Stop Scapegoating Third Parties!

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Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton

After the debacle that was Tuesday, the first reaction of a lot of Clinton supporters was to blame third-party votes on her loss. But that doesn’t wash, folks. Those numbers don’t crunch.

Now that we’ve looked at state-by-state numbers, it looks as if Jill Stein votes might have cost Clinton two states — Wisconsin and Michigan — by a relatively tiny sliver of voters. But those two states together have only 26 Electoral College votes. Give them to Clinton, and she’s still 16 votes short.

So we go on to the next phase of the excuse-making, which is that if all of Stein’s and Johnson’s voters had voted for Clinton, she would have won. Steve Benen argued that if we gave all of Stein’s votes and half of Johnson’s votes to Clinton, she would have taken Pennsylvania and Florida and the Electoral College win.

And if more blue-collar white men in rust belt states had voted for Clinton, she would have won, too. If Jesus had appeared in glory in the sky and written “vote for Clinton” in glittery letters, maybe it would have changed the evangelical vote.  And maybe if some space aliens had managed to sneak in and mess up the voting machines, we’d be looking forward to the Clinton Inauguration now. But none of those things happened.

And my point is that it’s ludicrous to assume that Johnson took more votes away from Clinton than from Trump. Johnson was not a candidate who appealed to progressives and liberals. Libertarians tend to be Republican-leaning voters, not Democratic-leaning voters.

What do we actually know about who took votes away from whom? I found an exit poll at CBS News that asked people how they would have voted if they had to choose between Clinton and Trump only.  Only a quarter of both Johnson AND Stein voters said they would have voted for Clinton. One quarter. If we give one-quarter of Johnson and Stein votes to Clinton in swing states, would it have mattered? This takes a level of computation that’s outside of my skill set unless I worked on it all day, but if someone wants to try it, be my guest. But I rather doubt it. And at the same time, we’d need to give 15 percent of Johnson votes and 14 percent of Stein votes to Trump, so you’re looking at a really tiny sliver of the total percentage of votes. If we re-assign those votes based on this exit poll, I am extremely doubtful that the outcome of the election would have changed.

Oh, the remainder of those third-party votes would have just been tossed into the void; a majority of respondents to the CBS exit poll said that if they had to choose only between Trump and Clinton, they wouldn’t have voted at all.

So this takes us to the next level of blame-casting, that it was those nasty third-party voters bad-mouthing Hillary and spreading hate speech about her that poisoned the election. This is a bit like blaming Pearl Harbor on what Emperor Hirohito had for  breakfast.

Are those coastal liberals so out of touch with the rest of America that they didn’t know what a hot button the name “Clinton” is? Did they really have no clue that for nearly 25 years the Clintons together have been to Republican and conservative-leaning voters what Emmanuel Goldstein was in 1984 — the “primal traitor”; the Ultimate Boogeyman; the locus of All Evil; symbols of the worst corruption and elitism and global conspiracy-ism all rolled into one? And if you say that isn’t fair I agree, heartily, but it is what it is. A big chunk of Americans have long been conditioned to react to “Clinton” the way George Orwell’s characters turned into a howling mob during the Two Minutes Hate. Donald Trump tapped into that conditioning and exploited it masterfully. Although Jill Stein supporters stupidly got sucked into it, they didn’t start it.

That’s why it didn’t matter if nothing criminal was found in the damn emails, or if the Benghazi witch hunts turned up no fault in the Secretary of State. In the minds of many she was guilty because she is Hillary Clinton. No matter what anyone says they believe she is always guilty, and she always gets away with it. This is the narrative they’ve embraced and which will never be unlearned. And I am not exaggerating.

And if this is news to you, I assume you are either (a) living in a bright blue state surrounded by like-minded liberals; or (b) born yesterday.

That’s why the mere mention of “Clinton” and “emails” triggered such a wave of revulsion in the electorate. The Comey letter of late October may very well have made a difference in those close swing states, although I doubt we’ll ever know for sure. “Trump cheats on taxes” doesn’t have the same effect. Most Americans aren’t (yet) invested in hating Trump the same way they are invested in hating Clinton. And that’s why all the talk during the primaries about how Hillary Clinton had already been “vetted” and was above being brought down by scandals was delusional.

