After the astonishing 2016 presidential election, it is natural to try to figure out what happened. This article is my excuse to blow off steam, so read it with all due caution.
What Trump Did Right
Throughout his campaign, Trump seemed to break all the rules, insult almost all minorities and interest groups, and tell lies shamelessly. He may have gotten these things right:
1. Truthfulness about his personality: Trump made no effort to pretend to be someone he wasn't. He's been in the public eye for decades, often as the butt of jokes. But he never tried to pose as a good, upstanding, mainstream politician. As a result, statements that he made or videos about his exploits that would have be scandalous for a normal politician (like Anthony Weiner's sexting) instead made Trump look honest and authentic. He never pretended to be other than that.
2. Reality show host: His time on TV should have been demeaning. But he managed to host "The Apprentice" by making other people participate in demeaning competitions. He never did them himself, and he kept the role as Chairman of the Board. So he looked like the boss, the guy in charge.
3. Policy confusion: Trump had certain catch phrases, like "Let's build a wall and make Mexico pay for it." But as serious policies, they were vacuous. A wall won't solve the problem of immigration or lost jobs. (Most of the southern border already has walls, and more Mexicans are leaving the U.S. than are coming in.) But as a slogan, it sounds decisive and active. Not only that, this and other statements were so vague that media commentators spent hours trying to figure what he meant, giving him that much more publicity and a sense that he was more serious than the statements deserved.
4. Play to emotions, not intellect: Like Bill Clinton, Trump felt his supporters' pain. He vocalized and amplified their anger. Even if the policies were vacuous, voters heard his emotions and thought he must be sincere on some level. Based on that, they ignored the Trump statements that they disagreed with.
5. Salesmanship: Trump is a good salesman. He constantly emphasized his strengths and how much he could do for the country, which he said was in terrible condition without him. He has charisma.
What Hillary Clinton Did Wrong:
1. Guarded personality: Clinton's personality is more guarded than either Bill Clinton or Obama. That was clear from her speech as the Democratic Convention, when all of them could be directly compared. She didn't seem to feel the voters' pain, even though privately or one-on-one, she probably has more empathy than Trump.
2. Policies: Clinton didn't have a small number of slogans about her policies. (Reagan ran on three simple policies.) Clinton had many detailed statements and plans, but she didn't turn them into goals that were easy to say. As a result, people didn't know what she really intended to prioritize.
3. Woman's angle: As the first serious woman candidate, she should have played up women's issues. Perhaps she didn't want to alienate men. But by not emphasizing women's issues, she perhaps didn't get strong support from women. She also didn't look honest, because as a woman, everyone assumed that she should have cared about women's problems.
4. Address critics and "scandals": Clinton has been bedeviled by critics who look for scandals about her for decades. She is better known for scandals than for her positive contributions. But worse than the scandals is that she never found a way to push back against the critics. She tried in the 1990's by talking about the "vast right-wing conspiracy." But that was ridiculed and she dropped it. But there really was a kind of organized right-wing effort, led by Fox News with their attacks on liberal ideas and their conspiracy theories. She should have put time and effort into finding a way to respond. She could have allied with left-wing networks like MSNBC and become a regular guest, the way that Trump did with Fox. Because Clinton didn't find a way to respond, she gave the impression that there was substance to the accusations, and she either looked weak or like she was hiding something. She should have taken this problem head on, rather than take the "high road."
5. Nerd: Clinton is basically a nerdy person who doesn't have the charisma of Trump, Obama, or Bill Clinton. Jimmy Carter had the same problem in debating Reagan.
So this is how Trump, with no political experience, defeated Clinton, who had the best resume of any political candidate for decades.
The lesson is that presidential candidates need to be likeable, friendly people, even if they don't know anything about policy. They can be front people. Democrats should run someone like Alec Baldwin or Oprah, not policy experts like Clinton or Al Gore. It appears that even if Clinton and Gore can win the popular vote, they can't win the electoral college vote.