Home Page News Opinion Foreign Policy Politics Policy Legislation Lobbying Hill Life & People Hill Climbers Heard On The Hill Calendar Archives Classifieds
Advertising Subscribe Reuse & Permissions
Hill Times Events Hill Times Books Hill Times Careers The Wire Report The Lobby Monitor Parliament Now
Global

Trump’s all air war, Clinton’s all ground game

By Warren Kinsella      

Donald Trump was the most successful 'outsider' candidate in the recorded history of politics.

TORONTO—One day to go. What did Trump and Clinton do right, what did they do wrong?

First things first: Donald Trump will lose, when the final ballot is counted, but he has changed politics. Everyone—me included—said he couldn’t win the GOP nomination, and he did. Everyone said a racist, sexist, dirty old man couldn’t be a viable national candidate. But he was.

Trump—that bilious, bigoted billionaire—has turned the political conventional wisdom upside down, like it or not and you can probably expect to see other candidates aping him in the future. That’s not good, but it’s a fact.

That’s what Trump’s biggest achievement, in the end: he was the most successful “outsider” candidate in the recorded history of politics. He made all of his myriad opponents—in the Republican Party, in the media establishment, in the U.S. political consulting business—look like fools. Despite their experience, despite their money, despite history, Trump prevailed when no one thought he ever would.

That represents his biggest achievement: winning when everyone thought he would lose. But he made one critical error, too.

Trump comes from TV. TV made him and TV will break him. He did the thing that TV people so often do: he equated ratings with popularity, but they’re not ever the same thing.

Donald Trump—with his racism, and sexism and his “locker room talk”—was basically a human car crash: everyone tuned in to watch him, sure. But they tuned in to see him crash in a ditch, not to see him win the race. That was his big mistake: thinking eyeballs equals votes. He was a human Gong Show.

Ratings are not the same thing as popularity. Getting noticed is not getting respect. In an election campaign, which is essentially a weeks-long popularity contest, you always want to be the one who is liked (ask Justin Trudeau).

While many Americans certainly disliked Hillary Clinton, they ended up disliking Donald Trump more. What won him the primaries is the same thing that lost him the general election.

That’s Trump. What about Hillary, who (full disclosure) my wife Lisa and I worked for in three states?

Well, her campaign made us sign a comprehensive confidentiality agreement, so I’ve got no secrets to share. I will only point to what you are now seeing, with your own eyes, on this historic day: Trump was all air war. Clinton was all ground game.

What does that mean? It means this: Trump was terrific at Twitter, and at being noticed. He was a consummate genius at getting the media to pay attention to him, even when the media hated him. But you can’t win a general election with Twitter and crazy talk, folks. You just can’t.

Hillary won because, unlike Trump, she (a) didn’t take unnecessary risks, (b) she worked her ass off, and (c) she had the best on-the-ground organization. You know: knocking on doors (which we did in New Hampshire). Stuffing envelopes to thank donors (which we did in New York). Helping out down-ticket Democrats (which we did in Maine).

Polls transfix the news media. It is their crack cocaine. But polls only measure public opinion—they don’t measure the aforementioned on-the-ground political organization. Lisa and I saw it with our own eyes, many months ago: Hillary had the most formidable get-out-the-vote organization in the history of the world. She was always going to win because of that.

That’s what she did right. But what did she do wrong?

Before she ran, I said to my former boss Jean Chrétien—who knows the Clintons well—that I thought Benghazi, Whitewater, and all that sort of scandal stuff could hurt her. Chrétien, always the smartest political mind around, disagreed.

He suggested the problem would be the stuff that happened outside politics: the money Bill and Hillary got for speeches, the money that poured into the Clinton Foundation. How right he was! HRC was almost beaten by Bernie Sanders—and knocked around so many times by the press—because she was paid lots of money for speeches to Wall Street bankers, and because her foundation seemed to be trading donations for access. Big mistake.

People feel public service should be about service, not avarice. Trump’s campaign zeroed in on that theme in the campaign’s dying days with a huge ad buy. But it was too late. Hillary will still win, because her opponent makes Gordon Gekko look like Ghandi.

That’s what the two presidential candidates did right, and what they did wrong. In the end, however, Donald Trump simply made more mistakes than Hillary Clinton.

In politics, as in life, that still matters.

Warren Kinsella is a Toronto-based lawyer, author, and commentator. He has been a special assistant to former prime minister Jean Chrétien. 

The Hill Times



More in News

Young Liberals look to improve influence on party’s progressive policies as numbers grow

News|By Jolson Lim
HALIFAX—Outgoing Liberal Youth Party president Mira Ahmad and those running to replace her say the youth wing of the party has increased its share of influence on the Liberal Party under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,…

Liberals’ policy convention a ‘litmus test’ of Grit membership, a time for leadership to listen, say Libs

When more than 2,500 Liberals sweep into Halifax for their last national policy convention before the 2019 election, Grits say the party's senior leadership should look to the gathering to gauge, engage, and mobilize the base…

UN refugee agency appeals to Canada for funding amid ‘record level of difficulty’

News|By Kristen Shane
The UN refugee agency is appealing to Canada for funding help in a year it says has been especially tough because of the record number of displaced people worldwide and obstacles in receiving money from…

Kinder Morgan project a test of Trudeau’s competency, puts his 18 B.C. seats at risk, say pollsters

Whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gets the Kinder Morgan pipeline project built, as he says he will, voters will judge as a test of his competency, say pollsters. And the stakes are high, with the Liberals' 18…

‘We’re not immune’ on the Hill: Sen. Bernard launches Senate debate on anti-Black racism

An Independent Senator launching a debate in the Senate on anti-Black racism nationally and on Parliament Hill says recent accusations of racism against a fellow Black Parliamentarian who called others out for denying that systemic…

Les Linklater’s job is to fix Phoenix—including for himself

News|By Emily Haws
Les Linklater’s job leading the team fixing the Phoenix pay system can be frustrating, daunting, and pressure-filled, but he empathizes with public servants’ payroll frustrations because he’s dealt with them firsthand. His base salary hasn’t…

Canada should change course on Russian relations, say critics

Canada should reassess its approach to Russia, say opposition critics who accuse the federal government of not having a plan and taking cues from the international community rather than leading the way. On March 26, the…

Feds sign three more contracts with unions, final four deals held up at labour board

News|By Emily Haws
Unions representing the foreign service, border guards, and correctional officers are breathing a sigh of relief, albeit a short one, having recently signed contracts before the next scheduled round of bargaining ramps up once again.…

Opposition MPs seek to add teeth to workplace harassment bill

A definition of harassment is among the changes a House committee agreed to Monday as it works its way through amending a government bill aimed at preventing and responding to sexual harassment and workplace violence,…