President Barack Obama, still a professor at heart, couldn’t help himself. With Hillary Clinton now on the political sidelines, Obama used her campaign strategy in as the basis for a political science lecture for Democrats in his Monday news conference.
His message was somewhat veiled, but crystal clear: Democrats at every level should study the Clinton 2016 playbook and learn from its mistakes — then immediately destroy it.
Obama was asked what advice he would give Democrats after a stunning Donald Trump-led Republican wave that gave the GOP the White House, helped it keep more House seats that expected, and keep control of the Senate. His response began like that of a party elder, preaching patience and a search of lessons.
“When your team loses, everybody gets deflated. And it’s hard, and it’s challenging,” he told reporters in the White House briefing room. “And I think it’s a healthy thing for the Democratic Party to go through some reflection. I think it’s important for me not to be big-footing that conversation.”
He went on to state his unsurprising view that Democrats have “the best ideas” on domestic and foreign policy issues. Benign enough stuff. Except that Obama then big-footed all over Clinton’s strategy to focus her campaign resources, including countless time-consuming rallies, in states like Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida.
She didn’t need those three battleground states to get to the necessary 270 Electoral College votes to become president. She could have spent more time and money in other states, like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and others, some pundits said, though with the benefit of hindsight.
A president who won in 2008 with 365 electoral votes and with 332 four years later didn’t hold back.
“But I also believe that good ideas don’t matter if people don’t hear them. And one of the issues the Democrats have to be clear on is the given population distribution across the country,” he said. “We have to compete everywhere. We have to show up everywhere.”
Professor Obama used the Hawkeye State, which he won both times but Clinton lost, as the basis of his campaign lesson.
“I won Iowa not because the demographics dictated that I would win Iowa. It was because I spent 87 days going to every small town and fair and fish fry and VFW Hall, and there were some counties where I might have lost, but maybe I lost by 20 points instead of 50 points,” he said. “There’s some counties maybe I won, that people didn’t expect, because people had a chance to see you and listen to you and get a sense of who you stood for and who you were fighting for.”
The Democratic Party must come up with ways to “dig in there” and build grassroots “structures so that people have a sense of what it is that you stand for,” said Obama, a former community organizer.
He also seemed to jab the Clinton campaign’s media outreach efforts, saying building local aparati is “increasingly is difficult to do just through a national press strategy.”
A day later in Greece, during a joint press conference with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, the president seemed to suggest Clinton and Democrats should have talked more on the stump about issues that Trump and Clinton’s primary foe, Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, made the basis of their populist White House pitches. (Instead, she sold her candidacy as a chance to build on the success of the Obama years.)
“We have to deal with inequality and economic dislocation and fears [among voters] their children won’t do as well as they did,” he said. “The more aggressively and effectively we deal with those, the less those fears may channel themselves into counterproductive approaches that pit people against each other.”
He also seemed to try and preemptively take credit for some of the legislation Trump wants to push through Congress, saying he tried to pass infrastructure-updating, wage-hiking, and education-expanding bills.
“I couldn’t convince a Republican Congress to pass a lot of it,” he said, later alluding to his high job-approval numbers that underline one of the major contradictions in the election’s outcomes.
“People seem to think I did a pretty good job. So there is a mismatch,” Obama said, adding that voters ultimately still felt a “need to shake things up.”
Yet, he warned that America and other countries should “guard against” a “crude” nationalism or tribalism that is “built around an ‘us’ and a ‘them.’”