How Donald won the White House from the Democrats

David Millward conducts an autopsy into why Hillary Clinton lost an election that seemed hers for the taking.

A woman weeps as election results are reported during Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's election night rally in New York. Frank Franklin II / AP Photo
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Somehow Hillary Clinton lost. The much-hyped Democratic machine “ground game” may have delivered the votes, but it did not deliver enough of them in the right places to win the Electoral College.

The election was hers to lose, but her lacklustre campaign stank of complacency and entitlement from the start. Mrs Clinton may well have become an outstanding president but she was a lousy candidate.

If this had been a referendum on the record of Barack Obama, however, then the election would have been a breeze. He leaves office with polls showing a 56 per cent approval rating.

Unfortunately Mrs Clinton’s own record was sufficiently blotchy to make her an easy target for her opponents. At best the email controversy showed that she was careless. Had Mrs Clinton been elected, one suspects the US would have been mired in months of litigation as Republicans did everything they could to prevent her from taking office.

While Mrs Clinton spent a fortune on a slick campaign machine, Donald Trump got his message over to the electorate on Twitter. Even if some of the tweets verged on the unhinged, it was a cost-effective way of communicating with voters.

Clinton rallies were well-managed but in all honesty were policy free and vacuous, leaving voters with little idea of what she actually stood for or what sort of administration she would lead.

Mr Trump, on the other hand, had ideas and policy positions in abundance even if they were frequently contradictory and often completely impractical.

Mr Trump also realised that people rather needed their dirty old jobs in the West Virginian coal mines or on the production lines of Indiana and Ohio and the security that came with being employed.

When he spoke about making America great, he was talking about making the United States a global industrial powerhouse rather than a country that was being eclipsed by China.

In his final rallies it was noticeable that his pledges were carefully tailored to his audience. In New Hampshire, for example, he promised an increase in defence spending that would create hundreds of jobs in a local shipyard. In Colorado, the lucky beneficiary of the Trump largesse would be a nearby air force base.

The promise of jobs and his attacks on the political establishment energised the crowds at his rallies, which were at times rather frightening as he rounded on the press and promised to jail Mrs Clinton.

Over the next few months the Democrats will try to work out how they lost an election that was there for the taking.

At the very least they will need to get their “ground game” working properly if they are to have a chance of regaining control of the Senate in the mid-term elections.

The real prize is to regain the White House in 2020.

There was, of course, a Democratic candidate who did fire the imagination this time around. It was Bernie Sanders: significantly, a number of states that backed him in the primaries supported Mr Trump in the presidential election.

The party has time to find somebody who will generate the same levels of enthusiasm as the Vermont senator did. Already one name is being touted on social media, a Harvard trained lawyer who was one of the stars of the campaign trail. Her name? Michelle Obama.

David Millward is a journalist in the United States