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Donald Trump is President – What the heck just happened?

November 13, 2016

13 November 2016

He was described as a buffoon, a racist, a sexist, a misogynist, a bigot, a xenophobe, a homophobe, an islamaphobe, an arachnophobe, a gymnophobe and probably a coulrophobe (aren’t we all these days). He boasted about not paying federal taxes, using bankruptcy laws for several of his companies, he could stand in Fifth Avenue and shoot someone without losing a voter (other than presumably the person he shot), and groping women by the pussy. Against him was the political elite, the media elite, the cultural elite, the socialist elite, the celebrity elite and the Republican elite. His campaign was unconventional by relying on free media, went through three campaign managers, barely prepared for the debates and, with the exception of caps, was clearly out-spent and under-resourced. So how the heck did Donald Trump win the presidency? In simple terms, Trump trumped elitism.

As Trump said in his victory speech, he was speaking to those long forgotten. He was also speaking to those that for so long felt disrespected and dismissed by a politically class that had become out of touch and out of control. It didn’t matter that Trump was crass and divisive. As Chris Wallace on Fox News aptly put it, Trump’s strength was the message, not so much the messenger. People were sick of the condescension, sick of identity politics, and sick of seeing their country going in the wrong direction. Basically, they were sick of not being heard. In all probability, Trump’s recalcitrance and disobedience only made him more likeable. For every media pundit that turned against him, for every endorsement that went against him, for every celebrity that got on a stage with Hillary Clinton, that meant more votes for Trump. His message of destroying the political establishment and draining the swamp worked. So too did the feud against the media, virtually all of whom were totally against him and often openly cheering for Clinton. Even though I’d have voted for Clinton, I was happy the people rebelled against the tyranny and oppression and brought this momentous change. It was a victory for the true believers.

Sydney's Daily Telegraph summed up Donald Trump's election as president perfectly.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph summed up Donald Trump’s election as president perfectly.

Even separating the personalities from the fight, this was a remarkable election. With Trump needing the key swing seats of Florida, North Carolina and Ohio simply to stay in the contest, it wasn’t looking good early. While FL was looking good, he was behind in NC and Ohio. At 2130 USA Eastern Time (1230 Wednesday Australian Eastern Time) I tweeted it looked over. Then suddenly the figures in NC and Ohio began to reverse. No doubt the early figures were from pre-polls, which largely favoured Democrats. Ohio looked a lock and NC very likely. Also crucial was Iowa, in which Trump was leading in the polls and had to win. With that now likely, he was notionally on 259 and needed 11 votes to go.

Getting the final 11 votes was always the difficult task and required a Democratic state to be flipped. Curiously he was doing well in Virginia, which led to Chris Wallace (again) being the first to see a possibility for Trump to win (note, Wallace was also the first I saw, probably just after the New Hampshire primary, to see a possibility of Trump being the nominee). While peeling of Virginia might be a tough ask, the fact he was doing well there was a great portent for other states. In my Idiot’s Guide to the election I ruled out Path A of picking up Pennsylvania, which was looking tough. Trump also boasted about picking up other similar states, like Michigan and Wisconsin. It was Wisconsin that emerged with Trump several percentage points in front, and staying in front as votes kept rolling in. At 2200 (1400 AET) betting odds had him a 70% chance to win the presidency. By 2230 (0230 AET), with about 70% counted in Wisconsin, that was enough for me. Trump was president and, strangely, a tiny tear began to form. I was emotional, and excited, at this insane upset. Trump only need hold onto traditional Republican states for 269-269 tie in electoral votes. Without a candidate at 270, the house (almost certain to remain Republican) would decide. It was over.