Somehow, the Democratic Party didn’t think of that when they chose to put all their chips on Hillary Clinton. It was a huge hurdle to overcome, and they failed to overcome it.

As I wrote yesterday, it appears that Trump’s victory came from non-college-educated whites in the upper midwest; the “rust belt” states. The New York Times has more on this today.

Donald J. Trump’s America flowered through the old union strongholds of the Midwest, along rivers and rail lines that once moved coal from southern Ohio and the hollows of West Virginia to the smelters of Pennsylvania.

It flowed south along the Mississippi River, through the rural Iowa counties that gave Barack Obama more votes than any Democrat in decades, and to the Northeast, through a corner of Connecticut and deep into Maine.

And it extended through the suburbs of Cleveland and Minneapolis, of Manchester, N.H., and the sprawl north of Tampa, Fla., where middle-class white voters chose Mr. Trump over Hillary Clinton.

One of the biggest upsets in American political history was built on a coalition of white voters unlike that of any other previous Republican candidate, according to election results and interviews with voters and demographic experts.

Mr. Trump’s coalition comprised not just staunchly conservative Republicans in the South and West. They were joined by millions of voters in the onetime heartlands of 20th-century liberal populism — the Upper and Lower Midwest — where white Americans without a college degree voted decisively to reject the more diverse, educated and cosmopolitan Democratic Party of the 21st century, making Republicans the country’s dominant political party at every level of government.

Read it and weep, folks. That’s why Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic Party generally, lost on Tuesday. Stop scapegoating third parties.

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23 Comments

  1. CH  •  Nov 10, 2016 @4:07 pm

    Amen, amen. Something else from out here in Flyover Nation: besides the decades of largely-unfair-but-real baggage HRC carried, it was always a stretch to me to see how we were supposed to sell someone worth $100 million, who could and did command a 6-figure fee for a chummy Q&A down on Wall Street among the moneybags but was almost devoid of retail political skills among the hoi polloi, as someone who actually had a clue or even curiosity about how life is in dollar-store country.

  2. Swami  •  Nov 10, 2016 @4:10 pm

    If my aunt had balls she’d be my uncle?

  3. c u n d gulag  •  Nov 10, 2016 @5:47 pm

    I’m still in shock.

    “The horror…
    The horror….
    The horror….”

  4. Tom_b  •  Nov 10, 2016 @6:26 pm

    We don’t need a blame game. Maybe BOTH parties need a postmortem review; a retuning of both message and messenger. Deficiencies all around, except the bad guys won.

    The fact is, we’d all be breaking open champagne and not marching through the streets in anger if the POLLS had not not all broken 3-5 points in the same direction, towards Clinton. A few more rallies in MI, PA, and FL were all we needed to get through THIS election, given the margins. Meaning less time here in NC, which, it turns out, wasn’t so close. Sounds like turnout all around was low, like 2012, but we squeaked it out then because we had a “squeaky” clean, low negative incumbent. The Trump voters who were ashamed to confess that to the pollsters were our doom.

  5. Swami  •  Nov 10, 2016 @6:29 pm

    I am too,gulag. Trump is a fuckin’ sociopath. And I’m not talking out my ass when I say that. I’ve had a 6 year battle with a full blown sociopath,so I’m speaking from experience. I know all the dynamics of all their games.. I’ve done my homework and time in hell in that regard.
    When Trump had his little pre debate press conference featuring Bill Clinton’s former sex assault victims and accusers..That was a classic characteristic of sociopathic behavior. There are no boundaries of decency that will contain the behaviour of a true sociopath. I can assure the whole world, even without credentials, that Trump is a fuckin’ sociopath.
    America..You’ve got the bull by the horns now! Good luck with that.

  6. KC  •  Nov 10, 2016 @6:48 pm

    I voted for Clinton, but had no illusions about her as a candidate. The most horrible part of the campaign to me, was when she went on a fundraising spree after the convention and let Trump have the media to himself. That was devastating and I felt at the time she was making the John Kerry mistake of letting charges fester without adequate response. When I read she didn’t have a rapid response team setup like her husband did in 1992, I couldn’t believe it.

    Well, it’s time to move forward.

