The 2016 United States presidential election was held on November 8. The candidates from the two major parties were former Secretary of State/Senator/First Lady Hillary Clinton (Democratic Party) and real estate tycoon Donald Trump (Republican Party). Although vote-counting is apparently still going on in Michigan and New Hampshire at the time of this writing (two days after the fact), the result is not in dispute: Trump thus far has a projected electoral vote of 290 compared to Clinton's 228 - the threshold for victory is 270 votes. Trump will likely gain another 16 electoral votes and Clinton will almost certainly be awarded 4 more for final totals of 306 and 232, respectively. Clinton won the popular vote by approximately 2.8 million votes, which marks the fifth occasion that the winner of the popular vote did not win the electoral vote in a US presidential election. Additionally, all 435 seats in the US House of Representatives, 34 seats in the United States Senate, and 12 state governorships were contested at the same time and the Republican Party won a decisive electoral victory in every realm, maintaining majorities in all three areas. It is the first election since 2004 in which Republicans won the presidency and the majorities in both federal legislatures.
In recent years, pretty much everyone has regarded every election as the most important of all time. In retrospect, we can regard quite a few of them as being actually pretty unimportant in terms of stakes and issues: 2012, 1996, 1988, and a whole slew of them in the 1800s, among others. This was not one of those elections.
Voting to reelect an incumbent president or the candidate from the incumbent president's own political party is essentially voting for the continuation of the status quo. This is doubly true if the results of the Congressional races essentially maintain the prior balance of power. The opposite is true too: rejecting the incumbent or the candidate from the incumbent's party is voting for change. In 2008, the Democratic Party won the presidency and majorities in both houses of Congress, which clearly indicated at the time a deep national dissatisfaction with the administration and agenda of Republican president George W. Bush and the control Republicans had enjoyed of both houses up until 2006. There were other factors involved, of course, but the underlying desire for a new direction in policy was the most basic and understandable. It's difficult to argue that the same is not true of the results of the 2016 election, where the country will effectively become a single-party state as it was for most of the previous decade (although with different parties at different times) for at least two years. All of this is to ask a simple but obvious question: why? Take a bathroom break, get comfortable, and grab a snack and something (preferably alcoholic) to drink, because this will take a while.
Hopefully everyone is aware that President Obama won two presidential elections. Between 2009 and 2011, his party controlled both houses of Congress, and it was during this time that he accomplished some of the most significant pieces of his agenda: the appointments of liberals Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the United States Supreme Court, the ending of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy of banning openly gay service members, the passage of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) and others. After the 2010 midterm elections, however, it was clear that Obama's mandate was faltering as the Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives and gained 6 seats in the Senate. Predictably, it became more difficult for Obama to implement his agenda, and although he was reelected in 2012, the Congressional balance of power was basically unchanged. His fortunes declined again in 2014 when Republicans increased their lead in the House and recaptured the Senate.
Despite the obvious downward trajectory of Obama's ability to truly enact the breadth and depth of his agenda from 2011 onward, he remained (and currently remains) personally popular among the general electorate, enjoying significantly higher approval ratings than his immediate predecessor at the same point in his own second term. Since he is precluded from running for a third term, it was of the utmost importance to him and his party that his successor be able to continue on with his agenda and preserve his legacy. The most obvious Democratic candidate -- and frankly for eight years, the only obvious Democratic candidate -- was Hillary Clinton. Obama ultimately defeated Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primaries to become the party's nominee for president but appointed her as his Secretary of State. Clinton of course is the wife of former President Bill Clinton and was the junior Senator from the state of New York at the time of the primaries.
It has been obvious to every serious observer that Clinton was eventually planning to run for the presidency since at least the year 2000. Indeed, she was for years considered the odds-on favorite to win the 2008 Democratic nomination and the presidency since there was no reasonable expectation that a Republican would succeed Bush. Clinton's main opponents for the nomination were then-Senator Obama and former Senator and 2004 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee John Edwards. Leading up to the initial primary votes, Clinton was projected to easily cruise through the nominating process. In actuality, it was a slog of a fight between her and Obama with Edwards' own campaign eventually imploding over a series of salacious revelations about his personal life. While she enjoyed major successes in delegate-rich states such as Florida, Texas, New York, and California, Obama was winning more states overall and picking up endorsements from defecting superdelegates -- Democratic party office-holders and operatives not bound to vote for the candidates selected by their states' primaries/caucuses -- who saw the tide was turning against Clinton's candidacy. In the event, Clinton carried her nomination all the way to the convention where she ultimately endorsed Obama. He of course was ultimately elected president in an electoral landslide in 2008 and she became his Secretary of State, a position she held until 2013.
