Like most of you, I was taken by surprise by the election of Donald Trump on Tuesday night. I took it as a given that the negative pounding that Hillary gave him shook many undecided voters, a pounding powered by a multi-million dollar war chest contributed by deep pocketed donors. She had the media in her pocket, and armies of supporters ready to launch a powerful “ground game” on election day. With all of these advantages, what could go wrong?
Like most of you, I was taken by surprise by the election of Donald Trump on It turns out the answer was a lot. The pundits have given us along list, but here are a few of the ones I think are most important.
1. Trump tapped into a deep vein of anxiety about the status quo among the working people. Primary was economic, where all the trumpeting about job gains, economic recovery and growth did not match what the common sense of the ordinary people was telling them. In short, they saw the last several years as a period where they kept losing ground. They concluded that the politicians were doing their usual lying (spinning in political terminology) and that the whole bunch needed to be sent packing. Hillary’s arguments for her experience and her claimed mantle of continuity thus became a liability rather than an asset.
2. People became sick and tired of the Democrat coalition, with its focus on a collection of narrow interest groups, each an exclusive club based on ethnicity, immigration status, social beliefs, or the like. Disagreement with the positions of any of these risked losing the support of these groups. Retaining such support meant following their dogma blindly. Charter schools? The teachers unions won’t like it. Allow religious exceptions to providing contraception coverage in insurance policies? Nope, what about the pro-choice lobby? Take measures to rationally control immigration? Groups favoring open borders won’t go for it. What the Democratic Party wound up with was a hodge-podge of positions in which almost anyone could find something to dislike. What is more, anyone voicing an alternative view gave prompted being called a racist, misogynist, bigot, etc. In other words, such folks were the incorrigibles, the despised class of troglodytes to be dismissed out of hand by the smarter elite. Can anyone wonder – especially after Hillary publically espoused such sentiments – why she didn’t garner votes from this group?
3. The process of nominating the Democratic candidate was deeply flawed. It was all arranged neatly beforehand to favor Hillary. The party stacked the deck so that when Bernie Sanders offered an unexpected challenge, he had no chance whatsoever. It worked, of course, and Hillary was nominated. Yet, in retrospect, it contributed mightily to the election debacle. Hillary’s failures against Bernie were excused rather than taken for what they were – an indication of weakness and lack of appeal to a broader public.
4. Finally, Hillary ran afoul of Baran’s Law of predicting elections. The law goes like this. People vote for candidates they like, and compare them on their ability to project warmth and humanity. Putting it another way, people decide on the basis of which one of the candidates they would rather sit and drink a beer or cup of coffee with. Trust me, the law works. Think about the elections since 2000. Answer honestly. Who would you rather spend some time with? George Bush with his down home language (including mispronunciations) and self-deprecation or Al Gore with his school marm like pomposity? Bush again or the stiff patrician John Kerry? Barak Obama, with his freshness, his conversational style and obvious comfort with people or John McCain, who commanded lots of respect but had been around seemingly forever? Obama again or the mega rich Mitt Romney, who seemed to come from a different world than ordinary folks? You get the drift. So now to 2016. Hillary, who appeared to project arrogance and insincerity (I want to say here that this isn’t what Hillary is according to those who know her well. What I am saying is this is how she is perceived) or the Donald, whose brash language was guaranteed to entertain? We found out the answer. In short, we like people who are like us, tend to tolerate their flaws (we have some too), and vote for them.
So, the election is now over. It didn’t turn out how most of us probably thought and how many of us may have preferred. But, like Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama both advised in their recent speeches, it is now time to come together and see if we can’t solve some of the problems dogging us as a nation. As I always am after an election is over, I am optimistic that change will be positive until I am proven wrong. It seems to me to be the only sane attitude we can take.