Curiously, the networks held out. Fox News didn’t call Wisconsin until 1130 while we’re still waiting for CNN to do so. Everyone at the candidates’ venues were restless too, demanding some network take the plunge and call the damn thing. The New York Times were the first major media I heard to do so, at 0150 (1750 AET). Ten minutes later, at 0200, Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta announced to the crowd to go home, there’s plenty of votes still to be counted. This was totally absurd, and it was really the Democrats’ way of saying Clinton would not appear on stage this night. Given she was such the hot favourite and had worked so long and hard for this moment, she’d have been too distraught. Only she could get away with it too. Imagine the hysteria if roles were reversed and Trump didn’t appear? At 0240 (1840 AET) Fox News would call Pennsylvania to officially push Trump over the line. Not long later news came through that Clinton called Trump and conceded, which filtered through to CNN for them to finally declare the election.

While I understand the networks need to be cautious and probably want to retain viewers for as long as possible, when the hours reach into the early morning like this it becomes ridiculous. What looked obvious to most people at 2230 took another four hours for a network to call it. At the very least, they should declare some scenarios and provide a likelihood of outcome when it gets this late. I believe the Associated Press called Pennsylvania about the same time as the New York Times, which effectively made Trump president. I guess that could show the print media’s desire of being first with the news. Even so, they did wait for Pennsylvania to push Trump over the line rather than accept 269-269 as the point much earlier in the night, which they could have announced was contingent on the house almost certainly deciding.

Despite much of the hysteria about the “white vote” that the racist, bigoted Trump was allegedly targeting, the white vote he received was 1% point lower than 2012 – 58% to 59%. Trump also increased his percentage of the latino and black vote by 2% points and 1% point respectively. Overall, his total vote was lower than the 2004 re-election of George W Bush (albeit a high turn-out election itself), and overall 4 million fewer people voted in this election than 2012. Percentage-wise, it was 55.4% of eligible voters, which is the lowest since 53.5% in 2004. Other years were 60% in 2012, 63.7% in 2008, 62.1% in 2004 and 56.6% in 2000. So it showed there was no mass energisation of a racist, white supremacist vote. It was all about those forgotten people – white, working class, and no doubt disenchanted former Democrats, that have seen their jobs shipped overseas. Many of whom had voted for Barack Obama twice too. Now they had a new voice. The theory that those votes would be offset by women going to Clinton proved false. Those college educated and often married women did not succumb to Clinton’s identity politics. They stayed at home.

The identity politics that worked so well for President Obama failed for Clinton. It wasn’t just those that didn’t fall into one of the cherished identities that took a stand against the disgusting paradigm. Those that did fall into it like blacks, latinos and women, many of them recoiled at their vote being taken for granted just because of their skin colour or gender, and stayed at home too. While we’re only talking a few percentage points in these cases, it, along with the increase in the white working class vote, proved crucial. Remember, Trump was supposed to have the record lowest return from these groups, not increase them from 2012 levels. White college educated women were particular scathing, showing that their education status does matter. To think they could be one group to fall for identity politics really overestimated the reach such a tactic and underestimated the character of these women.

The polls, what the heck happened there too? While John King on CNN said there was not a “hidden vote” for Trump, and some pollsters said the overall popular result was quite close to predicted and within the margin of error, King is looking at the white vote in total, and the big errors were within states. There was a hidden, or secret, vote for Trump. The reason it didn’t show in the total white vote is it was offset by white college educated women not voting. Even the overall popular vote, a margin of error is only relevant in an isolated poll, not a long trend. Consistently it showed Clinton up around 3% to 4% ahead, depending on the poll. At the time of writing, the election finished 47.8 to 47.3 for Clinton.

Within the key states, Wisconsin was 7.5% off polling averages, Ohio 5.1% off, Michigan 3.7% off and Pennsylvania 3% off. Wisconsin was the big shock. Through the long campaign, I can’t recall it ever mentioned, and Clinton snubbed it totally during her campaign. Probably the biggest clue something was up in those supposedly safe Democratic heartland was Clinton campaigning in Michigan in the final few days. It was reminiscent of Mitt Romney rushing to Florida in 2012 when all along it seemed he had that state in control. It seems there are good pollsters about. They work within the campaigns, that’s all.

