It will take weeks or perhaps months for detailed examination of exit polls and voting precincts to provide a complete picture of the dynamics which caused one of the biggest political upsets in modern American politics. Still, there are a few early indicators available which can start the conversation. However, it would be a mistake to follow the lead of the activist element in political commentary who tend to identify a single dominant cause for the behavior of over 60 million individuals spread across the entire country.
Racism? Misogyny? Xenophobia? Hillary’s e-mails? FBI Director Comey’s letter to Congress?
These are eye catching, pulse stimulants for commentaries with an ideological or partisan orientation but are insufficient to explain a human intellectual behavior even as simple as making a ballot choice.
Certainly with a sample in excess of 59 million, these tendencies are bound to exist as components in the political calculations of some but not as broad brush motivations for the group as a whole. Also simply looking at Trump voters for an explanation of the outcome ignores important aspects of Clinton’s personality, character, and behavior as well as the effectiveness of her campaign strategy.
But any analysis should start with the political context of the election. It has been a common assertion for several years that the nation was irreconcilably divided. The divide most mentioned was simply partisan; “right wing” Republicans vs. “left wing” Democrats, with “moderates” being virtually extinct and “independents” sitting quietly on the side lines.
With this narrative in place, the electoral “strategies” simply boiled down to the “enthusiasm” factor; which party would be able to stimulate the most members to actually vote. By itself, this would represent a failed strategy for the simple reason that those not registered with either major party i.e. “Independents” represent a larger group than either Democrats or Republicans. While many Independents tend to “lean” towards one of the major parties the percentage of those who do not acknowledge definite loyalty to Democrats or Republicans stands at 33 percent as of early 2016.
None the less the Hillary campaign focused on the winning coalitions of the previous Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012 as models for victory. These included racial minorities, young voters, and college educated women. But this was a “get out the base” strategy mentioned above. Working class white voters, in suburban and rural areas and especially men, were mostly de-emphasized as already in the Republican camp and unnecessary for victory as they were for Obama.
But while the context of partisan hostility was acknowledged by the Clinton campaign, polls consistently showed her to be ahead of most of the Republican primary contestants and almost always ahead of Donald Trump who was charging through the primaries like a rogue elephant, leaving outraged Republican “ establishment” figures in his wake as well as the promise of a hopelessly divided Republican Party. He was thus seen as an easy opponent in the general election for the Clinton machine.
But the signs of what was to come could have been read in these same primaries. Trump, the political outsider, the street fighter with all the attendant behavioral flaws, was stirring the passions of the Republican base, the white working class.
An important aspect of the wider political context was lost in the smoke of the chaotic Republican primaries. Along with the frequent polling on the most important concerns of voters in both parties i.e. the economy, terrorism, race relations, the environment etc. was a question related to “The Direction of the Country”. The question was simple: “Is the country moving in the “Right Direction” or “on the Wrong Track”.
In January, 2013, at the beginning of Obama’s second term, 56.4 percent of responders felt that the country was on the “wrong track”. It got worse from then on. The average response for the next four years of Obama’s presidency was that 61.47 percent felt that the country was on the “wrong track”. In November, 2016, just before the election, 61.9 percent of responders still agreed that the country was on the “wrong track”.
Since responders to this question would evaluate the nation’s prospects through the lense of their personal circumstances, both current and projected, this enormous level of personal dissatisfaction overlaid the general feeling of political alienation among middle and working class voters. Some would blame the Republicans; some would blame the Democrats, but as it turned out many blamed the “establishment” which included both parties in Washington, and there was only one candidate in the presidential election who identified closely with the establishment. In fact Hillary had been a member of the of the Washington elites for more than two decades as a Senator, member of the Obama Administrations and two time presidential candidate. These, and her eight years as “First Lady”, were broadcast as “accomplishments” and “credentials” while the anger and despair of the white working class especially those concentrated in rural an suburban areas of historically “blue states” was ignored.
The Clinton campaign strategy of relying on the Obama demographic failed. While minorities, “millenials”, and college educated women all supported Hillary, their numbers were down. With respect to minorities, former White House communications director and Democratic strategist, Anita Dunn offered this significant understatement after the election:
“The emerging demographic majority isn’t quite there yet”.
With respect to the Hispanic vote, 27 to 29 percent voted for Trump. This was essentially the same as the vote for Romney in 2012 (27%). Although Hillary won 65% of the Hispanic vote her percentage was down significantly from Obama’s total of 71% in 2012.
Columnist Reuben Navarette who writes almost exclusively about Hispanics in the U.S. explained these voters as follows:
“They didn’t trust Hillary Clinton, and they couldn’t relate to her in any way.”
“They were just as fed up with the establishment as other Americans, and just as easily seduced by an outsider like Trump.”
“They were sick of politicians who don’t offend anyone because they don’t say or do anything consequential.”