With the specter of the inevitable Clinton candidacy for the 2016 nomination looming overhead, the Democratic field looking for a chance to succeed Obama was sparse. Reasonably popular sitting Vice President Joe Biden ruled out a 2016 run. Rising progressive star Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts, also sat it out. Ultimately, a handful of candidates threw their hats into the ring but four of them withdrew their candidacies either before or as a direct result of the first vote in Iowa. Clinton's only opponent at that point was Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders was and is an odd case; as an Independent, he technically isn't even a Democrat although he caucuses with them. For the duration of the primary season, however, was a Democrat. He describes himself as a "democratic socialist." Sanders' career up to that point was notable almost exclusively for the fact that he was an Independent sitting Senator, a major rarity.
Maybe it was because he was Clinton's only real opponent in the primaries. Maybe some people were tired of the narrative of inevitability surrounding her. Maybe some people genuinely truly believed that Sanders was the Paul to Obama's progressive Jesus. Whatever it was, Sanders became the second unlikeliest figure to emerge from the nominating process and he revealed deep fractures within the Democratic Party that its members were keen to pretend did not exist. Clinton narrowly won the Iowa caucus by a margin of 0.2 percentage points; Sanders decisively defeated her in the New Hampshire the next week by a margin of over 20 percentage points. The process carried on for weeks with Clinton winning more primaries but Sanders still steadily picking up delegates. However, one of the advantages of being a former Secretary of State, Senator, and First Lady is that you make a lot of connections. From the very beginning, it was clear that Clinton had wrapped up the superdelegate endorsements by a wide margin...and I mean wide. There were 712 superdelegates at stake and Clinton ultimately received endorsements (and presumably votes) from 570 of them. Sanders, by contrast, received 44. By the time of the Democratic convention in July, Clinton had more than enough pledged delegates and superdelegates to be formally nominated and Sanders would go on to endorse her, even if his supporters were not quite as enthusiastic about the defeat of the man they felt to be their champion.
Now you'll notice that so far I haven't really said anything particularly negative about Hillary Clinton. I think it's kind of understood that all candidates for any type of elected office will have their own positives and negatives they bring to the table. For Democrats, Clinton's main positives were that she was well-connected with the party apparatus since the 1990s, experienced in government, had an almost bottomless pit of money, and had served in the Obama administration. As an added bonus, her candidacy took on an increasingly historical significance: she was the first female nominee for president from one of the two major parties in the United States and she stood a damn good chance of becoming the first female President of the United States. This would have been a double whammy since her election as president would either complement (or possibly overshadow) Obama's own election, which was historically significant because he was of course the first black president.
The negatives, however, were unavoidable. For fairly large segments of the American population, there is an unavoidable taint of scandal that follows everything associated with the name "Clinton" in the United States. The Clinton brand is associated with duplicity, ambition, and a willingness to say or do anything to acquire power/wealth. It's true that a lot of this is due to Hillary's guilt by association with Bill's well-documented scandals. And it's true also that this might be more than a little unfair and probably over-stated by her husband's political enemies in the 1990s. But having served in government in her own right, Hillary developed multiple opportunities to get her own non-Bill baggage. She supported the war in Iraq in 2003, which was a major component of her defeat by Obama in the 2008 primaries, who could truthfully say he had never voted in favor of it. This was a quandary because the question becomes one of (a) did she truly think it was a good idea or (b) did she just vote for it because she knew that any other position at the time was politically untenable and opposing the war could possibly heavily damage her chances of winning an election later down the road? Neither option leaves her looking good and it's an unanswerable question. Comments that both she and her husband made about Obama in the 2008 primaries seemed to carry a patronizing, racially dismissive tone for some voters. It's not exactly a secret that Clinton is and has been friendly and close with major Wall Street firms and individuals for many years, which rings as somewhat tone deaf for a Democratic politician in the post-bailout era. The Clinton Foundation is a charitable organization founded by Bill that funds various humanitarian efforts around the world through donations...many of which come from foreign governments, entities, and individuals with whom Hillary Clinton interacted during her time as Secretary of State. In and of itself, this is not necessarily illegal or unethical, but it is impossible to ascertain whether these meetings/interactions occurred under the aegis of her political office or not, which gives the very real appearance of extreme impropriety.
Then there's Benghazi. On September 11, 2012, the compound housing the American consulate and CIA annex in Libya was attacked by a group alternatively described as protestors or terrorists, and it resulted in the deaths of ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other members of the mission. Stevens' requests for additional security had previously been denied by the State Department despite the deteriorating stability of the country. Hillary Clinton maintains that she was unaware of the requests for additional security and that she therefore had no ability to deny the requests, which fell under the rubric of her subordinates, but she did broadly accept responsibility in her capacity as the head of the State Department.
