The way I see it, Hillary Clinton can be described in the most basic sense like this: terrific leader, bad candidate. And I don’t say this to disparage her; she is one of the most driven and resilient figures in American government, past and present. But I think that defeat in an election with so much at stake begs the question: Why did Hillary Clinton lose? There were many reasons, of course, and I want to stress that she herself was not at fault for any of them. She personally did little, if anything, that led her to to lose.
The issue lies in the way she came across to the public, the viewers, the audience. Politics is all about performance. The best way to win is by putting on a good show, whether its content is genuine or not, and charisma makes that exponentially easier. For all her countless strengths, Hillary Clinton did not have that natural charisma. She had just about everything else, including more governing and political experience than any other presidential candidate in history, but her disconnect with the public and unpersuasive delivery were blatantly apparent, even to diehard supporters like myself.
In an ideal society, such a small flaw would have no impact on an election of such massive consequence. A candidate’s tone and speech patterns should never trump (pun intended) their qualifications in the context of one’s vote, especially considering that women’s images, both verbal and physical, are scrutinized far more than men’s. 2016 showed us that charisma is the single most important trait in a presidential candidate. It was an almost scientific demonstration, actually, because Donald Trump had absolutely NO redeeming qualities besides his charisma. His chemistry with his base, long missing from Republican presidential candidates, far surpassed Clinton’s connectivity with Democrats—Bernie-or-Busters in particular—which paled in comparison to that Obama charm. The reason we so often hear newscasters referring to Trump voters as his “base” is because they are far more attached to Trump himself than to the GOP. Clinton? Not so much. There wasn’t much of a “Clinton base”—just liberals and Democrats. I think most of those who did end up voting for her did so because of their attachment to the Democratic agenda, which is a far less powerful motivator than the illusion of a personal connection.
Ultimately, I think it came down to this: There weren’t many Dems who disliked Sanders to the point where they wouldn’t have voted for him in the general election. Clinton, on the other hand, was strongly disliked among many of those Sanders galvanized. Their apathy cost her the election.
There are two ways we can try to prevent that phenomenon from repeating itself. We could spend the next 4 years berating Sanders supporters who didn’t vote for Clinton, or we could learn from this defeat and nominate more charismatic candidates. Which sounds more effective to you?
I would have loved to call Hillary Clinton my president. She was and remains my hero. But the fact is that the Democratic party needs more charismatic candidates, such as Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, with more persuasive campaign platforms if we are to fend off the manipulative populism of Trump and his inevitable contemporaries.