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Hillary Clinton Had The Stronger Ground Game. What Happened?


President-elect Donald Trump wasn't expected to win, in part because he didn't run a traditional campaign. We spoke with two political strategists right before the election. Republican Rob Jesmer thought Hillary Clinton had a decisive advantage going into Tuesday's vote.

ROB JESMER: Well, I was wrong (laughter) is the short answer, along with, I think, many other people. You know, most people who do this for a living were just - just missed the mark. I think what I underestimated was how much Donald Trump's message was resonating with people throughout the country. You know, I did say the RNC had, I think, done a really good job, as well. But, you know - but the deal of this, Rachel, is that by definition, really since President Bush's campaign in '04, every time someone wins an election, they automatically had a great ground game. And everyone who loses an election had a terrible ground game.

And I'm not sure that really is correct in the analysis. You know, I think the mechanics of the operation, whether winning or losing, could be good and technically proficient. But again, if the message is not resonating, the mechanics don't really matter. And that's, I think, what we saw Tuesday night, which is - I presume that the campaign, the Hillary campaign, had a great ground game, mechanically. But the message wasn't working, and so they couldn't get a lot of people out to vote.

MARTIN: You were convinced, Rob, that the Republican Party down-ballot was going to get trounced. You weren't. Republicans now control the House, the Senate and the White House. So how are you feeling? I mean, are you excited?

JESMER: I am excited. And I would say - Rachel, I did not say - I did not believe - I did not know if we were going to get trounced or not. I was really nervous because of the Hillary ground game, and that - you know, that part I was just totally wrong on. But I am psyched about winning. We have an awesome responsibility. We have no excuses. We need to govern, and I think we could do a lot of great things, you know, as - you know, if we work together and, I think, solve a lot of the country's pressing problems.

MARTIN: You and I have spoken before about how the GOP has been in a kind of identity crisis. Is none of that true now? I mean, is the Republican Party under President-elect Donald Trump stronger than ever?

JESMER: Well, look, I think - I don't - Rachel, I think that we always - in order to be a governing party, you need to be - continue to try and grow the tent. I just think that's - I fundamentally believe that, and I will always believe that. And I think if we do a good job with the responsibility we've been given, we will be able to grow that tent. I believe that. And we're either going to have success together or fail together, but we have to work together. And I think that, in the early hours of Trump's presidency - or president-elect - has been very encouraging.

MARTIN: That was Republican strategist Rob Jesmer. We also spoke with the Democratic strategist Karine Jean-Pierre, who, like Rob, also went into the election thinking her party had the upper hand.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: I have to tell you, I've been, you know, talking to a lot of people about this and I still come to the place that I was Tuesday night, which is I'm stunned. I'm shocked, and I'm stunned. And because we genuinely think - all of us in the Democratic Party and the Republican side believe that Hillary had this wonderful, massive, traditional, data-driven field operation.

And one of the things that Democrats need to do is really dig in and see what happened because, clearly, the data was wrong. The modeling was wrong. That's what - I mean, that's essentially what it looks like. And you cannot have a functioning, strong, field operation if the data and the modeling is wrong because that is, essentially, the backbone of a field operation. And that's what happened.

MARTIN: So what does that mean for the Democratic Party going forward? I mean...


MARTIN: ...You are in a different place...


MARTIN: ...Than you were a week ago.

JEAN-PIERRE: Absolutely.

MARTIN: And a lot of the talk had been about how the Republicans are the party that are in chaos, that needs to do the soul-searching, figure out who they are.


MARTIN: Is that what needs to happen on the Democratic side now?

JEAN-PIERRE: Exactly. I think we need to be incredibly honest with ourselves. So one thing that I - I've been thinking about is President Obama was once-in-a-generation candidate. There's a reason why the Obama coalition is called the Obama coalition because he's really the only one that could put that coalition together.

MARTIN: Multiracial...

JEAN-PIERRE: Multiracial.

MARTIN: ...Kansas roots...


MARTIN: ...Harvard-educated.

JEAN-PIERRE: And - and let's not forget the millennials. Like, he was the only one that could do that. And every time we try to replicate that - in 2009, in 2010, in 2014 - during, you know, off-year elections, midterm elections - it doesn't work, in particular in 2010 during the midterms. And so he's the only candidate to - that - he - if he's not on the ballot, then we don't have the Obama coalition. So what Democrats need to figure out is - how do we win now without an Obama on the ballot, and what's our coalition? Right? What's our message?

You know, there's clearly - if you look at Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin - there are white, rural voters who felt like hey, you guys are not listening to us. You know, we - you know...

MARTIN: She didn't - Hillary Clinton didn't go to Wisconsin.

JEAN-PIERRE: No. Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, that's - I mean, it's pretty phenomenal. I mean, he - forget about cracking the blue wall. He blew it up. And so - and that - a lot of it is because of that white, rural America who felt that they were left behind. The party was changing and leaving them behind. So the Democrats have to figure out - how do we have a message that connects with white, rural America but still continue their gains with Latinos and African-Americans and millennials?

MARTIN: Do you think your candidate bears any responsibility?

JEAN-PIERRE: Well, like, I - you know, I think there's going to be a lot of blame to go around. It'll go back to, hey, you know, it was rigged for her. And you'll hear that...

MARTIN: In the primary.

JEAN-PIERRE: In the primary. And that - you'll hear, was it really a democratic process? I think, though, we - as a Democratic Party, we really have to figure out who we are and who's - you know, we've got to rejigger the map.

MARTIN: That was Democratic strategist and senior adviser for Karine Jean-Pierre explaining her party's loss this past week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.