In the course of the investigation that began in 2014, it was revealed that Hillary Clinton used a non-governmental email address to conduct State Department business that was hosted on a server in her New York home. This eventually overshadowed the actual Benghazi investigation and spawned its own set of difficulties. The main issue was the security of the server and whether or not it housed classified information. An ancillary issue was the question of why she chose to do this. The answer evidently was to protect her private correspondence from potential Freedom of Information Act requests, although again this raises the issue of why she couldn't have used a government email address to do her government work and a private email address to do her private work. However, the route she chose is not in compliance with US law on record retention and cyber security. An initial FBI investigation indicated that her use of a private email server was careless but that she would not be charged with any crime. As of yet, there is no evidence to indicate that the contents of this server were ever accessed by unauthorized personnel.
But her email woes would continue, although in a different way. Three days before the 2016 Democratic National Convention in July where Clinton would officially be crowned as the party's presidential nominee, WikiLeaks released nearly 20,000 emails that had been hacked and stolen from the DNC by what many people believe to be a Russian intelligence agency. These emails were highly embarrassing for the DNC as they suggested there had been collusion between DNC officials -- who are supposed to be neutral in the nominating process -- and the Clinton campaign for the express purpose of undermining Bernie Sanders' campaign. Many people already suspected this to be the case due to Hillary Clinton's close ties to DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz but nobody ever expected to see it right there in black and white. Schultz figured heavily into other leaked emails, specifically relating to media figures from whom she requested (and in at least one case demanded) less negative coverage of herself. Schultz was eventually forced to resign her position as the head of the DNC as were other high-ranking officials.
Then in October and November, WikiLeaks released emails hacked from the email account of Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta. These emails were not quite as extensive as the DNC emails, but they revealed eyebrow-raising excerpts from some of Clinton's paid private speeches to various Wall Street figures as well as the fact that Debbie Wasserman Schultz's successor as the head of the DNC, Donna Brazile, occasionally received debate questions in advance in her capacity as a contributor to CNN and the obvious implication is that she shared some of these questions with members of the campaign. CNN has since terminated its relationship with Brazile.
Depending on your point of view, Clinton received the ultimate October surprise when less than two weeks before the election, FBI Director James Comey informed Congress that he was reopening the investigation into Clinton's email server in relation to the ongoing investigation into professional idiot Anthony Weiner's possible sexting with an underage girl. It involved emails found on a computer he shared with his soon-to-be ex-wife Huma Abedin, who is of course Clinton's closest aide and confidant. Ultimately, Comey would go on to announce just days before the election that no new or relevant evidence was found and that the investigation was closed again.
The Elephant in the Room
The story of Donald Trump's political journey is one of the most bizarre in American history. In the media, he is frequently and derisively referred to as "a reality television star" due to his hosting the show the Apprentice, but this is wrong because it implies that he was unknown to a broader audience before that point. In actuality, Trump was previously known as a prominent businessman for decades before the serious thought of jumping into the Republican race was a twinkle in his eye. Trump is and has always been unapologetically abrasive, ostentatious, and brash. He is obsessed with his own wealth and how other people perceive it. When Comedy Central approached him with the offer of a roast in 2011, he stipulated that jokes about his net worth being lower than what he said it was were completely off-limits. By contrast, he felt no need to restrict jokes about his children, his wife, his famously failed marriages, or his physical appearance.
The nominating process for the Republican Party in 2016 was, to put it mildly, chaotic. Starting in the middle of 2015, huge names popped out of the woodwork. Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, the son of President George H.W. Bush, and the brother of President George W. Bush was one of the first to announce his candidacy. His protege, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, also joined in. Texas Senator and evangelical/Tea Party darling Ted Cruz jumped in. New Jersey governor Chris Christie was there too. And so was Ohio governor John Kasich. And so was Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. And Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. And and and and...
Ultimately there were 17 serious candidates, including Trump, whose entry into the race was viewed as an interesting footnote to what most people assumed would ultimately be a two-man contest between Bush and Cruz. Trump started to gain serious traction in the polls, however, mainly due to his almost compulsive willingness to ignore the false niceties common to political disagreements. He sucked all the air out of the room at every debate. He famously called Cruz a "liar." He referred to Rubio as "little Marco" and made fun of his well-known debt problems. He dismissed Bush as "a mess." He was constantly on the attack on the most visceral level. The incredibly wide field -- the widest ever among any party in the US at the time of the first primary votes -- obviously helped Trump because it significantly lowered the threshold for success. Additionally, the Republican Party failed to coalesce around a single anti-Trump nominee before he was well on his way to the nomination. And unlike the Democrats, the Republicans do not have superdelegates, meaning that the party establishment was helpless to prevent the elevation of a man who had previously identified as a Democrat for most of his life. Eventually only Trump, Cruz, and Kasich remained, but by that point it was too late, and Trump's nomination was essentially a fait accompli.
