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Emerging From The Presidential Election Jungle

Hillary Clinton speaking at a campaign event
photo by Gage Skidmore

When I was a kid in the 1960s, there were news reports every once in a while about a Japanese soldier emerging from the South Pacific jungles, unaware – or having long refused to believe – that his side lost the war.

We should expect that for a few fanatics, even yesterday’s Electoral College vote to make Donald Trump the next president has not settled the 2016 election. They will continue to fight, in a battle that exists only in their own minds, at least until the moment on January 6 when Vice President Joe Biden announces the final tally before a joint session of Congress. And then many will likely join what some are already calling “the resistance,” as if the incoming administration is no different than the forces that occupied Paris in 1940 or Tokyo in 1945 – which is pretty much how these folks see things.

Defeats often elicit scapegoating and rationalization. Strategists at Japan’s War Ministry had good reason to know since at least 1944, and probably earlier, that their Pacific campaign was unwinnable once the United States recovered from Pearl Harbor. Yet they prepared for massive resistance against an expected invasion, and either encouraged or demanded mass civilian suicide when the Allies landed on Okinawa. People everywhere have a difficult time accepting hard truths about their own failures.

So Emperor Hirohito observed, when he announced Japan’s defeat in a recorded message to his people (the first time most of them had ever heard his voice), that “the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in the ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.” Japan, however, would have lost the war with or without the atomic bomb; the only question was how long it would take and how many lives would be lost.

Hillary Clinton and her campaign staff were at least as surprised by their defeat as were the Japanese generals at the War Ministry. After the fact, however, they have identified two main reasons why they lost: The announcement by FBI Director James Comey, less than 10 days before Election Day, that the Bureau was examining a trove of Clinton emails discovered on a computer used by disgraced former Rep. Anthony “Carlos Danger” Weiner, and hacked Democratic emails purportedly leaked by Russia for the alleged purpose of putting Trump in the White House. Last week Clinton herself told Democratic donors (who fruitlessly poured $1 billion into her campaign) that these were the factors that caused late-deciding voters to break against her and give Trump his victory.

If leaked emails cost Clinton the election, then the atomic bomb cost Japan the war. Both of these assertions overlook a long list of pre-existing factors, which meant that even without these major events, defeat was still probable, if not inevitable.

For Japan, it was the failure to cripple the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor (our crucial aircraft carriers were not in port at the time), followed by a string of strategic defeats from Midway to the South Pacific to Okinawa.

For Clinton, I have compiled a list of all the things that did not lead to her defeat, according to her and her team. You may have a few more items to add that I’ve overlooked.

1) Her decision to put her government emails on a private server in the first place, which she took months to acknowledge as a “mistake” but has never admitted was improper. Pretty much every American adult knows that if you put your employer’s emails on your own machine in your own home without explicit permission, you are probably going to get fired.

2) The sarcasm and feigned naivete (“Like, with a cloth or something?”) with which she responded when asked if she had wiped her private server.

3) Her inability to secure her nomination against unlikely challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders without the help of a biased Democratic National Committee (obvious beforehand, but proven by the leaked emails) and over 400 party insider superdelegates.

4) Her close involvement with the Obama administration’s foreign policy, which led to horrible outcomes and images from Syria, Crimea, Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and which achieved notable security improvements exactly nowhere. The administration’s belated recognition of the terror threat posed by the Islamic State group, and a string of foreign and domestic terror attacks, made matters worse.

5) Her “What difference, at this point, does it make?” comment in Congressional testimony about the link, initially denied, between terrorism and the murders of four American diplomatic and security officers in Benghazi under her State Department leadership.

6) Her reversal on the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, which she initially called “the gold standard;” her comments about putting coal companies out of business; and her nondecision and eventual opposition to the Keystone XL oil pipeline, none of which helped her in critical regions of Pennsylvania and the Midwest.

7) Her failure to ever visit Wisconsin, which she lost, during the general election campaign, and her focus on Ohio (which she lost handily) at the expense of Michigan and Pennsylvania until the closing days. She could have afforded to lose Ohio if she had held the other three states.

8) Her limited summer schedule after the Democratic convention, during which she spent much time at glitzy fundraisers while waiting for Trump to self-destruct.

9) Her comment that half of Trump’s supporters amounted to a “basket of deplorables,” which probably did not play well with those undecided voters who eventually broke for Trump.

10) Her failure to turn out African-American and college-educated white voters in Midwest urban centers in the numbers that had carried President Obama to victories in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. Clinton came close to losing in Minnesota for the same reason.

11) Her campaign’s miscalculation that Trump’s weakness with Hispanic voters would cost him Florida and could put Arizona in play. Trump’s clear message on immigration helped him with the voters he needed. Clinton’s muddier message did not do the same for her.

12) Her weakness with married and younger white women, neither of which group responded particularly well to the argument that Clinton deserved their votes because of her second X chromosome. Impolitic comments by Madeleine Albright (“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other”) and Gloria Steinem did not help, either.

13) The choice to put her campaign headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, which isolated her staff from the parts of America where swing voters actually live. In the Brooklyn bubble, a Clinton defeat was unimaginable – which may be why nobody in the campaign seemed to see the possibility.

14) Her decision to run a campaign that sought to win by default. The Clinton campaign strategy was to portray a Trump presidency as unacceptable, which amounted to a campaign message of “Vote for me because you have no other choice.” It’s a message Vladimir Putin would understand (though it apparently did not earn her his backing).

15) The reliance on money and mechanization to overcome a lack of enthusiasm. In this, Clinton and her fellow Democrats fell victim to their own Citizens United myopia; they equate campaign funding with campaign outcomes. Trump won despite being vastly outspent and out-advertised in both the primary and general campaigns.

16) The perception, already widespread even before it was documented from the leaked emails, that the Clinton operation is basically a pay-to-play enterprise. The interplay of the Clinton Foundation, Hillary and Bill Clinton’s paid speeches, her tenure as secretary of state and the web of Democratic fundraising and propaganda organizations was obvious long before a single voter read any emails obtained from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. In the end, the leaks filled in details, but voters knew the outlines of the picture well enough anyway.

17) The fact that people didn’t trust Clinton. They did not trust her at the start of the campaign and, by pretty much the same margins, they did not trust her at the end. This was not because of any foreign meddling; it was because the candidate and her campaign never sealed the deal with the voters they needed.

18) The fact that Clinton is a Democrat. Democrats generally are not doing well in this country, and have not since Obama’s first presidential election. In fact, if you subtract Clinton’s 4-million-vote margin in California, she actually would have lost the national popular vote. It may be the case that Clinton’s defeat was not the outlier; the outlier was Obama’s 2012 re-election victory in the face of his party’s declining fortunes overall. If anything, Sanders pushed Clinton closer to the Democratic base, which ended up helping her only in states Democrats typically win despite the national trend against them.

Some of those Japanese soldiers who belatedly emerged from the jungle required a personal message from members of the Imperial household before they could accept defeat. For the benefit of today’s Democrat die-hards, here is another quotation from the message of the vanquished emperor to his people:

“The hardships and sufferings to which our nation is to be subjected however will be certainly great. We are keenly aware of the inmost feelings of all of you, our subjects. However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that we have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable.”

The war is over. Come out of that jungle, and let’s enjoy a little peace.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s recently updated book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us,” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business.” Larry was also among the authors of the firm’s book The High Achiever’s Guide To Wealth.

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