Donald Trump’s Win

A man making a flag, Bain collection (Courtesy Library of Congress)

Donald Trump’s win was largely strategic.  He understood what states and voters he needed for a victory and he found them.  The mainstream media (which now has an acronym, MSM), though devoting an inordinate amount of air-time and column-inches to Trump’s campaign, seldom looked beyond its trashy surface to report on its nuts and bolts.  As a result, the public was largely unprepared when Trump pulled off a solid victory, securing well over the 270 electoral votes needed to become the next president of the United States.

An exceptional report that Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg prepared for Bloomberg Businessweek, however, documented the approach the Trump campaign employed.  Trump spent little on political ads and claimed not to believe in polling.  Instead he poured money ($100,000 a week) into private surveys and used the data to run election simulations.  In mid-October, though running badly behind, Trump’s team was focused on “13.5 million voters in 16 battleground states whom it consider[ed] persuadable.”  The campaign had prioritized the states—Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia—that were essential to Trump’s winning.  In addition, the campaign orchestrated its messaging to demoralize three key groups of likely Clinton voters—idealistic young people, African-Americans, and women—in hopes that they would not vote at all.

In the weeks before the election, the electoral map at Real Clear Politics showed a tightening race, with more and more states in the toss-up column.  On the eve of the election, Secretary Clinton’s lead consisted of just over 200 electoral votes that were considered certain; 170 electoral votes were in the toss-up column.  In the campaign’s final days, Trump visited New Hampshire, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nevada, realizing that wins in these states could compensate for losses in others.

On Election Night, the vote came in along the lines that the Trump campaign envisioned.  He secured victories in all the swing states he had prioritized, also winning in Michigan and Wisconsin, which Democrats had carried in every presidential election since 1992.  The final vote counts are still being arrived at, but recent reports state that Trump’s edge over Clinton in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin totaled just 112,000, a tiny number in an election in which an estimated 132 million votes were cast.

Secretary Clinton won the popular vote, but her support was not widely enough distributed.  While her campaign was wildly successful in some populous states, notably California (where millions more votes have yet to be counted), her support was soft throughout most of the country.  The strength of Clinton’s campaign was symbolic messaging: its tone was confident, inclusive, and comforting.  Yet the very constituencies her campaign was designed to appeal to didn’t turn out for her in sufficient numbers.  The Democratic vote in many urban areas declined, and African-Americans who turned out for Obama didn’t turn out for Clinton.  CNN has concluded that “While she won the key demographic groups her campaign targeted, she underperformed President Obama across the board, even among women, according to exit poll data.”

One wonders what the energetic crowds who are protesting the outcome of the election were doing during the seemingly interminable campaign: did they vote and campaign for Clinton?  What it will take for the Democratic establishment to shake off its complacency and recognize that, aside from President Obama’s star power, its operations have not been working so well?  After an election in which Donald Trump won 37 percent of the Latino vote, will Democrats come to grips with the fact that banking on identity politics is unwise?  Since the year 2000, the Democrats have suffered defeat in three presidential elections (Gore, Kerry, and now Clinton), while the GOP, though perennially wracked by internal divisions, has gradually increased its hold on state and federal power.

Image: “Flag making—man cutting out stars with machine”
from this source

9 responses

  1. Susan,
    Please do not underestimate the collusion of Putin and Julian Assange as well as renegade elements of the FBI. Scary stuff. Also, the voter ID law in Wisconsin was designed to disenfranchise democratic voters and it has been successful.

    • Hello, Margie–
      I agree with the friend who wrote me that Trump’s election will be “a stress test for the Constitution and all our institutions.” The forces that combined to produce the outcome of this election are complex, and a big part of the story is at the state level–a story I couldn’t begin to tell. I know I would find it difficult to live in Wisconsin, which has a different brand of Republicanism than one tends to find in Illinois. What concerns me most is the Democrats’ gradual but very palpable loss of influence and effectiveness in many areas where the party used to be strong. Given that Clinton lost WI to Sanders in the Democratic primary (and MI too), these are places where one might have expected her to have real difficulty connecting with voters, as she apparently did.

      Do you think that the Wikileaks disclosures had a major influence on voters’ decisions? I know of only one person who mentioned it in connection with deciding whom to support, and it was someone unlikely to have voted for Clinton anyway. I think Clinton would have won had she had a simpler message that promised a short list of economic benefits to Americans. This is what had made Sanders so popular.


  2. I think it contributed to Clinton fatigue globally. Bernie Sanders also did great harm. He message was simple, but also nonsense. I find him particularly loathsome. A progressive message like that will not prevail in Wisconsin in my opinion.

    • Democrats in WI have their work cut out for them–the GOP is outmaneuvering them and the ideas that establishment Democrats are organized around are meeting with too little enthusiasm. Sanders’ brand of politics would result in a bloated state yet his ability to stir voters evinced something missing from Clinton’s campaign. Your comments bring to mind this piece by Peggy Noonan.

      BTW, have you been following Zephyr Teachout’s campaign in NY? She lost but she approximates a mix of ideas that I imagine would be popular in WI. Curious what you think.