A lot of people saw parallels between the candidacies of Trump and Sanders because they were both perceived as "outsiders" fighting against the decadence of their respective parties. It fed a narrative of insurgency against and dissatisfaction with the establishment and the increasingly narrow gap between the elite political operatives of the Democrats and the Republicans. They moved in the same circles, operated under the same rules, had the same phones, ate at the same restaurants, knew the same media people, had many of the same views, drank the same frappucinos, and were utterly entrenched in their positions for no other reason than the fact that they somehow had gotten there. The views of Sanders and Trump could not have been more different, of course, but that didn't stop the comparisons.
It's worth noting here that Donald Trump has previously never held an elected or appointed political office. While this did not make him unique in the 2016 Republican field, the fact that he ultimately succeeded in capturing the nomination did. He therefore had no political record on which to run. This fact is sort of a mixed bag because while he can truthfully say he's never had any political failures, neither has he had any successes. His business career is also a mixed bag; while it was presumably successful from the standpoint that he apparently has a positive net worth, he has also declared bankruptcy multiple times and has been the defendant in dozens of lawsuits. Some of his stated policy objectives were, uh, interesting to say the least: authorize the creation of a deportation force to forcibly remove all illegal immigrants from the United States, build a wall along the Mexican border at Mexico's expense, ban all Muslim immigration into the US, withdraw from (or at least substantially alter) the NAFTA treaty, and repeal Obamacare. Now the final point is something that I believe all of the Republican candidates said they wanted to do, but the others were fairly unique to Trump. For some reason, Hispanic Americans generally did not react positively to Trump's assertion that many rapists, killers, and drug smugglers were coming into the US from across the Mexican border. Muslim-Americans were not particularly pleased with the idea of banning Muslim immigration. Trump was also one of the earliest big names to get behind the idea that President Obama was possibly not born in the United States and was therefore ineligible to be the president. A lot of people were outraged (or at least claimed to be) by these statements. But...Trump's core constituency responded positively to these ideas even if his exact positions on these subjects changed over time (and in fact he has referred to some of these views as "starting points" in hypothetical future negotiations or policy formulations). This created a very early narrative that Trump was a racist and therefore his supporters were as well.
Trump of course was also plagued by accusations of misogyny, given his history of making derogatory comments about women he found unattractive, women who disagreed with him, women who questioned him too harshly, women who rejected his advances, and women who ran against him in the Republican primaries (i.e. a class of one, Carly Fiorina). He expressed the idea that women ought to be domestically subservient to men. More seriously, he also went on to be accused of groping various women and other pretty terrible behavior.
From the beginning of his entry in the Republican primaries, GOP elites were terrified of the possibly negative effects that a very likely Trump defeat could have on their own political fortunes. Many Republicans declined to endorse him. Cruz, Trump's final primary opponent, was given a major spot at the Republican National Convention with the understanding that he would offer a full-throated endorsement of Trump. By this time, Trump had called him a liar, ridiculed his wife's appearance, and implied that his father was somehow involved in the assassination of JFK. At the convention, Cruz urged the attendees and the audience watching on television to "vote your conscience," which drew boos and a visibly displeased reaction from Trump and his entourage.
The General Election Campaign
The candidates were now picked and they both had significant baggage. Following the RNC, Trump's polling put him ahead of Clinton, but this so-called "convention bounce" is pretty common. For most of the time leading up to the actual election, Clinton was ahead of Trump by anywhere from 3 to 12 percentage points. The first televised debate between the two nominees was on September 26. The debate, much like Jeb Bush, was a mess. Its format was poorly adhered to. Moderator Lester Holt was at a loss to control either Trump or Clinton. The candidates themselves talked over one another although Trump was the primary offender. Trump's debate magic seemed to have failed him; he started off relatively sedately and moved from topic to topic with little logical organization and he wasn't even able to manage any memorable zingers. By contrast, Clinton was (generally) specific, professional, reassuring, and (dare I say it?) presidential. Most observers agreed that Clinton "won" the debate, if such a thing is measurable or even important.
Shortly before the second debate, in what many people thought would be the major October surprise, an audio tape from 2005 was released of Trump saying famous men can walk up to random women and "grab them by pussy" for no other reason than they're famous. This was the issue on everyone's minds going into the second debate. For whatever reason, though, Clinton did not make it the dominating issue of the debate, and Trump frequently had her on the defense. This was likely partially due to the fact that he arranged for several of the women Bill Clinton allegedly sexually harassed to be seated in the audience of the debate; tacky as hell but clearly an effective way of throwing someone for a loop. While the media generally declared Clinton the winner of the second debate, it seemed evident that Trump was coming back into form. The moderators of this debate -- Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper -- had similarly little luck in restraining either candidate.
