Before the Dust Settles: Takeways From the Election

Why you should care

Because the campaign is full of teachable moments. 

The dust is finally settling — or maybe the haze is clearing. Concession speeches have been made, cabinet appointments are in progress. Absent another act of God (more on that in a moment), Donald J. Trump will soon occupy the Oval Office. While it’s impossible to predict exactly what a man like Trump will do next, it is finally possible to draw a few conclusions about his unlikely rise to power. Here are mine:

For the Rest of Our Lives

Let’s go right to it: As I wrote several weeks ago, Hillary Rodham Clinton was on her way to a significant electoral as well as popular vote win, perhaps the first double-digit win since 1984. Only an act of God could derail her. And, indeed, a deus ex machina of sorts did happen: Call it an act of Comey. The embattled FBI chief seemed to swoop in from nowhere, bringing with him memories and tales of the sordid Anthony Weiner.

For the rest of our lives, we will be reminded that an act of God is not some impossible hypothetical; it’s an ever present possibility and must be planned for when the stakes are high. In other words, it ain’t over until it’s over. Not for the Cubs, not for the Cavaliers and not for the president-elect.

My Biggest Surprise

I remain curious as to why Clinton conceded so quickly. It’s not just that, when is all said and done, she could win the popular vote by more than 2 million — a far wider margin than Gore over Bush or JFK over Nixon. It’s also that the difference between being president and not being president resided in fewer than 110,000 votes — out of 120 million. That’s less than one-tenth of 1 percent. Just 12,000 more votes in Michigan, 27,000 more in Wisconsin and about 65,000 in Pennsylvania, and Clinton would have won the presidency. Given the number of voting irregularities and mere computer mistakes we have seen over the years, I am stunned that a seasoned veteran “gave up” so easily.

Surely, it’s more complicated than we can know. But if he were in Clinton’s shoes, I doubt that the president-elect would have agreed to anything else on the morning after other than a proper and thorough recount in those close states.

The Secret Ingredient

When the history books are written, they will correctly credit Trump’s appeal to bigotry and economic frustration and, for some, hope, for his electoral college win. Historians will cite his status as a successful businessman, his stance on immigration and sheer hate of the Clintons for his winning of 60 million votes.

But one aspect of Trump’s appeal has not been given due credit: his celebrity. I believe that perhaps as many as a quarter of the people who voted for Trump (especially men) did so because he was famous, and deep down inside, many of us like to support celebrities. I saw the same phenomenon a dozen years ago when Arnold Schwarzenegger came from nowhere to win the California governorship. Many Californians found themselves voting for a Republican — for the first and only time, never before and never since. They were enthralled and swayed and delighted to vote for an action hero.

Milquetoast

I respect Secretary Clinton and believe that, as she says, were it not for Comey, she’d have won. Still? She ran a bland, milquetoast campaign — more akin to those of Al Gore, John Kerry and Mitt Romney than those of Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama 2008. There were no fresh, easy-to-articulate policy ideas that everyone knew she would deliver, no sense of cool, no sense of movement or transformation. There was only plodding, centrist nothingness. Again, absent Comey, it would have been enough for a handy electoral victory as well as a popular one.

Data Mysteries

The two most interesting pieces of data in the exit polls: 53 percent of white women voted for Trump — and against the first major party female nominee. Explain it away, if you like. But something profound is in that statistic. OZY is going to dig in.

The other arresting figure is that nearly 30 percent of Latinos voted for Trump. And that was after not just Trump’s bigoted comments — calling Mexicans “rapists” and arguing that a Mexican-American judge would apply the law improperly — but also an enormous and sustained effort by Spanish-language television and radio stations to get Latino voters out. This has got to be explored. It is too important to skip.

Talk to the Hand

It is interesting to hear observers call on President-elect Trump to do this or do that. Why would he start listening to these outsiders now, after he won defying not just expected opponents, but most of his own party? I think it is foolhardy to expect that the new president is going to do anything other than what he wants. Being “Trump” worked for him on the highest level, and when every expert and heavyweight, from Nate Silver and Paul Ryan on down, warned that it would not. Having achieved the nation’s highest office, Trump is likely to expect that doing what he wants will continue to get him what he wants.

What does the celebrity factor portend for future elections, and for America’s democracy? Did Hillary Clinton have any clear policy positions? Why did so many Latinos vote for Trump? Email me your thoughts at carlos.watson@ozymandias.com and stay tuned for my piece tomorrow on what is to come.

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OZY2016

The route to the White House: news, stories and analysis from on and off the presidential campaign trail.