs, even if those aren’t the places where economic conditions are worst today.
Notice that job crapification (“routine jobs”) is part of economic stress.
Second, economic optimism among Black voters was much lower than in 2012. WaPo:
“Pre-election research showed that among African Americans, their feelings of economic optimism were precipitously lower in this election than in 2012,” said Geoff Garin, a pollster for Priorities USA who conducted this research independently of the super PAC. “And their feeling that Clinton’s economic policies would help people like them were substantially lower. “Those kinds of things affect people’s willingness to come out to vote.”
Third, primary counties with high Case-Deaton death rates voted for Trump. WaPo:
In every state except Massachusetts, the counties with high rates of white mortality were the same counties that turned out to vote for Trump.
We’re focusing on middle-aged whites because the data show that something has gone terribly wrong with their lives. In a study last year, economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton pointed out that mortality rates for this group have actually been increasing since the ’90s.
Economic struggles have likely contributed as well. Case and Deaton also found that the increase in the death rate has been driven by people with less education. For those without a college degree, the economy in recent decades has been increasingly miserable. This may explain why some have turned to self-destructive behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse.
The people I’ve been describing — this distressed, dying demographic slice of America — are similar to the people who tend to vote for Trump, according to phone and exit polls. Trump supporters are mostly white; skew older; and are less likely to have college degrees than other Republicans.
(“Less educated” is a proxy, for “working class.”)
Fourth, the swing from Obama to Trump was greater in counties that where housing costs were high. WaPo:
According to the analysis, respondents in hundreds of surveys were more likely to view Trump favorably if they lived in Zip codes with heavy mortgage-interest burdens relative to local incomes, after taking into account a range of socioeconomic factors.
A less neutral response would read “…where people were more likely to lose their homes,” as opposed to “… where housing costs were high.” (It would be interesting to see if these counties also had experienced foreclosure problems after the crash.)
As a sidebar, employment and housing costs bring me to this study by Thomas Ferguson of another Democrat debacle: The 2010 race between Scott Brown and Martha Coakeley that cost them control of the Senate. Ferguson writes:
Two distinct economic factors clearly propelled the Brown vote. Measuring from November 2008 to De-cember 2009, for each 1% unemployment rose in towns, the Democratic share of the vote fell by about a quarter of 1%. That may not sound like much, but the average rise in unemployment was about 4% across the state as a whole, with many towns hit much harder, including some that experienced double digit rises. Declines in single fmily house prices also depressed the Democratic share of the vote. Here variatons across the state were even wider. For each 1% prices dropped, the Democratic share of the vote fell off by about a fifth of a percent. Many towns saw price drops of 5% to 9%, with values in one towntalling 14%.
And Ferguson presciently concludes:
If, as many expect, the U.S. is facing years of slow job growth coupled with a prolonged housing crisis, then our re-sults raise the possibility that the Tea Part in Massachusets may look like a tempest in a teapot compared to what’s coming in at least some elections in other states.
So, the general in 2016 is a replay of Massachusetts in 2010. It’s the economy, stupid. As Talleyrand does not quite say of the Bourbons, the Democrats have learned nothing and forgotten a lot.
In any case, for this talking point to be true, we have to believe that economic stress, loss of economic optimism, excess deaths, and housing costs affect neither turnout nor the vote.
Clinton, in a conference call with donors, blamed Comey. Vanity Fair:
“There are lots of reasons why an election like this is not successful,” Clinton said on the conference call. But, she added, “our analysis is that Comey’s letter raising doubts that were groundless, baseless — proven to be — stopped our momentum.”…
Clinton told her donors, “we dropped, and we had to keep really pushing to regain our advantage, which going into last weekend we had. We were once again up in all but two of the battleground states, and we were up considerably in some that we ended up losing. And we were feeling like we had to put it back together.”
To be fair, Clinton is correct that “there are lots of reasons,” in an election this close. However, to me, blaming Comey is like blaming the last pebble in an avalanche of #FAIL. Sanders asks the right question. Talking about the Comey letters, Sanders said:
“It’s not a question of what happens in the last week. The question is that she should have won this election by 10 percentage points.
 The story doesn’t say where Ada was developed. Since it would be irresponsible not to speculate, my guess would be it came from Google squillionaire Eric Schmidt’s The Groundwork, “the Clinton campaign’s top technology vendor, earning more than $600,000 in fees since the campaign began, according to federal campaign finance disclosures.” And then there’s this, also from the WaPo story:
The algorithm operated on a separate computer server than the rest of the Clinton operation as a security precaution, and only a few senior aides were able to access it.
Oh. “A separate computer server.” Maybe there needs to be a moratorium on campaign software with two-syllable names that end in A. Knowledge of Orca and Ada was also closely held. Perhaps more eyes on the code would have prevented hubris.
 The whole article is worth a read; it describes the effects of “a complex and ultimately toxic stew that includes professionalization of politics, attempts by the liberal establishment to channel radical impulses of working class people and people of color into incrementalist politics, and the ascendancy of a bipartisan technocratic elite in both parties that has been accelerating the concentration of power in the hands of an increasingly small number of mega corporations and institutions. “
 I remember the Coakely/Brown race very well. Coakely had sued Goldman-Sachs for $20 million dollars and won; surely a populist talking point in a populist year; but she didn’t run on it. I’m assured by a Washington insider that the DSCC punishes candidates who don’t stick to its talking points.