The third debate was moderated by Chris Wallace and he is widely considered to have been the best of the moderators. He was able to maintain some semblance of control over Clinton and Trump as the two candidates made their final pitches to the public. They discussed essentially the same subjects that they did at the first two debates, and while Trump was slightly more restrained than he had been, Clinton still projected the more confident, presidential appearance. Again, there was widespread agreement that she had won the debate and polling showed that she had kept her lead over Trump.
As related above, Clinton got her own October surprise at the end of the month when it was announced that the investigation into her email issues would be reopened albeit for reasons unrelated directly to her. While James Comey would later announce -- two days before the election -- that the matter had been closed, some people believe the original announcement sealed Clinton's fate.
Just as there had been for almost two years up to that point, there was a broad understanding that Clinton would win the election. It did not seem conceivable that Trump could ever muster the requisite number of electoral votes to beat her; his appeal was limited to traditional GOP strongholds in the southeast and the poorly populated states in flyover country where there are more mountains than voters. Not only that, Clinton had outspent Trump by a significant margin in terms of advertising: it was at least a 2:1 ratio. Articles in the mainstream media openly and consistently mused about (and implicitly celebrated) the prospect of the Republican Party being irrevocably damaged and relegated to the ash heap of history. A few pundits were a bit more cautious, acknowledging the likelihood that Republicans would retain the House and therefore make the Clinton presidency a repeat of the final 3/4 of the Obama administration.
The first results started to come in around 8:00 PM EST. As expected, Clinton was ahead by a significant margin in the northeast and Trump was performing well in the southeast. Early on, more states were officially "called" for Trump than Clinton, but just based on geography, that seemed right. By this time, there were no swing states on the board for either candidate as there just weren't enough precincts reporting to really give a definite answer. These battleground states are important primarily because they're diverse and they have large numbers of electoral votes at stake, so obviously it's tough to call them right away.
Panic must have set in pretty quickly, though. Trump was ahead in the eastern swing states that are essential to winning the electoral vote. Ohio was the first to be called in his favor, and it wasn't even close: he was up by over 8 percentage points and Obama had won that by 3 percentage points in 2012. Florida fell next; Obama won the state in 2012 by a thin margin but Trump exceeded his margin. This was especially worrying for Clinton because Florida has 29 electoral votes, a fairly substantial amount. I will also note that no presidential candidate has ever won the office without winning either Florida or Ohio.
Then we started to see something even more incredible: Trump was leading in states that have been solidly Democratic since at least the 1980s, specifically Wisconsin and Michigan. The race in Pennsylvania, with 20 electoral votes at stake and leaning toward Clinton, was tightening as well. All the while, Trump continued to pick up the states that Republicans traditionally carry and Clinton's path seemed to be even more precarious. While at this point there were still enough states in play to get her over the hump, she would have to run the board and pray that the states where Trump was ahead would reliably flip back over. This did not materialize.
I watched Yahoo's live coverage of the election the night and by about 1:30 AM, it was pretty obvious where the momentum was. Pennsylvania was called for Trump. It was effectively mathematically impossible for Clinton to win outright at this point and the best she could hope for was a 269-269 tie. Yahoo had pretty evenly divided their broadcast time between the Clinton and Trump headquarters in New York up to that point. Whereas the Trump party was jubilant, happy, and optimistic, the Clinton party was dour and reminiscent of what it would be like to have a baby shower in a mausoleum. At that point, all the coverage and discussion shifted to Trump and what a Trump administration would look like. Interestingly, nobody wanted to be the first to call the election for Trump. I was watching Yahoo's coverage but also keeping up with Google, MSNBC, FOX News, ABC, CBS, and CNN. With the exception of MSNBC and FOX, all of the electoral counts I watched were stalled for Trump at 266; MSNBC had him at 244 and FOX had him at 254. Around 3:00 AM, John Podesta announced that the fight was not over and Clinton would not be making any speeches or announcements that evening. At about 3:30 AM, the election was called for Trump and he received a concession phone call from Clinton. The election was over and Trump had won -- decisively.
Now one thing you have to understand about presidential elections is that there are usually always one or two major issues that define them. 2008 was a referendum on the Iraq war and the economic crisis. 2004 was mainly about the conduct of the War on Terror. 1976 was a referendum on Nixon. 2016 was extremely complicated and examining the multitude of issues involved in it is the only way to really understand what happened.