Another indication that should prove useful in future analysis of raw polling data is looking at the reaction in the popular vote to many of Trump’s faux pas along the trail. While his figures would dip, Clinton’s would never rise, with Trump’s eventually recovering to their previous point. It showed she had a ceiling of about 46%, with much of the rest up for grabs, and Trump’s transgressions quickly forgotten, or ignored, for the bigger picture. Often the undecided vote swings big against the incumbent (which was Clinton as the Democrat running as Obama’s third term) because people typically have their opinion formed about them. So their decision is whether to vote for the opponent, or not vote at all.

The only notable poll that predicted the race was the USC Dornsife/LA Times tracking poll. It interviewed the same 3000 people all the time, rather than a new random bunch that is the system elsewhere. Interviewing the same people all the time meant they were comfortable expressing their views. While it was still technically wrong by showing Trump clear ahead (as much as 6% on occasions and 3% in its final poll), it was correct in showing there was a strong movement for Trump and enough of it to win the election. The primaries themselves were also a good predictor, with Republicans attending in record numbers and way above the Democrats, particularly significant in those rust-belt states like Michigan. Trump accumulated the most number of raw votes across all the primaries for a Republican candidate ever. Not bad considering he had 16 opponents initially, and four into Super Tuesday.

A quick note on the popular vote. It’s irrelevant that Clinton won it. If the popular vote was the system, candidates would campaign totally differently. They would camp in big population centres like California, New York, Florida and Texas. They would visit their respective friendly areas in those states to rally as many raw numbers as possible. The reason the electoral college system was devised was so election results would not be decided by those on the north east coast (as was the time). Smaller states like Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire, Arizona and North Carolina would never get a look otherwise. You could entirely forget rural America too.

Exit polls were also a disaster. Clearly this “shy vote” for Trump was in force again, whereby people would lie or not even participate. It begs the question: What sort of a society do we live in that people are afraid to declare their voting habits? It’s this expression “political bigotry” that I often use whereby you are judged, even suffer discrimination, for your political views. Even if those views are benign that you voted for Trump simply for a change, you are apparently a bigot. Remember, this is a democracy, and you can’t have a vibrant one unless people can freely express their views and debate can be civilly engaged. It’s the modern day form of McCarthyism. Particularly nasty are the accusations and slurs against character, and the repression of certain political views. It’s an absolute disgrace and is now the new “in the closet”. Once to “come out” meant you were gay; now it’s you’re a Republican or conservative. Here’s hoping this election, along with the likes of Brexit, facilitates an end to this disgusting gag on our freedom of speech and political discourse.

Let’s not forget there were key issues at play in this election. The likes of the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare), was an example of the politically elite establishment at work. A whopping big law of over 2000 pages merely to get the remaining 16% of the public insured down to the current 8.6%. Despite promises to the vast majority already covered of keeping existing plans, keeping existing doctors and that premiums would reduce, the exact opposite happened. Premiums have doubled in some states, and it was announced two weeks before the election they’ll be increasing again. Deductibles are way up, which meant you could pay $5000 out of pocket before insurance would kick in. To be eligible for the government exchanges, insurance plans needed to be comprehensive, which meant old, basic plans had to go for these new expensive premium ones. This was all intentional despite Obama’s constant promises. Businesses of a certain size and with employees working a certain number of hours per week were compelled to offer these same plans too. To avoid that, businesses would cap number of employees or their hours. Too often these people earned just a little too much to get subsidies in the exchanges. No wonder Bill Clinton, during the campaign, described Obamacare as “the craziest thing in the world”.

There are elements of the ACA that are good, like not denying people with preexisting conditions and allowing children to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26. No doubt Trump will keep some of these things, while trying to untangle the regulation mess everywhere else. Typically Americans were happy to have cheap “catastrophic” plans with low deductibles for things like cancer, and used health savings accounts or paid out of pocket for minor expenses. Returning this flexibility to the market will be one of the key objectives of the Trump administration.

