30 November 2016

Why Trump Won: The Candidates

In this most usual and divisive of presidential elections, the observation that probably garnered the largest plurality of agreement about from voters concerned the aversion to both candidates. Both provoked strong feelings of disapproval from Americans. Maybe that helped ensure a close election. But why Trump instead of Clinton?

As an experienced career politician, Clinton on the campaign trail and in the debates, displayed more knowledge about the issues important to progressive voters. In the debates especially, she appeared to be well prepared for whatever questions came her way--even the ones not leaked to her in advance by Donna Brazile.

But as an experienced career politician, she carried  a lot of baggage. Older voters no doubt remember the controversies over Whitewater, the Rose Law Firm, Cattlegate, Travelgate, and those, shall we say, seminal scandals surrounding her husband. It all came back with the investigations of her private server and her foundations. Newer voters seemed uninspired by her knowledge and methodical preparation. She always came across as stiff, cold, and humorless. Even Clinton's nomination speech, which reads so well on paper, she delivered with precision and organization--but no passion. The whole Clinton campaign appeared to run on the premise that her nomination and election were inevitable.

Nothing is inevitable, however, until it happens.

The passionless Clinton campaign resulted in passionless voters. In the popular vote Clinton came up short of President Obama's numbers for both 2008 and 2012. Clinton exceeded the number of votes garnered by Kerry, but the United States contains 30 million more people in 2016 than it in 2004.

And in spite of her campaign theme of "Stronger Together," its sub-theme was identity politics. Although identity politics was not the primary context of her policy prescriptions or her obligatory nods in her nomination speech, they came to the forefront in one of her attacks on Donald Trump. It is customary for backers of political candidates to not only attack the opponent, but also attack the opponent's backers. Progressive pundits impugned the motives of Trump supporters repeatedly, appealing to the various minority groups that make up the base of the Democrats these days.  The candidates themselves, however,  rarely resort to such tactics. Unfortunately for Clinton, she did just that. And the way she did it conveyed the message that she just does not care much for white, Christian, working class folks--at least in comparison to those other groups that make up the Democratic base;

Donald Trump, not a politician, carried his own sort of baggage--much of which voters learned about only in the middle of the campaign. And his rhetorical style left much to be desired. He spoke, however, in a direct, even crude style, that appealed to voters weary of politicians dancing their usually waffling waltzes around the issues. In place of "working together with Democrats for comprehensive immigration reform" he promised to "build a wall."  Trump's campaign theme of "Make America Great Again" energized voters far in excess of Clinton's "Stronger Together" message accompanying her promise of the same as the last eight years only more so.

Trump's excesses, of course, troubled many voters, including Republicans. The personal attacks, name calling, and pejorative comments about rivals wives lowered the political discourse in the primary to the level of a high school contest about who will be freshman class president. Trump's style served him well, however, once the primaries ended and he directed his invective against the Democrats and their fluffers in the mainstream media.

Trump's outsider status and his blunt rhetoric convinced many voters to overlook the lack of experience and the questionable temperament and to cast their votes for change--any change. Trump's victory on the surface appears as, and has been described as, a populist surge. It is difficult to say. He did not spark a huge turnout. Fewer voters participated in 2016 than in 2008. Moreover, Clinton actually won more votes. Trump, however, tapped into those voters who have been neglected by both parties and openly disdained by progressives. Rural voters and working-class Democrats, who voted for Obama twice in the last two presidential elections and others who may not have been voting at all, turned out for Trump.

Hillary Clinton's "blue wall" of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan came tumbling down.

And with that, Donald Trump, in the most unusual election in my lifetime, became president-elect.

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