Up until 2008, the traditional way to win a presidential election was to rely on the proportion of your base that usually voted and to appeal to the political center more than your opponent. The quest for centrist votes was the sine qua non of presidential campaigns. Barack Obama changed that by shifting more heavily to the idea of motivating and turning out his base. Appealing to the center wouldn't hurt, of course, but it wouldn't be his main focus. And it's difficult to say it didn't work: he won in an electoral and popular landslide in 2008. 2012 was narrower, but the same basic strategy was in play. Obama won both elections by getting out the vote among young people, black people, Latinos, LGBT people, feminists, and other core Democratic constituencies. There was no reason, then, that Hillary Clinton would expect the opposite to hold true for her.
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 2 or 3 years, you're probably familiar with the term "social justice warrior." The term implies a lot of things, but at its core, it refers to a person who opposes and corrects all types of speech and behavior that don't coincide with third wave feminism, LGBTQIA+ rights, economic inequality, and awareness of racial disparities, among other things. These folks reject the term and see it as derisive or "othering." You might also be familiar with the term "alt right" that refers to people who are skeptical or downright hostile toward the things I mentioned above. While the former group is doctrinaire and pretty humorless about those issues, the latter group is glib about them and delights in provoking a response from the people who fall into the other camp. I'll give you one guess as to which side supported which candidate in this election.
Both of these terms were created on the internet and have little application outside of the internet. As hard as it might be to believe this, the majority of people -- or at least voters -- do not primarily get their news, views, or opinions from the internet. Most people do not spend several hours every day on websites like Tumblr or Reddit. The average American has probably never heard of Anita Sarkeesian or Milo Yiannopolous. I say all of this because it's hard to remember sometimes that those of us who are extremely digitally inclined are not necessarily the majority and we can't take for granted the idea that everyone else knows or even cares about the same things we do.
But the thing about people who are avid internet consumers (not counting those older relatives we all have who seem to live on Facebook but for the life of them can't understand how it works) is that they largely forget that things that seem self-evident or of major importance online aren't at the forefront of everyone else's minds in meatspace. The tone surrounding the Clinton campaign began to be reminiscent of hyperbolic left-wing online discourse. The stakes were never higher. There was no starker choice. Trump was a racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic crypto-fascist and you were the same if you did not fall behind Hillary Clinton. And this type of language and disdain were extended not just to Trump supporters, but also to people who were on the fence or who still maintained support for Sanders or who even seemed enthusiastic about the quixotic campaign of Green Party candidate Jill Stein because they would be drawing votes from Clinton or at least not turning out enough for her to prevent Trump's victory. Not only that, the Clinton campaign started a super PAC called Correct The Record for the express purpose of going online to social media and interaction-based websites and challenging people who said things that were either factually incorrect or politically ambiguous about Clinton.
Avid internet consumers of course tend to be younger (college age or just over it) and they tend to lean left. The Clinton campaign overtly oriented itself around this group's priorities and mindset and tried to move that into the real world. It seemed obvious. These issues started being discussed very heavily online around the time of Obama's original election and the people discussing them were Obama supporters. Clinton needed them so co-opting social justice-oriented millennials was a clear winning strategy. The voters who ultimately decided the outcome of this election, however, don't understand things like intersectional feminism, microaggressions, safe spaces, trigger warnings, and gender fluidity. What they do understand, however, is hostile attempts to change their behavior and speech and the implication that they are somehow a less evolved form of humanity if they don't understand the imperative nature of asking for someone's preferred gender pronouns before speaking to them (or xem) or if they aren't woke enough about their own inherent white privilege as they live in a trailer and scramble to put food on the table every week. It shouldn't be hard to understand why this set of views doesn't appeal to people who don't live on social media.
Anyway, the Hillary Clinton campaign was run in such a way that it assumed that the full strength of the Obama coalition would come out in support of her with the addition of more support from women and centrist voters in general turned off by Trump's rhetoric. Reliably Democratic states would vote the same way they have for 20+ years and some traditionally Republican states would even be in play. The media 100% supported this belief. We saw constant articles discussing how a Trump -- or even Republican -- victory was electorally impossible. There was no way that Trump's core constituency of old white men could ever beat Clinton's broad and diverse coalition. Articles in newspapers, magazines, and internet publications as well as television reports constantly beat the drum by explicitly stating that the white male vote was largely insignificant. Some outlets were bold enough to suggest that Clinton could possibly capture as many as 500 electoral votes just on the basis of 2008 and 2012 turnout numbers alone. Not only that, polls suggested that college-educated whites (both male and female) would turn out for Clinton in greater numbers than Trump. Trump's main constituency, then, was older, less educated white males. How could he possibly be competitive with that withered demographic? Could he really expect to get more than 200 electoral votes at the very most?