Then there’s Hillary Clinton herself. Even before the late re-opening and quick closing by the FBI of her email scandal, her trust figures were horribly low. The damage was already done by the investigation itself and director James Comey’s conclusion. Even though he didn’t bring an indictment, his scathing findings that exposed a succession of Clinton lies were itself the indictment. While Trump often lied too, that spoke to his combative nature, not to being corrupt. Clinton rarely gave interviews other than to fluffball celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres. That just made Clinton seem even more aloof and elitist. Because she was so flawed, she can’t cite sexism as a reason for her loss either.

Finally, the “basket of deplorables” and “irredeemable” quote. That completed the narrative of a candidate and a party not only out of touch with much of America, also disdainful of it. While she apologised for it, her acolytes and supporters didn’t, preferring to continue the abusive tone. That she didn’t react was tacit approval of her comments. Even post election, Van Jones on CNN saying the election was a “white-lash” and kids will go to bed terrified, none of this has been condemned by either Clinton or Obama. If your kids are going to bed terrified, that’s an indictment on you, the parent, for telling them the wrong bedtime stories. Trump’s a president within a system of strict checks and balances, not a dictator, so it’s disgusting comments like that, including the ever-popular Hitler comparisons, that is the root of so much division. Still it continues, with violent anti-Democracy protests, abuse and the media in full tantrum mode. Keep it going, that only validates Trump’s victory further.

Clinton’s best moment came in her concession speech, where she asked people to accept Donald Trump as “our president” and keep an open mind. That was the second moment on this long election day and night (now after 3am in Australia!) a tear formed in my eye. I’ve always liked her and felt sorry for her. I know she’d have been tearing apart within. For the life of me I’ll never understand why she never handed over the email server to the FBI right from the start. Get the issue closed. Surely any potential secrets risked being exposed then rather than the issue dog her entire campaign. She really should have been president. In 2008, not 2016. That was her year. Unfortunately she was accosted by a celebrity candidate then too. That celebrity, Barack Obama, would have been better suited to 2016.

Newsweek prematurely declaring Hillary Clinton as Madam President

Newsweek prematurely declaring Hillary Clinton as Madam President

I love democracy. I love the United States. Americans were also asked to decide many initiatives down ballot. California had 17 at state level. Individual districts added more of their own. Yet here in pathetic Australia arguing over gay marriage plebiscite, just put it on the damn ballot at election time. Marijuana is the most common issue in recent times, with another 3 states legalising it for recreational use, a fourth still too close to call, and four legalising it for medical use. That’s now 29 that allow medical use and 8 (and Washington DC) allowing recreational use. Arizona rejected its measure for recreational use. California and Oklahoma kept their death penalty, while Nebraska restored theirs. Several states increased the minimum wage. Washington rejected a carbon tax – which would have been the first such tax in the USA. It would have start at $25 per ton and risen to $100 over 40 years. Colorado rejected universal government run healthcare! It shows you the resistance to such a scheme that Australians and Europeans have lived with for years. Americans are so skeptical of big government intrusion into their private lives, it’s that simple. Personally, it’s a wonderful trait. In California, there was also stiff resistance to the measure to force porn actors to wear condoms. It flopped.

Other than his politically incorrect and anti-establishment agenda, the wisest move from Trump was his stance on the Supreme Court and offering his probable nominations of justices should he be president. Christian America was very afraid of the court going left, and they rallied for Trump by over 80%. This was despite his flaws of multiple marriages and unsavoury antics like the Access Hollywood lewd tapes. As a group more under attack these days than forgotten, Christians, both Evangelical and Catholic, saw him as someone that would protect their traditions and specifically their right to religious expression. It helped the Republicans retain both houses of congress – the first time since 1928 they’ll hold all three levels of government. Specifically important was the senate, which was most at risk at being lost, and which confirms Supreme Court justices. President Obama said if Trump won it would be “a personal insult, an insult to my legacy”. Well, here we are. With 34 of 50 state governorships and a majority of state legislatures also in Republican hands, the Obama legacy is in tatters and orange is the new black. Welcome to Trumpmerica.

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2 Comments
  1. anon permalink

    “In all probability, Trump’s recalcitrance and disobedience only made him more likeable.” While Clinton was busy bullying Americans, Trump was there bullying the elite (and the media) on behalf of Americans.

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