Written by Varsha Venugopal
With the next presidential election around the corner, learning from Hillary Clinton’s oversights in 2016 can help a new wave of Democratic candidates navigate the campaign trail in 2020. After the political chaos of 2016, many Americans are concerned about the consequences of yet another polarizing election cycle. Now, a growing array of Democratic candidates have rekindled interest in national politics, bringing the 2016 election to the limelight once again.
Perhaps no other election cycle in modern history was dominated with more scandals– and as rife with parody– than the last. Both sides suffered from a constant barrage of political bickering. However, while the Trump campaign embraced controversy in order to energize voters, Clinton was unprepared for such unprecedented chaos, leading to a weakened anti-Trump crusade.
Looking back, numerous factors contributed to Clinton’s downfall in 2016. Her exaggerated comments in West Virginia that her administration’s clean energy plan would put coal miners out of work lost her critical support in blue-collar regions. James Comey’s public statement of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s email server investigation prompted quick condemnation from Republicans, as well as many voters.
Trump faced just as many campaign problems, from inquiries about corrupt business dealings to allegations of sexual assault. But unlike Clinton, Trump evaded questions of his own behavior and focused on attacking his opponent. With famous chants like “Build The Wall” and “Lock Her Up” and his pledge to bring an outsider’s perspective to Washington, Trump energized his base, despite banking on false promises. Meanwhile, Clinton–a true moderate– failed to mobilize her party under one movement.
What 2016 has proven is that no matter what campaign strategies are employed in 2020, a candidate must possess the ability to bring voters to the polls. President Obama’s ability to empower middle-class, working Americans won him the election in 2008 and 2012. Similarly, it was President Trump’s ability to create a fervent far-right voter base, despite his many publicly-criticized illogical and distasteful comments, that won him the presidency. Even within the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders united a significant population under his movement for Medicare-for-All and free college tuition. So, while Trump was hyping up enormous crowds throughout the country about building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Clinton was losing numbers to the “Bernie or Bust” movement. In the end, Trump didn’t actually convince many historically-Democratic candidates to vote for him; what led to depressed Democratic voter turnout in key states was instead Clinton’s own inability to encourage Democrats to vote for her.
Now, as the 2020 Democrats start campaigning, they will have to find a way to energize voters without dividing the party, in order to clinch the presidency.
The 2020 Democratic candidates are already considering how they can focus on certain issues to maximize their key voter base. Beto O’Rourke’s viral video response to NFL players and the national anthem gained him solid support with millennial voters, who champion issues such as racial justice and climate change policy. Bernie Sanders is attempting to reclaim his enthusiastic socialist-leaning followers from 2016 with promises of universal healthcare and free college tuition. Amy Klobuchar has gained traction with Democratic party loyalists, an older, more white group that has long-supported gun control and abortion rights, while staying away from radical topics such as racial justice. A number of other candidates–such as Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris–have also started campaigning for 2020, attempting to recruit as many Americans to champion their causes.
However, with a growing number of candidates embracing overlapping views and policies, there lies the imminent danger of Democrats, once again, running intra-party divisive campaigns eventually distancing large groups of Democratic voters during the presidential election. The polarizing campaigning of 2016 resulted in the “Bernie or Bust” movement that isolated a large number of millennial and socialist-leaning voters that typically would have voted for the Democratic presidential candidate. To avoid another such incident, 2020 Democrats must not fall prey to the contentious campaign strategies that have long-ruled politics but rather focus on the real opposition: President Trump’s Republican Party. Hopefully, with wisdom taken from the 2016 election, the United States can avoid another divisive primary season. Afterall, hindsight is 20/20.