Here's the issue: there is no good or easy way to account for personal popularity in statistical models. As I said earlier, Obama remains personally popular even if his policies are perceived negatively and his party keeps suffering punishing legislative defeats. Hillary Clinton as a candidate never came close to approaching Obama's popularity and so far the polling suggests that she failed to turn out racial/ethnic minorities in the same way that Obama did; not only that, she managed to secure slightly smaller portions of their votes. I'm going to make an extremely radical and controversial statement now. Obama appealed to black voters for an extremely obvious reason: he's black. While the black vote is reliably Democratic, its turnout is variable depending on who's running. While Bill Clinton was reasonably popular with black voters, neither Al Gore nor John Kerry carried the same level of support. Obama clearly exceeded it. Hillary Clinton didn't.
Beyond all of that, however, for nearly a decade, the media in the United States has perpetuated this idea that white voters are dinosaurs just obliviously waiting for the demographic meteor to slam into them and render them irrelevant and obsolete once and for all. And in 30 years, that might wind up being true...but it isn't right now. Whites currently represent about 70% of the electorate. Obviously a group that large isn't going to vote in a single bloc. But at the same time, why would you not at least try to do some outreach toward that group? Clinton largely abandoned trying to go after white men -- over 30% of the total potential electorate. This is a major mistake when you don't have literally every other demographic lined up.
Earlier I alluded to the conflict between Clinton and Sanders revealing some unseemly fractures within the Democratic party that most Democrats would prefer not to talk about. The main problem is that Sanders' candidacy was promoted and supported mainly by young whites (predominantly males) and Clinton's was promoted and supported by everyone else in the traditional Democratic coalition. I find it extremely unlikely that there was any sort of mass conversion from Sanders in the primary to Trump in the general election given their ideological distance, but I can totally believe that Sanders supporters simply didn't turn out for Clinton because the issues they were interested in just weren't up for discussion.
One of the few people who truly understood the dynamics of this election was filmmaker Michael Moore. He had warned very early on that Trump would win the election and he would do so in a way that very few people would have ever expected: by converting voters in the Rust Belt over to his side. And indeed he did -- he has officially won Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and will likely eventually be declared the winner in Michigan. While the former two are considered swing states, Democrats have taken Michigan and Wisconsin for granted since the 1980s. Clinton did absolutely zero campaigning in Wisconsin and made very few stops in Michigan. Trump, by contrast, was active in both states. He went to these states and talked about the necessity of bringing back manufacturing jobs -- previously the foundation of the urban and suburban economies there -- and laid out a nebulous, nonspecific plan to accomplish that. But regardless of the details, who cares? He was there and he was at least making an effort to reach out to these voters. When was the last time a Democratic candidate for president seriously tried to make their case in Alabama or Tennessee? The balance of power seems to have at least temporarily shifted from traditional swing states such as Florida and Ohio toward states that were once considered perpetually partisan now that the priorities of the Democratic Party appear to have correspondingly shifted away from them.
And really, let's think about this for a minute. If you are a middle-aged white voter in a suburban or rural community in Ohio or Michigan or Pennsylvania and you've lost your manufacturing job, have no prospects for another manufacturing job, do not have a college degree, and have to support your family, are you going to be more interested in the candidate who talks about maternity leave and opening energy markets or the one who says he's going to find a way to get you another manufacturing job? Would you be more likely to support the candidate that appears responsive to your plight or the one whose campaign implies that you are on the verge of being extinct and therefore not worth bothering with?
But more glaringly, how could Clinton lose with women on her side? Especially against someone like Trump? Women are over 50% of the electorate. Surely that alone would have been enough to put her over the top...except again that polling indicates she lost white women. That's about 34-35% of the potential electorate. She definitely won over millennial white women, but the exit polling I've seen so far indicates that only about 19% of the people who voted fell into the 18-30 age range, which is absurd when you consider that millennials of voting age now outnumber Baby Boomers, who probably represented about double that amount. A lot of white women above the age of 30 in the states that Clinton lost probably also had jobs that disappeared or at the very least have husbands whose jobs disappeared and the same issues that drove white men away from Clinton did the same for white women.
Clinton therefore fell victim to a statistical quirk that I'll call the Obama fallacy: the expectation that a presidential candidate from a given party will enjoy the same level of proportional demographic support as the previous one and that therefore, projections for victory can be made on that basis. This was clearly not true. Simply put, Trump exploited the lack of attention Clinton paid to voters in "solid" Democratic states and reaped the rewards when she failed to consider the possibility that the Obama coalition would not turn out in the same numbers for her as they did for Obama in the same places.
