Viewpoints

As a presidential candidate, if you can’t own defeat, you don’t deserve success

Hillary Clinton waves after addressing the Children's Defense Fund's Beat the Odds celebration at the Newseum in Washington on Wednesday.
Hillary Clinton waves after addressing the Children's Defense Fund's Beat the Odds celebration at the Newseum in Washington on Wednesday. Associated Press

Here’s a valuable lesson that escapes some presidential candidates: Those who don’t take responsibility for mistakes, failures and setbacks are bound to suffer more of all three. When you do wrong or come up short, don’t blame others. When a plan goes haywire or an opportunity fades, own it. This shows class and character.

Sadly, some of those who’ve aspired to the White House have shown themselves to be low on both.

During a conference call with fundraisers and donors following the 2012 election, Mitt Romney blamed his loss on President Barack Obama’s policies, referring to them dismissively as “gifts” to young people, Latinos and African-Americans. Before the election, Romney told supporters that there were “47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what” because they think they’re victims, believe that government must care for them and feel entitled to benefits. Romney said these folks needed to “take personal responsibility” for their lives.

That was rich coming from a presidential candidate who wasn’t able to take responsibility for his own defeat.

It’s bad form. It’s also bipartisan.

Recently, during a call with top campaign funders, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton blamed her loss to Donald Trump on FBI Director James Comey and the way he bungled an investigation of a private email server that she used as secretary of state.

On Oct. 28 – just 11 days before the election – Comey sent a letter to Congress announcing that the bureau was reopening an investigation into whether Clinton mishandled classified information because there were thousands of new emails to examine. Then, on the Sunday before Election Day, Comey said that, after a review of the emails, he continued to believe – as he had said in July – that no reasonable prosecutor would bring a case against Clinton.

Still, the damage was done. According to three people who were on the call, Clinton said that her campaign team had drafted a memo that looked at opinion polls leading up to the election and that the Comey letter was a turning point. Clinton said it eroded support – particularly in the crucial Rust Belt states of the upper Midwest – and motivated Trump voters to turn out on Election Day.

First, it’s nice to see to see that the Clinton campaign has finally discovered that there are even places like Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. They have been criticized in recent days – by fellow Democrats, no less – for not campaigning there early enough and ignoring the working-class whites in those states who helped decide the election.

Next, there are dozens of reasons as to why Clinton lost that have nothing to do with the FBI or Comey. Speaking to reporters after the election, Obama emphasized how hard he worked to get elected president, implying that Clinton didn’t put in enough effort or ask for every vote. Bernie Sanders said that Clinton didn’t recognize the level of fear that many working-class Americans are experiencing at how quickly the world is changing. There are even reports that Bill Clinton tried to convince campaign insiders John Podesta and Randy Mook that they needed to send Hillary to meet with working-class whites in the Rust Belt and African-Americans in the inner city, but he was ignored.

Speaking of African-Americans, they didn’t turn out like they did for Obama, and those Latinos who did cast ballots gave nearly three out of every 10 votes to Trump. Clinton was also hurt by WikiLeaks, the perception that rules don’t apply to her, an air of entitlement, and the faulty assumption that most women would rally to her side in their eagerness to make history. It also wasn’t smart to make Trump’s unfitness to lead the central point of the Clinton campaign because, once voters decided that he was fit, there was nowhere to go.

Finally, let’s not forget that the entire affair having to do with Comey and the FBI stemmed from the original sin of Clinton having an ill-advised private email server in the first place. This entire mess was Clinton’s fault.

I understand why she doesn’t see this. Admitting fault requires humility, introspection and an understanding of one’s limitations. Those qualities are in short supply these days, and they’re virtually unheard of in politicians.

Taking responsibility is never easy. Neither is being president. But if you aspire to the latter, you had better learn how to do the former.

Contact Ruben Navarrette at ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

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