It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.
No, everyone from pollsters to pundits to the markets anticipated a historic Hillary Clinton win in the presidential race. But, by around 9 p.m. Tuesday night, it became apparent it wasn’t meant to be.
Florida — Trump. Ohio — Trump. North Carolina — Trump.
Within a few hours, it became clear Donald Trump would pull off the biggest upset in American electoral history by defeating Clinton, the former Secretary of State, to become the next President of the United States.
This outcome sent shock waves throughout the country and the world. After all, just one month ago, many Republicans were calling for Trump to drop out amid the Access Hollywood tape controversy. It was the latest episode in a campaign filled with perceived gaffes and character flaws coming to the fore. Once again, the country was disgusted by his comments and Republicans were worried about Trump dragging down the ticket.
But today, Trump is the president-elect, and the Republicans will have complete control of government come January.
Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015. In the process, he called Mexicans rapists. It was considered a major gaffe and he was treated as a joke by the political establishment and the media.
But millions in white working class communities around the country were not laughing. Impacted by decades of deindustrialization and stagnation, these people were tired of politics as usual. They were tired of Washington elites making promises to end up not delivering at the end of the day.
Despite a low unemployment rate, many in these hollowed out parts of the country felt as if their best days were not ahead of them.
These were folks who believed undocumented immigrants were coming to take their jobs while globalization sent them overseas. Trump’s bluntness was passed off as genuine as he told these folks, “I’m going to bring your jobs back.”
Feeling neglected by both political parties, these people flocked to Trump’s candidacy in numbers even the Clinton campaign could not have anticipated. They were starving for something new and Trump gave them that message.
Indeed, Trump tweeted Tuesday “the forgotten man and woman will never be forgotten again.”
While Trump focused on a populist change theme, the Clinton campaign zeroed in on his temperament and fitness for office. They tried to disqualify him by using his often bizarre behavior and his comments about groups such as women, Muslims, Mexicans and others against him.
“He’s not just unprepared — he’s temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility,” Clinton said in June.
Indeed, exit polls found that only 35 percent believed Trump had the temperament to be president. By contrast, 55 percent thought Clinton had the right temperament. Only 38 percent thought Trump was qualified for the office, whereas 52 percent believed Clinton was qualified.
After months of nonstop media coverage of both candidates, the American people knew these candidates well. They knew Donald Trump. They knew his flaws. They knew his tendency to play fast and loose with the facts. They knew his style did not necessarily equate to “presidential behavior.”
The problem for Clinton was enough voters just didn’t care. They voted for him anyways.
“Donald Trump violated every rule of good sense and civility that I’ve seen,” said political science professor Richard Farkas. “And it was maddening to the core to hear him say that everybody in Washington is a thief, all the taxes you send to us are wasted, everybody lies (except him, of course), people in public service, like his opponent, are a failure, every foreign policy effort we’ve made is a disaster — it isn’t, and then to have him say of course that he’s the only one who can fix our problems.”
But that’s exactly the message many bought into. Clinton could not escape who she was. Yes, she would have been a historic glass-ceiling breaker as the first female president, but she also represented the establishment. After 40 years in public service, how could she not?
This was a change election and Clinton was an establishment candidate essentially running for an incumbent president’s third term. She, many would argue, was the wrong candidate at the wrong time given the mood of the country.
But with that said, it must be acknowledged that Clinton won the popular vote. When the final tally is certified, she will not only have a larger margin of popular vote victory than electoral college loser President Al Gore in 2000, but winners John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960 and 1968, respectively.
“We need to replace the political machinery,” Farkas said. ”This is the second time (in 16 years) that the largest number of people who voted for a candidate didn’t elect a president. The Electoral College doesn’t make sense.”
Farkas, a professor who studies governments of post-communist countries, said half-jokingly that when people in other countries ask him to explain the quirks of the American political system, he “doesn’t have a clue” how.
But, as many have said since last Tuesday, this is the system we currently have. And under that system, Clinton did not get votes in the places she needed. Trump managed to steal wins in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. It’s been several decades since these states had voted Republican.
Clinton and the Democrats arguably lost touch with those white working class voters in the industrial Midwest that once made up a key piece of their coalition. A consequence of the party becoming more liberal and cosmopolitan is that many in middle America feel there is no place for them in the party anymore. Trump filled that void as he likes to say, “big league.” As a party that likes to tout itself as ‘the party of working people’, this is something the Democrats will have to figure out as they reel from this loss.
Plus, there is a point to be made about turnout. The “Obama coalition” of young people, women and minorities did not turnout in the numbers Clinton and Democrats needed. She underperformed Obama among almost every demographic. If she met Obama’s margins, she’d probably be president-elect today.
As Clinton said in her concession speech, the country “is more deeply divided than we thought.” Increasingly, it has become clear that there are two different Americas. Perhaps the media, political establishment and other so-called “elites” would not have been as surprised if they had just taken a minute to listen to folks in middle America.
So while the Democrats can take consolation knowing they won more votes than the other side, they will have to figure out how to make everyone welcome in their big tent. It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way, but now that it has, it’s fairly clear that whether it’s perception or reality, no group — from African Americans to working-class whites — should be made to feel as if they’re “forgotten.”