“They agreed with many of Trump’s ideas and policy proposals, and they were willing to overlook the wacky ones.”
“When Trump portrayed Mexican immigrants as violent criminals, they weren’t bothered because they just assumed he wasn’t talking about them.”
“Many are ambivalent about undocumented immigrants anyway, and, in fact, some look fondly
on concrete walls, tighter borders, and more deportations.”
Thus nearly a third of Hispanic citizen's who voted on November 8th views closely resembled those of the Trump core, the white working class and middle class.
The Obama factor:
Obama’s job approval rating has been up in the last few months but over most of his administration it has hovered around 47.5 percent. It’s rise at the end of his presidency might be a “nostalgia effect” since he is leaving office, or it might simply be that compared to the personal and hate filled nature of the presidential campaign, his calm demeanor set a higher standard. In any case, Hillary chose to adopt his presidency as a model for her own if elected. She said would “go further” with his executive orders with respect to illegal aliens; she promised big spending programs and their attendant big budget deficits; an emphasis on soft immigration reform that relied on expansion of technology at the borders, and empty platitudes about “fighting for the middle class”. But third consecutive terms for the party in power are difficult in any case and in a context of 2/3 of voters saying that the country has been on the “wrong track” over Obama’s second term, she would have been better served by proclaiming a “new day” with innovative ideas independent from the past.
There is no question that during both the primary and general election campaigns Trump presented himself as a quasi- emotionally unstable individual at worst and a hostile boor at best. For this he was consistently and viciously excoriated in the press and social media. But Hillary’s self imposed e-mail drama, Trump’s insulting characterization of her over it, and the frantic responses made by her supporters as well as the “negative research” on Trump’s past social transgressions, real and contrived, became the Clinton supporter’s dominant narrative for the election. Hillary’s 3-5 percent advantage in the polls was consistently close to, or within, the statistical margins of error for such polls and provided a weak measure of predictability for her success.
Meanwhile Trump ventured into “blue states” and rural and suburban areas of those states which Clinton de-emphasized as “safe” based on historical voting patterns, especially in Obama’s two previous successful campaigns. While Hillary’s e-mail subterfuges were a political disaster as a diversion from her “message” and contributed to the widely accepted belief that she couldn’t be trusted, Trump’s basic assault on both the Republican and Democratic establishments was attracting support. His social flaws and extremist comments made many uncomfortable but again, there were only two candidates with a chance to win and for many, his populist message overcame the discomfort in the face of Clinton’s “more of the same” promises and platitudes”.
White voters, outside of those with specific issues i.e. gays, environmental extremists and self described “progressives”, were tired of being accused of being racists, sexists and homophobes in what appeared to be a long standing exercise in moral superiority by the political Left. This became a specific point of emphasis when Hillary described “half of Trump’s supporters” as being “a basket of deplorables” with these specific character flaws. They were tired of political correctness; hyphenated Americans; pampered college students telling them they were “privileged”; and the political emphasis being put on the plight of refugees while their wages and economic opportunities languished. They felt left out of the political system from which benefits come and even left out of the political debate. Trump promised to let them back in.
There is no question that Trump was a flawed and unlikely candidate by normal presidential standards. But while more conventional, perhaps too conventional, Hillary was also flawed and though Trump’s victory was by slim margins in most of the “blue states” and “toss up states” that he needed to win the contest, his message worked.
Hillary was also faced with a significant enthusiasm gap. She lost the white vote 58% to 37%.
She won 80% of the black vote but this figure was down significantly from Obama’s 93% support. Although she made much of the “breaking the glass ceiling” meme, she lost the white female vote by 53%-43%. She won the total women’s vote which included minorities by 54% to 42% but this was off set by Trump’s advantage in the total male vote of 53% to 41%.
Essentially, Clinton won by small to moderate percentages in groups that represented small to moderate numbers of voters i.e. college educated voter 52% to Trump’s 43%. But this group consists of only 33% of the population. Trump won the non-college degree vote by a similar margin, 52% to 44% but this group consists of 67% of the population, giving him a clear numerical advantage. Clinton won “young voters” (18-29) by 55% to 37% but Trump won the over 65 aged voter by 53%-45%. The final results showed that Clinton won @ 6 million fewer votes than Obama in 2012.
So what were the major elements of Clinton’s defeat? A failed strategy that relied to heavily on a statistical analysis of Obama’s elections. This caused her campaign strategists to ignore the fact that Obama’s race generated significant support that Hillary’s gender couldn’t match. Also, the strategists failed to campaign vigorously in the rural and suburban areas with significant white working class voters, relying instead on the large urban areas with their higher percentages of minorities and reliable liberal voters. She never voiced a compelling reason or rationale for why she should be the President, what is commonly called a “vision for the nation”. Instead it was a self-centered campaign built around the notion of inevitability and an alleged stature as the first woman president.
