3 Lessons to Learn from Hillary Clinton and her 2016 Election Loss

CASE STUDY: The dangers her loss teaches all candidates to avoid

Hilary Clinton is all over the country right now promoting and selling her book What Happened. The purpose of the book is to explain and rationalize why she lost a race that nearly everyone (including me) thought she would would win handily. Looking back at her campaign, I believe there are three lessons candidates at any level can learn from Mrs. Clinton’s unexpected loss.

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1. Always Have a Clear, Concise, and Understandable Message

This is the number one rule of campaigning for me. I believe that winning candidates always have a very clear, concise, and understandable message.

The voters need to know why you’re running, what you plan on doing if elected, and that you’re in it for them.

Candidates that don’t do this with their messaging often lose even if they have the most money and the most prominent endorsements.

Hillary Clinton is not the only candidate who has lost a race because she didn’t have good messaging.

She’s just the most prominent candidate to be defeated on the biggest political stage in the world because of this failure.

And she’s fallen victim to this twice on the national stage.

In 2008, Hillary Clinton should have won the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Instead she lost to Barack Obama who had only been in the U.S. Senate two years before declaring his candidacy for the presidency.

Mrs. Clinton had the experience and the connections, but Mr. Obama had the message. He defeated her for their party’s nomination and went on to be elected President of the United States.

Rather than learning from this loss, Mrs. Clinton repeated it going into 2012 — and Bernie Sanders who had only recently registered as a Democrat nearly took the nomination from her again.

Like Mr. Obama, Mr. Sanders had a message that was simple and easy for voters to understand.  Mrs. Clinton didn’t and it almost cost her the nomination.

Maybe it should have because even that brush with political death in the primary didn’t wake her or her campaign team up to the fact that she didn’t have a message that was resonating with the voters.

For a brief moment I thought she had resolved this problem. At least I believed this after watching her acceptance speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

But one thing troubled me, her slogan:  I’m With Her.

That was absolutely wrong for the campaign. The candidate is never ever ever the hero of the story.  The voters are. Always.

Candidates who make themselves the hero of the story they’re telling in their messaging are sending a self-serving message.  It says “I’m running to fulfill the needs of my ego, not to make your life better.”

On top of that, Hillary Clinton never had a message that was clear and concise. Excerpts from her new book make it clear that she still doesn’t understand the importance of this.

Mrs. Clinton writes, “When people are angry and looking for someone to blame, they don’t want to hear your 10-point plan to create jobs and raise wages. They want you to be angry, too.”

This is an incredible misdiagnosis of what happened. 10 Point Plans do not connect with the voters. They often come off as confusing.

Campaign messaging that is confusing can both turn off and anger voters, especially if they believe the candidate is talking over their heads or attempting to deceive them by talking in circles.

Only an extremely small minority of policy-wonkish voters want to hear a 10-point plan from any candidate, including someone running for president.

Candidates must always keep things clear and concise in their messaging.  I recommend a 3 Point Plan. It’s been proven to win campaigns again and again and again.

I’ll even allow for a 5-Point Plan, but never more than that and always do your best to keep it to three or you may wind up losing.

2. Keep Working Until the Polls Close on Election Day

I don’t care how far ahead you think you are as it gets closer to Election Day, never stop working until the polls close.

Too many candidates let up in the final weeks or days of a campaign. They then wind up losing to an opponent they had dismissed but who kept working until the very end.

That’s another reason Hillary Clinton isn’t President of the United States today. She made the horrific mistake of spiking the ball on the 10 yard line and never made it into the end zone.

Presidential historian Jon Meacham mentions this in his New York Times review of What Happened.

He states, “While Trump was making his unconventional but effective appeals to just enough of the country to win in the Electoral College, Clinton admits that she was focused on how she was going to govern — working through Cabinet choices and even buying a neighboring house in Chappaqua to house her White House staff during the coming administration.”

That’s just dumb.

I’d seen it happen before at a much lower level.

In 1996, a community college trustee named Kathleen Daley Howe ran for a State Assembly seat in Riverside County, California.

By all accounts she was the anointed Republican in the primary election for this open seat.

Four other Republicans decided to run against her in that race. One of them would be my future boss, Rod Pacheco.

Rod worked his butt off on the campaign trail. Despite getting into the race late, he raised enough money to be competitive.

More importantly he was focused and walking precincts like a mad man, taking his message directly to the voters of the district.

Someone who knew the two candidates and was aware of Rod’s door-to-door efforts, asked Kathleen how her door knocking was going.

I heard that she said she wasn’t walking precincts. Rather she was “boning up on the issues” so she’d be ready to serve in the Legislature.

Well, she never got a chance to put her studying to use.  Rod Pacheco won the primary and went on to win the General Election in November.

This story immediately came to mind when I read the above quote from Hillary Clinton. She literally was boning up on the issues when she should have been out there taking her message directly to the voters.

While Mrs. Clinton was planning out her presidency, Donald Trump was picking up votes in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

The Clinton campaign took these states for granted. The Trump campaign didn’t.  13,080 votes in Michigan, 27,257 in Wisconsin, and 68,236 in Pennsylvania put him in the White House.

Had Clinton campaigned hard the last week in those three states I believe she could have picked up 109,000 votes of more. That would have given her the 278 votes in the Electoral College and the presidency.

Instead she was perusing resumes and looking at real estate when she should have been doing the most intensive Get Out The Vote effort of her life.

