Hillary Clinton’s defeat plunges the Democrats into crisis

NEW YORK — The Democratic Party was decapitated overnight.

Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss to Donald Trump created a power vacuum at the top of the party and a crisis of confidence among its remaining standard bearers.

Clinton was nowhere to be seen at her election night party early, held in a convention center in Manhattan whose glass ceiling was supposed to represent the metaphorical one she seemed so close to shattering just hours earlier. But the ceiling went unbroken and she conceded privately to Trump.

Instead, the unenviable task of addressing Clinton’s crestfallen supporters fell to John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, who is better known as a behind-the-scenes operator than a public leader.

“I know you’ve been here a long time. It’s been a long night and a long campaign. But I can say, we can wait a little longer can’t we?” Podesta said early Wednesday. “Several states are too close to call, so we are not going to have any more to say tonight.”

Clinton is due to make a statement Wednesday morning.

Clinton aides and supporters in the campaign’s final months believed they were fighting a noble battle to defend the ramparts of the republic from the existential threat posed by Trump. They were confident that they would not just defeat the GOP nominee, but also repudiate him and everything he stands for with an overwhelming margin.

And yet despite having virtually every possible advantage at her disposal, from more money to better staffers to better data, it was Clinton and her party that was repudiated in the biggest presidential shock in recent memory.

Her staff went dark as the night wore on and their prospects dimmed. Her surrogates disappeared from sight.

What precisely went wrong may take weeks or months to sort out. Most likely, it wasn’t any one thing — it was everything. Defeat, in this case, has a thousand mothers.

The magnitude of the upset, and its consequences for the party and country seem hard to overstate.

The Republican Party was the one thought to be facing a post-election civil war, but now it will likely be the Democratic one.

Whether it rips the party apart or causes it to come together as a united opposition to Trump will depend on how key actors react to the news none of them anticipated.

Eyes will turn to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, leaders of a progressive wing of the Democrats that may feel emboldened by Trump’s win. And they will turn to President Barack Obama, the main uniting figure in the party, whose entire legacy is now on the line.

There will be plenty of blame to go around, starting with Hillary Clinton herself.

Clinton and her centrist brand, already tainted even before the email scandal broke in March 2015, the month before she launched her bid, was an imperfect fit for a party that had become dramatically more liberal and less white than it was when her husband was president.

She struggled to generate enthusiasm from the start and never managed to change her record high unfavorability ratings and low trust ratings.

Whether it was her gender, her 30 years at the center of the political establishment, the instinct for secrecy that led to her using a private email server, or some combination of the above, too many Americans simply did not like her.

And for all its sophistication, Clinton’s widely hailed data-driven campaign, modeled on the successful Obama 2008 and 2012 turnout efforts, missed the mark.

Then there are key components of the Democratic coalition: Millennials, who stayed home or voted for third-party candidates, and black voters, who turned out in lower numbers than they did for Obama.

Image: Hillary Clinton supporters watch election results come in

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