Her failure to deal with th e-mail controversy forthrightly reinforced the notion that she was untrustworthy. Her strategy consisted of a series of denials followed by admissions as the facts came out and then weak apologies and claims of innocent “mistakes” which prolonged the process and took her off message.
What will come now is uncertain. Trump has a steep learning curve in many aspects of governance. He doesn’t seem to know what he doesn’t know so he will have to be willing to accept the guidance of advisers who ‘do know’. He has already come under assault by the Left, both the purveyors of hate in the media and the naive protest class in the streets. His first political exercise, the filling of his cabinet, will be fodder for nose counter diversity gurus who will demand “fair” representation of minorities, gays, women, vegans, and yoga instructors. Then the “hard” work will begin. His leadership skills are untested. He will find the Republican controlled majorities in the Congress are themselves divided. The cooperation of any in the Democratic Congressional caucuses is unlikely. His most extreme campaign promises will find significant opposition from ideological and practical points of view. He cannot let himself become bogged down in extended political controversies over a multi-billion dollar border wall, a logistically impossible attempt to identify, arrest and deport eleven million illegal immigrants and a legally questionable policy of banning all Muslims from entry into the U.S. He should concentrate on doing the “doable”, which will be difficult enough, and accept the fact that he will never gain even the modest support of the hard Left. All of this will take time and a genuine effort among the Republicans in Congress to unify behind reasonable conservative policies.
Trump’s history shows him not fitting the commonly accepted description of a Republican. He is a former Democrat and currently has a Libertarian streak. He has a lesser inclination to the use of military force in foreign policy than the so called neo-conservatives, and a tactician’s sense of avoidance of ideological rigidity. Trump needs to grow. He needs to transition from Trump the campaigner to Trump the President. It will be a difficult passage. He has made a modest start however. He has said he will not repeal ObamaCare before having a replacement in place. He has also said that the replacement will retain the inclusion of coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and for young adults living with their parents.
In the mean time the nation will be forced to endure the hysterical anger of those so ideologically committed that they are beyond reason. The street and campus protests are driven once again by the heavily naive and the lightly educated. For some, who are simply quasi- anarchists or self important college crusaders, protest is a sport that provides the opportunity to gather in the safe anonymity of a crowd to rage against authority and “the system”. It also provides cover for petty criminals who arrive on the scene to loot and burn. These protests are foolishly tolerated by some fearful city officials as “first amendment rights”. This despite the fact that blocking traffic, breaking windows, assaulting police officers and setting fires are obvious criminal acts. Because of the attention given them by the liberal media, and the underlying glee of many in that group who seek revenge against the voters who didn’t agree with them, and against the winning candidate for whom they have raw hate, the protests will continue until they quit from exhaustion. But that, as in the Progressive supported and equally nonsensical Occupy protests of a couple of years ago, will happen.
In general, the control of the three branches of government by the conservative party should mean that the liberal agenda to turn the United States into a giant multi-cultural Sweden will at least be slowed. A reconstituted Supreme Court will play an important role as will a unified Republican Congress if it can avoid counter productive, divisive, social issues like abortion and gay marriage which are settled law, in favor of the important public policy issues of federal spending, debt, border control, health care and common sense environmental solutions.
Based on long term Republican advocacy in the Congress, initiatives on tax reform including simplification and lower rates, a reduction of anti-business regulation, further modernization of the military, and reduction in federal spending, should be expected. Trump has already put revocation of most of Obama’s executive orders, rejection of new free trade agreements, more border security and health care reform on the schedule. The next session of Congress should be very busy.
Much is being made about the fact that Hillary won a narrow victory in the popular vote and people are decrying the existence of the Electoral College system. But this is a common occurrence “after” each presidential election. These same critics were aware of and accepted, the system “before” the election and if Clinton’s and Trump’s positions were reversed there would be no outcry from the Left. There are arguments for and against the Electoral College. But in all but two cases in the modern era, the Electoral College outcome has followed the popular vote outcome. Also, it would take a constitutional amendment to do away with the current system. That would require a 2/3 vote in a closely divided Congress and a 3/4 vote by the state’s legislatures. If successful the immediate result would be that small population states would be consigned to irrelevance in presidential elections which could theoretically be decided by only the ten largest population states which currently hold 52% of the U.S. population. Politically, however this is almost an impossible scenario to accomplish since the small population states out number the larger population states in both the Congress and in state legislatures. Democrats are of course eager to give their population advantages in California and New York and the crowded eastern seaboard the opportunity to elect presidents without bothering with “fly over country” but it’s not going to happen.
Unfortunately, the Hollywood and pop star millionaire protectors of the downtrodden, who promised to punish the electorate if they dared to elect Trump by flying off to Canada have changed their minds. There have been no reports of private jets being loaded with insulated boots and fur (fake of course) parkas. This in spite of the fact that laughing Trump voters have asked them to live up to their threats. Life will go on as before for most people, but it will be a very interesting four years.