To be honest, I don't know what the aftermath is going to be yet. The narrative for several months up to the election was that the Republican Party would implode following Trump's inevitable loss. At this point, the Republican Party in the United States is the strongest it has been since the 1920s. It will control the presidency, both houses of Congress, a majority of the governorships, and the majority of the Supreme Court. It's extremely likely that Obamacare will be repealed and replaced in 2017, robbing Obama of his most significant policy achievement. Obama's current Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, is about to be thrown out the window. For at least two years, the country's agenda will be set entirely by one party. The Republicans don't really appear to be in a position where they'll have to do a lot of soul-searching.
For the Democrats, though, it's a different story. They're in the political wilderness right now. They expected dominance for all time with this most recent election, and they received the most stunning rebuke in modern political history. Whatever else they want to say about Trump, they cannot deny that he has laid waste to the concept of the current calculus of the electoral map in presidential elections. For reference, Trump has won more electoral votes than George W. Bush did in either of his elections. He has shown that any state can be a swing state, regardless of its historical allegiance. I was constantly looking at the county breakdown by state on Yahoo's electoral map, and the same trend held true throughout all of Clinton's swing state losses: she won the large metropolitan areas but lost just about everything else in each of them.
The Democratic Party needs to ask itself what kind of political organization it wants to be. It has always prided itself on being the "big tent party" where all sorts of interests and identities are welcome. Right now, though, it seems to be basically a party pinning its hopes for the future on the urban Starbucks-and-Snapchat crowd. And that might ultimately work out for them. But right now, it clearly won't.
In some ways, this election should be cathartic for Democrats because it has proven to be the final exorcism of Clintonism. The Democratic Party has become entangled with financial interests and frankly the appearance of corruption, which is largely due to the efforts of Bill and Hillary Clinton. I feel as though Hillary Clinton ran for president in such a way that you could almost feel the desperation pouring off of her, like a guy who takes his last $50 to a casino and thinks "I need $10,000 now, thank God for blackjack." How many times, I wonder, did she preface sentences with "when I'm elected president..." while speaking to agents of foreign governments who donated money to the Clinton Foundation? What will happen now that she can't make good on these hypothetical quid pro quos?
I don't know if another candidate could have beaten Trump, but it really says something about the way the Democratic Party works that Hillary Clinton had been the presumptive nominee for basically 4 years. By now, you've probably heard about the huge glass ceiling that was installed above the stage at what should have been her victory party that she would literally smash upon receiving the confirmation that she had won the election. While that would have undoubtedly been some incredible symbolism, it's still there. The fact that it was put there in the first place is emblematic of the presumptuousness of the 2016 Clinton campaign. A lot of women dedicated a lot of time and energy to her campaign because they felt it was that important to be part of what appeared to be an historical movement, even knowing of her deficiencies as a candidate. And it was still historical, although it fell short of its ultimate goal.
Then again, I think the Democratic Party needs to acknowledge that it has to have a higher level of support from white men. While I am sure that they are eager to pretend that demographic doesn't exist and that it won't play a major role in future elections, they can't deny the role it played in this election. After George Washington left office, political parties started to form in the United States largely around the same ideological lines as the ones in England at the time. The situation was one of conservative elitism and liberal populism and this held true essentially up until the middle of the 20th century. Today, we see the opposite in a truly stark way: the parties are centered around liberal elitism and conservative populism.
The biggest losers of the 2016 election cycle, however, are the members of the political consultancy class. Almost all of them failed in every way to predict the outcome of the election and to truly understand the issues that guided it. The only three people of any notability that seemed to genuinely comprehend the nature of the 2016 election were Donald Trump, Michael Moore, and Bernie Sanders. I know that it's tempting for liberals to blame James Comey for Clinton's defeat (and apparently Clinton herself does), but I honestly don't think that was a major factor. But then again, how can we really know? The polling was so off -- just like it was for Brexit in the United Kingdom -- that it's impossible to pin down exactly what happened, and when, and why. Additionally, it's clear that many Congressional Republicans were bracing themselves for a Trump loss and acted accordingly based on the mainstream polling that was out there. That group now has to contend with a President who will probably be just as vindictive toward them as he will be toward Congressional Democrats.
There are a lot of lessons for a lot of people about a lot of things as a result of the 2016 presidential election. I will be damned if I know exactly what all of them are or what ramifications they will have later on. I feel comfortable in predicting that Obamacare will be repealed within the next 12 months and that the next president from the Democratic Party will be black, Latino, or named Elizabeth Warren. Beyond that, though, I have no idea what's going to happen next. All I know for sure is that I won't put much faith in polling data for quite some time.