There’s a cold hard fact that Republicans are going to have to deal with as Donald Trump assumes the office of president: he didn’t win the election — Hillary Clinton lost it. Trump seems to be proof positive that all the Republican party needed to win against a candidate as inept, unappealing and deeply flawed as Hillary Clinton was someone with a pulse, a few brain cells to rub together, and an (R) in the chyron after their name.
There were a series of moments along the campaign trail where it seemed that — if you paid attention to the now discredited polls — Hillary had probably clinched the nomination and may have turned some red states blue. But whether due to pressure exerted from the Sanders wing of the Democrat party or her own deeply held convictions, she just couldn’t hold her nose and say the words that might have made her president.
Provoking Second Amendment Supporters
One of the biggest pieces of political baggage that Hillary was dragging around was the Clinton legacy, and I’m not talking about the Foundation.
President Bill Clinton, together with a Democrat-controlled Congress, signed the first Federal Assault Weapon Ban into law in 1994…and promptly lost control of Congress to the Republicans. Conventional wisdom is that the “Republican Revolt” of 1994 was a direct result of the gun control measure. Gun owners haven’t forgotten, and have only gotten more ardent in their support for the Second Amendment and defense against a recent wave of anti-gun legislation in recent years.
All Hillary needed to do was to simply side-step the issue. Maybe pay a little lip service to “common sense gun reform,” but stay mum on actual proposals. That’s the approach that Barack Obama took in 2012. We all knew from his first term what his opinions on gun control were, but because he didn’t make that a campaign issue there was always the thought that “maybe he won’t be so bad” among the less fervent gun rights supporters.
He didn’t give the NRA much real ammunition to work against him, and didn’t say much that would inflame the passions of the average American gun owner. Over the last few years some in the predominantly pro-Dem news media have tried to re-write history and claim that angry gun owners didn’t have anything to do with that 1994 election. They downplayed the role that gun owners play in politics, writing off the NRA as nothing more than an industry lobby group instead of an organization of millions of motivated American voters.
During the Democrat primary campaign Hillary found herself in an unexpectedly tough race with Bernie Sanders. She needed to find a way to differentiate herself from Bernie’s harder left policies. One of her strategies: go anti-gun. The Senator from Vermont, she claimed, was “weak” on guns, being from a heavily pro-gun state, she said he had a track record of voting the “wrong way” on gun issues. Hillary saw this as an opening and went strong for increased gun control.
If she dropped the issue after the primaries, we might be talking about President-elect Hillary Clinton today But she doubled down in during the general. She used Trayvon Martin’s mother at the Democratic National Convention to illustrate why we need stricter gun control. She continued to harp on it even as late as November 2nd. But while that may have played well in the mainstream media and with the emotion-driven voters, it revealed Clinton’s true feeling about the Second Amendment. And enflamed gun owners.
The only reason to keep harping on that long-settled case was to try to convince Americans that concealed carry is dangerous, and that concealed carry holders are proto-murderers. That’s a message which resonates well with plenty of Dems, but Hillary’s professed belief in the Second Amendment didn’t give gun owners any comfort at all. Also not helping was Hillary’s claim that the Supreme Court’s Heller decision is wrong. Hillary laughably claimed that her entire reason for opposing Heller was that it put toddlers in danger.
Second Amendment supporters — as they’ve proved time and again — are a force to be reckoned with. If Hillary had the slightest respect for that track record, she could have side-stepped the issue as Obama did in 2008 and 2012. Instead, Hillary decided to grab that electoral third rail and make gun control one of the building blocks of her campaign. What Democrat analysts will have to ask themselves is whether the strategy sufficiently mobilized enough of their base to get out and vote in large enough numbers to offset the angry gun owners who opposed her in droves. Based on last night’s performance it seems the answer is no.
Guns weren’t the whole story
Of course, going anti-gun, was hardly the only factor that caused her campaign to plummet in flames. She was widely seen by the electorate as an elite and an insider in an election year that valued change and outsiders. She famously alienated working class voters. She divided the country by branding Republicans as her enemies and Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” Given the chance to make the race about the issues, she consistently chose a different road.
And none of that even begins to address the electorate’s view of her as less than truthful, untrustworthy, and — after the FBI’s on-again-off-again investigations, above the law.
Even with all of these factors holding her down, Hillary Clinton still almost won the election. The results in the key swing states were so close that if a single one of these issues had been avoided she may very well have sailed into the White House. But the accumulated weight of her accumulated baggage and many mis-steps ultimately brought her down.
For gun owners then, Donald Trump was the candidate of choice. In the estimation of most, as a candidate he didn’t measure up to either a Mitt Romney or a John McCain. He just happened to be up against a politician who couldn’t seem to get out of her own way.