  7. Doug  •  Nov 10, 2016 @7:52 pm

    Clinton carried more baggage than a 747. I know the talking points that republicans have been ‘investigating’ the Clintons for 30 years. SOME of it is pure BS – Whitewater came up with nothing. Bengazi was not Clinton’s fault because the myth of a standdown has been disproved repeatedly. The emails is mostly smoke except she lied about it.

    The Foundation does some wonderful work but the exchange of money for access to the Secretary of State, while not illegal according to the USSC in Citizens United, is a foul scheme. The source of Clinton’s campaign funds, while legal, is a trail of bread crumbs from Wall Street to Hillary. Does anyone doubt that the DNC was in the tank for Clinton from the get-go or that the debate schedule was rigged – with Hillary’s knowledge?

    Clinton is exactly the kind of candidate that voters from both parties are sick of . Trump enraged the GOP establishment and voters loved the spectacle. IMO people found the stench of Clinton’s corruption more vile than Trump’s personal habits.

    Voters hoped they turned loose an angry, hungry T-Rex on 535 porcupines,that being the sum of the House and the Senate. Voters think it will be an amusing reality show as the prickly critters try to use their quills to not be eaten by the monster with a brain the size of a walnut. The problem is that we’re not in the bleachers – we’re in the stadium and the bedlam of the scene won’t be limited to a flat-screen network reality show you can turn off.

  8. erinyes  •  Nov 10, 2016 @8:34 pm

    I agree with Swami. Didn’t anybody notice how Trump dispatched his Republican opponents in the Primary ? Then he got ultra creepy while debating Clinton. Trump’s style of fighting is dirty and effective ; intimidate the hell out of your opponent, threaten them with law suits, kick them to the curb, and keep on kicking. He’s focused, determined, and will do ANYTHING to get what he wants. I think he got a bit of a shock today when he met with Obama, now he will realize he has to perform, and he’s scared shitless. Good, I hope Obama DEMANDS an apology before he teaches the Grabbalottapus anything.

  9. bernie  •  Nov 10, 2016 @8:53 pm

    Third party no.  A tactical problem sure.  In a recriminatory world a tiny factor,but this is a word that is like the F-bomb.  It is a big problem for democrats.  They cannot understand and use the F-bomb.  The F-bomb I refer to is the word factor.  Much of what we all need to do is understand that the world is not black and white.  Barbara is so good on this type of idea and I am not.  I have been introduced to a word from an acquaintance who spent time learning about things metaphysical.  The word is Manicheism.  Most of you know of it as Trump-speak.  It is the mainstay of the conservative movement.  It dates back to a way conservative era according to Wikipedia of the years AD before 300.  As far as I can tell they thought all ideas had a binary essence.  All ideas could be reduced to good ideas and evil ideas.  It does not take much time listening to Rush Limbaugh to get an example of this primitive discarded thinking.  Simple minded people love it.  It makes Rush rich.  It makes the democrats lose.  If democrats want to win, as they have in this state, a red state, in droves, for the first time in a long time, they must learn.  They must learn, that black and white, good and evil, simple thinking needs to be valued and presented but they must also understand that this primitive way of thinking and constructing was tried and abandoned as a failure by homo sapiens two thousand or so years ago.  Being a factor is a shade of grey. 

    Is the third party environmentalist movement a factor sure.  Is the democratic party out of power sure.  Are they still a factor sure.  Are they a big enough factor no.  Do they need improvement sure.  Do they need to send me at my expense one more survey no.  This is binary thinking.  Manichaean thinking sure.

    It is fine thinking for some things.  It is so easy to exploit.  Democrats did not lose because they had third party problems.   Anyone with any age and sense knows that the democrats are your only hope here, but to them you are just a factor.   They have many interest groups to appease.  Most of the time they have little power.  In my state democrats are on the endangered species list but this year bucked the trend with a coalition with moderate republicans.  Not once did the national democratic party or the republican party in its circular firing squad attack, point us out as a bad example. This dismal experiment which has failed so badly that voter went to the polls in primaries and in the national election and reversed the trend. 