Remember that the next time you decide to knock off early on the campaign because you think you’ve got the race in the bag. You probably don’t.

3. Beware of Self-Sabotaging Your Campaign

Something I’ve been struggling to understand for some time is why Hillary Clinton keeps losing big races that she should win.

It didn’t dawn on me until recently that maybe it’s because even though she would like to be president, subconsciously she doesn’t believe she deserves the job.

Now I’m typically not one to psychoanalyze presidents and candidates.  My area of interest and expertise is in political campaigning, history, and communication.

From that perspective I analyze winning and losing campaigns to see what I can learn from them and pass on to candidates like you.

The Clinton losses of 2008 and 2016 have always struck me as a bit bizarre because they were totally avoidable.  Especially in last year’s election.

It finally dawned on me this week that maybe Hillary Clinton loses because deep down she does not believe she’s worthy of the presidency.

I’ve been listening to a book titled The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level by Dr. Gay Hendricks.

I find this book fascinating and very insightful. If you haven’t read it, you will be doing yourself a favor by adding it to your reading list.

In The Big Leap, Dr. Hendricks teaches that most of us have self-sabotaging behaviors that prevent us from living at our highest ability in the different aspects of our life.

He also shows how you can diagnosis what your limiting beliefs are, then dismantle them, and do things in ways where you can succeed at your greatest potential.

In one of his chapters Hendricks discusses Bill Clinton and his limiting beliefs that almost cost him his presidency.

With his approval numbers riding high, a roaring economy, a world at peace, and the first budget surplus in a generation things were going great in the mid 1990’s for William Jefferson Clinton.

But subconsciously Hendricks believes Mr. Clinton had limiting beliefs that things could not or should not be that good for him.  Therefore he sabotaged himself.

That self-sabotage came in the form of an extramarital dalliance with a White House Intern, that led to perjury during a sworn deposition, that then resulted in a vote to remove him from office.

While the Senate did not have the necessary votes to remove him as president, it cost Bill Clinton most of his political capital to stay in office.

Now because of this self-sabotage Bill Clinton will always be remembered as only the second president in U.S. history to be impeached by the House of Representatives.

Hendricks analysis of the the Clinton impeachment made me wonder if perhaps Hillary Clinton has been losing because she’s been self-sabotating her own campaigns.

In 2008, one of the reasons Mrs. Clinton lost to Barack Obama was because her campaign misunderstood how the Democratic Party would be allocating the convention delegates during the state primaries.

That is such a rookie mistake. It’s hard to understand how a politically astute wife of a two term president and a sitting U.S. Senator could allow this to happen.

This mistake repeated itself in 2016 when the Clinton campaign rested on its laurels because they were convinced they would win the popular vote — even though the Electoral College determines the presidency.

As I stated earlier, had Clinton closed out the election by campaigning in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania she would likely be the 45th President today.  But she’s not.

A post election analysis by The Huffington Post revealed that “The Clinton campaign was harmed by its own neglect.”

They didn’t put the resources into the swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin, or Pennsylvania that were needed. How in the world could this even be possible?

Again I’m left to wonder if Hillary Clinton just never believed that she deserved to be president.  The closer she got to the job, the more she self-sabotaged her efforts.

Even surrounding herself by people that allowed this to happen appears to be part of that self-destructive behavior.

The same is true of making the high dollar private speeches on Wall Street.  She would use ammo like that against another candidate, why would she think she’d be exempt from such criticism?

And as upset at James Comey as she is, had she not set up a private email server as Secretary of State, there wouldn’t have been anything there for Comey or the FBI to investigate.

Yet the email server story kept coming up, the answers kept changing, and at the end of the day Mr. Comey acted in a way that probably did cost her votes of people who were leaning her way as Election Day neared.

None of that ever could have happened if Mrs. Clinton had stuck with federal government email in the very first place. She would just need to be careful about what she sent, but all elected officials have to be.

Was everything that afflicted her campaign and her candidacy all a result of self-sabotage from someone who didn’t believe that she truly deserved to be President of the United States?

Most people I know can’t ever admit that they’ve self-sabotaged a great job, a wonderful marriage, the purchase of a dream house, or anything else because deep down they don’t believe deserve such good things.

That’s why I don’t expect Mrs. Clinton to confess this is may indeed be “what happened.”

However, a section of her book makes me wonder if somewhere in her heart she knows this is what truly stopped her from winning. She wrote:

“I go back over my own shortcomings and the mistakes we made. I take responsibility for all of them. You can blame the data, blame the message, blame anything you want—but I was the candidate. It was my campaign. Those were my decisions.” 

Okay. But why did she make those decisions that put her campaign on the road to defeat? Was it self-sabotage?

This is all speculation on my part.

I have no inside knowledge or personal relationship with the Clintons or her campaign staffers.

What I’ve written here is what I’ve gleaned from what’s been disseminated publicly.

Still I think a good case could be made that Hillary Clinton did indeed self-sabotage her presidential campaigns in both 2008 and 2016.

And perhaps this is the most important lesson you as a candidate can learn from her.

If you don’t believe you deserve or that you’re unqualified for the office you’re seeking, it’s best that you don’t run.

If that is your deep seated belief and you do run, there’s a good chance you’ll either sabotage your campaign at some point — or you will sabotage yourself in office should you win.

Either scenario is not good for either you nor for the voters who are looking for someone who will be a leader and make a positive difference in the community.