The polls were wrong. Donald Trump won the election without ever holding a lead in the national polls. He also won in particular states in which he never held a lead. Every statistical model based on polling deemed Hillary Clinton the overwhelming favorite. Even Nate Silver, who was criticized in the days leading up to the election for being comparatively pessimistic, thought Clinton had a greater than 70 percent chance of winning.
The reason that analysts and pundits were so optimistic about Clinton’s chances is that she held narrow leads in several crucial states, giving her multiple paths to victory. It seemed reasonable to assume that even if some of the state polls were wrong and she lost a few of those contests, they couldn’t all be wrong. The problem is that none of these polls were truly independent — if the polls in, say, Pennsylvania overestimated Clinton’s chance, then polls in states with similar demographics were also likely to overestimate her chances. The only quantitative analyst who got the presidential election right was radio host Bill Mitchell, whose memes-and-feelings model had Trump with a 100 percent chance of winning. I look forward to his new data-journalism start-up.
This is the legacy of the first black person to be elected president: to hand over the office to a man who asked to see his birth certificate. Obama already had a mixed legacy, as is the case with almost all politicians: successes leavened with failures, decisions that covered the entire gradient between compromise and betrayal. But this is the crudely hewn capstone to his legacy.
Hillary Clinton and Her Democratic Party
I don’t want to hear about third-party voters. Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party faced off against a celebrity businessman who had never run for office, much less won an election. His campaign was a slow-motion car crash steered by castoffs and incompetents. The national Republican Party was a shambling mess that couldn’t decide whether they wanted to be publicly associated with their presidential candidate. Democrats were running to succeed a reasonably popular incumbent in a decent economy. The deck was stacked in the Democratic Party’s favor. And they lost, convincingly. They didn’t just lose in swing states, either; they lost in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, states that Republicans haven’t won since the 1980s. Third-party voters are a comfortable scapegoat, but we need to stop pretending they were the deciding factor here. The problem is much deeper.
The simple fact is that the Democratic Party and Clinton completely misread this election year, as did most of us watching. The Democratic establishment cleared the decks for Clinton, and the only real opposition was an old white socialist from Vermont who was only nominally attached to the party. Sanders’s surprisingly strong challenge was a warning sign. If Clinton’s message wasn’t even resonating with a base that had been preparing for her nomination for almost a decade, how could she expect to win a general election? Clinton and the Democratic Party never found a way to sum up what her campaign was supposed to be about in a way that appealed to the voters they needed. (“Trump is bad and we’re not Trump!!” was not a winner.)
But now this election is over, and the party needs to figure out how to stop losing. They’re also going to have to try something beyond “Make the Democratic Party Great Again” — Obama voters showed this year that they’ll need convincing to stay with an Obama-less party. The Democrats also have to reckon with the fact that the party has been shedding seats for six years. Now the Democrats have no power in any branch of government, as the Republican Party will soon add the presidency to their control of the House and the Senate. And, reminder, they dominate state and local politics already. Complaining about the Green Party isn’t going to win 2018 when Democrats are defending 25 Senate seats and the GOP only eight. It’s not going to win 2020.
Especially if geographic sorting means that Democrats keep winning the popular vote and losing swing states.
First there were the secret Trump voters, the white Obama voters who turned to Trump, the white women who weren’t bothered by his treatment of other women, the voters who weren’t picked up by the polls. They aren’t hidden anymore, and never really were, despite the shock of Tuesday’s results — Trump voters have been telling reporters what they want and why they want it for months, but no one believed that the world of Trump rallies existed outside the politically incorrect theme parks he built in airplane hangars across America.
Plenty of other mysteries have yet to be solved. Where are president-elect Trump’s tax returns? When will he reveal his extra-special plan for defeating ISIS? When will he fill in any details about any parts of his platform? How will he treat the other countries he’s been denigrating for more than a year? How will he treat the people in the U.S. he’s been denigrating for more than a year? What does it mean that the U.S. has now joined Europe in voting for ethnic nationalism? At least one part of Trump’s presidency has already been filled in: He — along with the party that supported him — is eager to dismantle Obama’s presidency by getting rid of Obamacare, the Iran Deal, limits on carbon emissions, and any of the executive orders Obama may have signed to bypass an intransigent Congress.
What will replace these policies afterward, however, is still a blank. Maybe possible Secretary of State Newt Gingrich and Attorney General Rudy Giuliani will let us know later. Anyway, it’s probably a good time to read this story about Trump’s no-longer-hypothetical upcoming 100 days. Whatever happens, he has a lot of executive wiggle room. The presidency’s been getting bigger, and there’s no sign that’s about to change now.
Oh, and another mystery — we don’t know how the Trump University trial later this month will pan out.