    If you cannot outthink or have poor or lamely presented ideas you lose.   If you do not communicate on the grass roots level you lose.   If you are the only option in a failed experiment you win.  The nation may have to learn that it is never a good idea to shoot yourself in the foot.  They should also learn from the breakaway republic of Brownbakistan that real people get hurt really badly when they are treated as laboratory rats by rich oligarchs.  This again in Manichaean style as best as I understand it. It is so easy and compelling. It is also an outdated, middle east, idea abandoned almost two centuries ago.  It is easy to ignore the grey.  It is easy to discard a small factor.  It is easy to not even understand what a factor is or to weigh it properly.  It is easy to think that the factor that is your pet factor is the premier factor.  It is important to remember that democrats represent many factors, some better than others.   It is important to remember that underrepresented factors get and deserve third parties.  It is important to realize that in historical analysis third party influence is huge in the long run.  Face it, the democratic party factored up big time. In this red world they/we did not.  We, here, however, have wandered for years in the desert without sympathy or recognition.  We watch you fly over.  We have not won.  We are now just barely a factor again. 

    So like good point.

  10. Swami  •  Nov 10, 2016 @9:25 pm

    Here’s something for a little levity.. if you’ve got a strong stomach.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-administration-cabinet_us_58249c70e4b01019814da7f9

  11. Tom_b  •  Nov 10, 2016 @9:41 pm

    I understand schools nationwide brought in crisis counselors yesterday, like the kind they have for shhotings, to help kids work through the fear. I could kind of use that as an adult.

  12. Bill  •  Nov 10, 2016 @11:22 pm

    There was once an anti-bullying blog, where the owner pretty much accepted that there will always be sociopathic alpha male bullies out there. His angle was that the primary reason they’re able to carry on abusing their victims, are the bystander enabler witnesses who do nothing about it. In his stories many of the enablers were in positions of some authority, yet turned a blind eye or even aided the bully. He really hated those people. I’m wondering how much the Clintons, pretty much being oligarchy-bully enablers, if you will, are despised by these economic victims, unconsciously or not, for those reasons. As Dems they’re perceived as “They should’ve known better”.

    As for Trump, can these voters believe that his policies have ruined them personally? (Of course it could very well happen, but it hasn’t yet. At least not for that many, yet.) Most people are pretty selfish that way. They don’t get it until they actually, physically get it. I was that way until my first sociopath encounter.

  13. Dolorous Stroke  •  Nov 10, 2016 @11:32 pm

    Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack, a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in.
    That’s how the light gets in.
    That’s how the light gets in.

    So long, Leonard.

  14. csm  •  Nov 11, 2016 @12:14 am

    The blame belongs with the DNC and Clinton herself. Why would they work so hard to put forward a candidate with the worst popularity rating of any democratic candidate and then expect voters to be excited over her candidacy just because of who she is?

    Instead of having a true primary process, wherein real competition would have produced not only the best candidate, but also a stronger candidate and a message to campaign on, party leaders put their thumb on the scale and damaged an already weak candidate.

    Here’s another interesting fact: Obama’s 2008 popular vote total was 69 million, while Clinton has garnered just over 59 million. That 10 million vote drop is even more significant given the fact that the voting population has grown since 2008. Had the dems just matched Obama’s 2012 popular vote total of 65 million Clinton would have won going away.

    Voter suppression aside, even though Clinton was far and away better qualified to be president, she was a poor candidate and an even worse salesman. She didn’t spend enough time on crafting positive reasons voters should support her, targeted to those voters she needed to win over. And she took a page from Kerry’s 2004 outing, which was essentially to assume your opponent is so bad you say little as possible and allow your opponent to beat himself up.

  15. Lit3Bolt  •  Nov 11, 2016 @10:38 am

    This is not a loss anyone can blame on 3rd parties. Clinton was a bad candidate (unfairly, but life’s unfair) and ran a bad strategy, full stop.

    Going after disaffected Republicans? Stupid.

    Assuming Rust Belt would hold aside from PA? Hubris.

    Focusing on Trump rather than policies or issues? It only added to his mystique. Also, “go to my website?” Goofy.

    Going to AZ, GA, Texas? Premature by twenty years.

    The point is to always make it about personal issues. It does not matter whether those issues will likely be enacted or not. You have to promise a chicken in every pot, whether or not you have chickens or pots yet, or you have to go negative and show how the other side wants to take away your chicken bones.

