Final thoughts on Nov. 8

C. Fraser Smith, BridgeTower Media Newswires

Of course I thought Hillary Clinton should and would win the late, lamented election.

I also thought, from the beginning, that Trump had a chance. I kept saying so to friends who were hoping The Donald would be the GOP candidate.

She would crush him, they said. She would drive a stake into the heart of the Republican Party.

But Trump had a chance because he was new to the table – even if the “new” was a flimflam set of promises and attitudes.

He saw it. She didn’t.

Trump was the charisma candidate. He arrived in unusual camouflage: He had no experience. He was offering 2,000-mile-long walls. He seemed to be encouraging racial conflict. Why would we take such a man seriously?

Trump understood way better than she how the country felt about government. (I thought of Maryland congressman-elect Anthony Brown when I watched her. She was all about programs – as was Brown. Gov. Larry Hogan, like Trump, saw what was on people’s minds: anger at being offered the same diet of programs.)

A book about failing to fight poverty was called: “Let them eat promises.”

The Big Lie

I saw the Trump phenomenon coming a year and half ago when I traveled to Louisiana with my son. While driving a U-haul truck across the Lake Pontchartrain causeway, I heard a talk radio jock declaiming against Crooked Hillary.

Hillary and Bill, he said, were associates of 47 men and women who had committed suicide or died in mysterious circumstances. Wasn’t that strange, he said.

The implication: The Clintons were responsible for these deaths. No evidence. No trial. No proof. Just a mocking tone projecting the idea that with so many (unproven) connections there must be something to the conclusion.
People were buying it. It was my introduction to the Big Lie’s takeover of American politics, 2016.

This fall, I Googled something like “47 deaths” and found the same litany but the number of deaths had grown to 100. When the GOP campaign began and I heard similar stories from what came to be known as the GOP  clown car. Given what I had heard in the moving truck, I thought this kind of thinking had traction.

I wonder who told Trump? Who suggested to him that people would buy this 47 mystery deaths business?

This was the campaign context: the Hillary-Bill cabal, the Benghazi smear and assorted other alleged missteps.

Little response

So what do you do if you’re Hillary? Do you address the “crooked” charge directly or do you trust people to see beyond it, particularly when Trump is the alternative. If you do address it are you giving it more credence? She chose to assume voters would choose her even if they found her flawed.

Easy to say in retrospect, but I think she should have gone to the mat against the drumbeat. Silence is acquiescence. You don’t want the other guy defining you --- even if you think he’s a con man, race baiter and womanizer.
Trump kept saying, she’s had 30 years. Fair enough as a campaign theme. So what was her response? Essentially more of the same programmatic stuff. I think she didn’t respond adequately because she counted on voters seeing what a charlatan he is. The “30 years” charge may have been more damaging than “crooked.”

Surely a combination of factors created a pro-Trump dynamic in the must-win states.

The media, of course. Print journalism did a good job over the course of the campaign. But we should have had a much better handle on the level of anger, the wave “out there.”

We are, after all, elites relative to the Rust Belt voters. And there was not much energy or understanding of why some voters were furious – except by Trump. He was promising a lot we think he can’t provide, but she wasn’t promising enough.

Elites cast a wary eye on promises. People without hope are inclined to see promises as a sign you’re actually listening to them and giving credence to their plight. Listening carefully and offering something tangible and new ought to be Job 1 for a Democrat.

In a year when 47-to-100 mysterious deaths are laid at your doorstep without a shred of evidence, all bets are off.


C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR. His email address is