      Thank you, Margie.

  3. Susan,
    Thank you for your analysis of this surprising upset by Donald Trump. You know I have been waiting for what you have to say. I feel so much more emotional about this! Yes, voter apathy by the democrats was certainly to blame. Hillary Clinton does not “inspire” us to climb mountains or swim oceans. She is an experienced statesman, a steady hand for the world and a thoughtful program developer.
    What my biggest realization is from this election, is that the majority of people in the United States are still bigoted, small-minded, self-serving, “church-only” Christians who do not have anything larger than a view of their backyard for their world. These people voted for someone who said that his vision matched their vision and they could not see past the brim of his “Make American Great Again” red cap to truly understand that what he was promising was not going to happen. DT has already “re-thought” some of his statements about ACA, the special prosecutor, immigration and I’m sure others. While I want to breathe a sign of relief, I also want to shout to the people who voted for him “Look what’s happening now…”
    For the first time ever, I have begun to think about the world that my young adult children are coming into and the type of government, politicians, and campaigns they are experiencing. Thankfully my daughter is over 21, but would you consider Melania Trump a good role model for your teenage daughter?
    So for me, it is not the strategy – which was excellent. No Susan, for me, it is the face of the “real America” that I’m now looking at and that is the saddest result of this election.

    • Dear Michele,
      I know that what I wrote about the strategy of the election is dissatisfying, given all the emotion that readers are feeling, and given the election’s high stakes, some of which are material and some moral, and some that ‘only’ have to do with power.

      I agree with you, if I understand you correctly, that the nation’s biggest divide is deeper than politics–that it has to do with the underlying culture and morality of the American people. For the segment that is Christian, there is a major divide between those who use their Christianity to judge others and to work establish certain ‘Christian’ stands in politics, and those who understand Christianity as a more unbounded creed of acceptance, tolerance, and generosity.

      I think it’s tragic that someone as coarse and mean as Trump has secured the assent of Americans and become our leader. The reasons that it has happened are complex–some Americans are narrow-minded and bitter; others who voted for Trump are probably good but desperate people. Many of the areas where Trump won are places that I am very familiar with, since I have lived in IL, MI, and WI, and have many relatives in central Pennsylvania. Much of the population lives in small towns, where there aren’t even decent movie theaters and not very much in the way of opportunity or culture. The culture of such places isn’t particularly wholesome, in my opinion, and the tradition of social leadership–where wealthier and more well educated people lived side by side with everyone else and exercised some good influence–has pretty much vanished. Globalism and standardization have gutted these communities; there isn’t much to look forward to. Young people work at stores or restaurants–many don’t earn enough to support themselves, let alone raise a family.

      Trump is at home in this sort of culture–he is a creature of trash television which has also shaped the values of his audience. My friends don’t like to hear me say this, but why should we expect American popular culture–which is violent and loaded with dubious representations of women–to produce voters who will demand much more in the way of integrity from their political leaders? Unfortunately, the more sophisticated element of our society washed its hands of these benighted regions long, long ago.

      These voters were joined by millions of other traditional Republicans (many of whom are urbanites) who are not bigots but who voted Trump because they hate the Clintons or are believers in low taxes or small government.

      So I agree that we have a major problem, which I hope everyone who cares about our nation’s reputation and potential will dedicate themselves to redressing in their own way. I wish the election had had a better outcome–but I am hopeful for the future knowing that its shape can be positively influenced by people like you.

      Thank you so much for writing in Michele! Don’t give up hope.

  4. Bernie Sanders did well: he caught the attention of millions and millions of Dems. Hillary could never summon a similar electrifying energy–and so she lost. Wisconsin is a messed-up state politically; the voters are stupid, ill-informed, and easily fooled. Look at how that idiot Walker has managed to stay in power. Wisconsin is lost in its own north woods–good luck to it!

    • Well, I admired Sanders’s energy and his ability to stay on message. For what it’s worth I did believe he was sincere. But beyond that he was a poacher and a spoiler–he latched on to the Democratic party structure, sensing that he could take it over by appealing to a certain category of its members. But America as a whole is never going to go for a set of ideas that would result in massively higher levels of government spending and control. Americans want active government, but they want it to be smaller, more efficient, and less expensive. And they don’t want it to take over functions rooted in the private or non-profit sectors.

      So he wasn’t the answer, but he did illustrate how voters could be ‘woke.’ To me it was proof of the malleability of voters’ allegiances, which might be a cause for optimism given the unsatisfactory tone of politics now.

  5. A thoughtfully written post on how Trump won. Hillary neglected to campaign in Michigan and Wisconsin, a very poor decision. On election night, John King stated on CNN, “One should not neglect friends as Clinton has.” As he spoke, more and more votes for Trump were slowly being racked up in those two states. Plus, Hillary just barely carried Minnesota. . . . The rural vote in all states came out in droves–that was something most polls had not foreseen. Trump managed to flip six states that the Dems had carried since 2008: Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Those who voted for Hillary need to understand that 60 MILLION people voted for Trump, willing to look beyond his horrid coarseness to get SOME type of change and improve their lives.