    Instead, the Clinton theme was “TRUMP: Who KNOWS what he’ll do?” And voters found that exciting and dangerous and mysterious and a way to project their fantasies in a way they couldn’t with Clinton.

  16. charluckles  •  Nov 11, 2016 @11:52 am

    I am not here to quibble with your characterization of the role of third parties, but I think we make a similarly huge mistake in putting this on Clinton.

    Clinton’s approval among REPUBLICANS during her time as secretary of state was in the 40s. That’s amazing for any Democratic politician.

    That historic unfavorability rating was largely the result of a unrelenting smear campaign orchestrated by congressional Republicans, abetted by the media and polished off by our own FBI. Is the loss multi-factorial and was Clinton one of those factors, sure. But the reason we have a President Trump right now is that the media and the FBI made that happen.

    Hell we liberals even largely adopted their language without thought. We still talk about the historic unpopularity of both candidates. That’s a blatant “both sides do it” media framing if I have ever heard one.

  17. maha  •  Nov 11, 2016 @12:30 pm

    charluckles: In 2012, Obama got 65,915,795 votes, which was a lot less than he got in 2008, but enough. This week, Clinton got 59,814,018 votes. A shitload of people who helped elect Obama just plain didn’t bother to go to the polls and vote for Clinton. I understand that there was a big drop of votes from nonwhite and younger voters especially.

    Yes, there was an unrelenting smear campaign against Clinton; it’s been going on since at least 1992, if not earlier. I wrote several paragraphs about this. So why did the DNC think she could overcome that? Why did they believe she was so “vetted” that she would rise above the unrelenting smear campaign? That was delusional. It’s not fair, I agree, but to pretend it wouldn’t happen this time, or that it didn’t matter, was just nuts.

    Bottom line, she shouldn’t have been the Dem nominee. And if the DNC had allowed a fair primary process, I doubt she would have been.

  18. charluckles  •  Nov 11, 2016 @1:23 pm

    Thank you for your response.

    In some ways I feel like I am tilting at windmills trying to change the culture of the media and ask the modern Republican party to abide by the norms and beliefs it says it stands by, but I don’t want to lose track of the fact that the behavior of Republicans, the media, and the FBI were totally unprecedented (I think?). How is it possible that Clinton was seen as less trustworthy and more corrupt than Donald Trump based primarily on two pseudo scandals in which nothing of significance has ever been uncovered? Congressional Republicans started it, the media ran with it, and then the FBI leant it real legitimacy. It hammered enthusiasm among Democrats and I still have Republican Facebook acquaintances screaming about how she should be put in jail.

    Yes, the DNC is a mess and failed us badly, but the behavior of the FBI and the media is something that makes me fear for the future of this country. I have trouble coming up with a candidate that I can plausibly say would have survived that.

  19. maha  •  Nov 11, 2016 @1:42 pm

    “I have trouble coming up with a candidate that I can plausibly say would have survived that.” How about one that had the enthusiastic support of a bigger part of the progressive/left base? And I’m not necessarily talking about Bernie Sanders. Right now I’m working on a very long piece arguing why Clinton of all people was a uniquely bad front runner.

  20. Bill  •  Nov 11, 2016 @3:28 pm

    Case in point: “Comey letters threw the election to Trump”. They still don’t get it.

  21. Bill  •  Nov 11, 2016 @3:44 pm
  22. Bill  •  Nov 11, 2016 @3:48 pm

    (I shoulda disclaimed that. I’m not a Thiessen flunky. Just trying to be able put myself into the shoes of these voters.)

  23. elkern  •  Nov 11, 2016 @6:47 pm

    Dolorous – Thanks! perfect choice for the moment!

    Maha – Thanks again for reminding Dems to avoid scapegoating Greens. OTOH, as a Green, I’m responsible for reminding other Greens that the “spoiler” thing is real as long as states continue to use Plurality-Wins (“first past the post”) electoral systems.

    Some Greens won’t listen, preferring imagined ideological purity to muddy political reality. But most Green candidates are happy to talk about IRV / Ranked-Choice Voting and don’t mind being reminded to push it publicly.

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