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Why Clinton lost and the Democrats got blindsided

Hillary Clinton, former 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, pauses while speaking at the New Yorker Hotel in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.
Olivier Douliery | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Hillary Clinton, former 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, pauses while speaking at the New Yorker Hotel in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.

For a country so divided, there's probably one emotion that applies to all Americans right now – shock. Shock for the people in the bubble like us (if you're reading this, odds are high you're in the bubble too) that Hillary Clinton lost. Shock for Donald Trump's supporters that he actually won. How and why are questions that will probably be studied and debated for decades to come, but here's an initial stab at it.

  1. At least half the country is really pissed off. It was easy, pre-election, to buy into Hillary's basket of deplorables argument. But when the deplorables make up more than half the electorate, unless you're willing to believe that we are now a country besieged by bigots (I'm not willing to believe that), you have to accept that whether you think their views on trade or immigration are right or not, enough people were angry enough to vote for a guy they knew was a little crazy. They didn't care because, as Trump himself said, "what have you got to lose?" I don't know that Trump believes half of what he says, but they believe in his economic message (and if he abandons it, they'll turn on him).
  2. The pollsters failed the electorate. The eco-chamber of pundits, reporters, academics, and elites from Wall Street to Hollywood to Silicon Valley not only missed what was happening, their (let's be honest -- our) very failure to do so is exactly why Trump won in the first place. The collective cluelessness, self-righteousness, screeching and patronizing behavior is what helped push so many undecided voters over the edge. And absent realizing that, it's going to happen again and again (we not only failed to see it coming in the primaries and during Brexit – all of our collective intelligence, erudition and Ivy League degrees only drove more voters into Trump's arms).
  3. Hillary had two fundamental flaws that were intrinsically offensive to voters. First, her main argument for running was essentially "it's my turn." We revolted from Great Britain specifically because we don't believe that our leaders should be chosen solely based on genes and turns. The "my turn" candidate almost never wins and last night was no exception (and if you don't believe me, just ask Presidents Gore, Kerry, Dole and McCain). Second, when you live by one set of rules (co-mingling government and your own finances) in an entitled, self-righteous fashion and expect everyone else to live by another set of rules, it pisses them off. And that was heavily reflected in turnout and the results.
  4. While it's probably not fair to say that Hillary lost because she's a woman, it'd be equally unfair to say it didn't play a role. Breaking deep-seated social norms is hard and many people fail before someone finally succeeds. The first female president (whoever and whenever it happens) will owe a deep debt of gratitude to Hillary Clinton.

While there's a lot to fear from the results, utter panic is not the way to go. This is not the rise of the Weimar Republic. It's not the dawn of a nuclear holocaust. We have a system of checks and balances, an incredibly strong Constitution and an active fourth estate. And it's not clear that Trump actually believes anything he said during the campaign anyway (as he's noted, any position could just be a starting point for negotiations).

Yes, he seems like a world class jerk. But he's probably not the first jerk to occupy the White House. For those of us who supported Clinton, we need to accept the result and do our best to make it work. And for those who supported Trump, they just need to see if he can deliver on his promises.

One thing is clear, we can probably count on feeling the same emotion all over again either way – shock for Clinton supporters if he turns out to be not so bad and shock for Trump supporters if he comes through. I've never wanted to be shocked so bad.

Commentary by Bradley Tusk who leads political advisory firm Tusk Strategies. Bradley served as Mike Bloomberg's campaign manager, guiding Mayor Bloomberg to a third term. In 2016 he advised Bloomberg on a potential presidential run. His career in the public sector began at the New York City Parks Department in 1995, acting as spokesman and then senior advisor to Commissioner Henry Stern. Bradley then served as communications director for U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer. From 2003-2006, Bradley was Deputy Governor of Illinois. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyTusk.

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