“Trump That Bitch”
The “lock her up” chants started last summer and became ubiquitous after the Republican convention. A week after that, Trump, who once said of women, “you have to treat them like shit,” told his supporters, “I’m starting to agree with you.” Then came the “Hillary for Prison” t-shirts and the “Trump That Bitch” buttons. Then several women accused Trump of sexual harassment — “He was like an octopus. His hands were everywhere,” one said — and the now-president-elect called them unattractive liars. And after all of that, Clinton lost. And a majority of white women sided with Trump.
In 1995, Wal-Mart Stores stopped selling a t-shirt that said, “Someday a woman will be president” because “it was determined the t-shirt was offensive to some people.” More than 20 years later, the crowd at Trump’s victory party cheered “Lock her up!” throughout the night. As Barbara Kingsolver wrote earlier this week, “If anyone still doubts that the inexperienced man gets promoted ahead of the qualified woman, you can wake up now.”
Before election night, the New York Times spoke to teen girls who had been watching Trump’s campaign, many of whom were dismayed. “Especially for girls in high school,” one 14-year-old said, “rating girls on a scale of 1 to 10 does not help because it really does get into your head that they think I’m ugly or I don’t look good.” Clinton ended her concession speech on Wednesday by reaching out to those women. “And to all of the little girls who are watching this,” she said, “never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”
The Voting Rights Act, and Future Supreme Court Decisions
The 2016 election was the first held since 1968 without the full force of the Voting Rights Act, after Section 4 was erased by the Supreme Court in 2013. This law has protected the vote for people of color — the ones Trump asked, “What do you have to lose?” — and immigrants who became citizens so they could take part in this great democratic experiment. This year, these voters saw that the lines in their precincts were especially long — and that the early-voting places weren’t always close by.
On the Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia’s seat remains empty. Several other justices are in their seventies or eighties. The court, suspended in the balance for the past few months, could be shoved firmly to the right. What will happen with abortion, LGBTQ rights, voting rights, stop-and-frisk, privacy, affirmative action, or any other controversial issues in the upcoming decades? Ask this list of Ted Cruz–approved possible justices who might get the chance to debate them.
“It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS ... I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going. Donald’s place in this election is a good thing.” —CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, February 29, 2016
Twenty-one states don’t have a single reporter covering politics in D.C. About 44 percent of Americans get their news from Facebook. Most reporters got everything in this election wrong, but were voters even paying attention? How are you supposed to change anyone’s opinion — convincing them that Trump is a bad candidate, or, inversely, that he definitely should be taken seriously — when people can exist in worlds where the only information they see confirms what they already believe? Or that the conflicting information doesn’t matter anyway?
Baby Steps Forward
California just elected Kamala Harris to the Senate. Harris is the first black woman to win a Senate seat in two decades, and the first Indian-American woman to ever serve in the Senate. Catherine Cortez Masto won in Nevada, becoming the first Latina woman in the Senate. Tammy Duckworth, a veteran who lost both of her legs after her helicopter was hit in Iraq, will be sworn in as a senator in Illinois next year. Ilhan Omar in Minneapolis just became the first Somali-American ever elected to Congress. Lisa Blunt Rochester became the first woman of color and the first woman to ever get elected to Congress in Delaware. Oregon Governor Kate Brown became the first openly LGBTQ person to win a gubernatorial race. When you look at all those firsts, it can be disheartening once you realize how slow progress comes. In a year like this one, however, it’s worth remembering that it still exists.
Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff who raided workplaces and discriminated against residents while searching for undocumented immigrants, lost reelection. Recreational pot is legal in at least three more states, and several more states approved medical marijuana. Four states increased the minimum wage. South Dakota rejected a measure that would have lowered the minimum wage for teenagers.
We also had an election that ended with a promise to peacefully transfer power, and not wait and see what happens. Cheering that this happened may seem like scraping the bottom of the barrel, but there’s 2016 for you. “Sometimes you lose an argument, sometimes you lose an election,” Obama said Wednesday morning. “But the path this country has taken has never been a straight line. We zig and zag.”
Trump won the presidency by running a campaign rooted in white resentment and grievance. White supremacists rightly view his victory as a demonstration of the broad appeal of their cause — not just in their traditional strongholds in the South, but in the Midwest and Northeast as well. Trump won in those places by running up the score among working-class white voters. It was a racially polarized election, and white America got what they wanted.
The death penalty was on the ballot in three states, and in each state, voters chose to embrace and reinforce it. California rejected a proposition to eliminate the death penalty, instead passing a proposition to decrease the time between convictions and executions. Oklahoma voted to put the death penalty in the state constitution, preventing judges from ruling it a cruel and unusual punishment. Nebraska voted to reinstate the death penalty, one year after their state legislature voted to abolish it.
You survived the carnival of novelty horrors that is the presidential election, in which every day brought fresh new reasons to live in fear. You did not succumb to terror. You were not swallowed whole by the gibbering madness. You survived. You endured. You’re still here. And so, tonight, you won. Give yourself a pat on the back. And then strap up. There’s work to do.