NEW YORK ― Looking back, it’s clear exactly where and how Donald Trump’s winning campaign began.
It was in Washington in 2011. At a gathering of conservatives that serves as a showcase for right-wing leaders, Trump alleged ― without evidence, but with a barely concealed race-based sneer ― that Barack Obama was not an American citizen and should not be president.
From that one cynical kernel of fear and resentment, Trump built a massive “movement” of culturally traditional voters, most of them white. And on Election Day, they shouted “no!” to an increasingly multicultural, multi-ethnic and international America.
A new America will continue to develop; demographics and technology make it inevitable. In the meantime, Trump won by promising his supporters he would stop change in its tracks ― and reverse it.
Trump ran and won as a change agent who promised to restore the past. He won by being a radical reactionary populist: a known type in America, but a type that has never before claimed the presidency.
That was the broad message and motivation for his victory. But there were many others within it and around it. They include:
Hillary Clinton’s Weakness
She had been in power and prominence so long, and, as everyone knew, she was the very embodiment of a political establishment that most voters — and not just Trump supporters — have come to despise in recent years.
Third Terms Are Hard To Get
American University political scientist Alan Lichtman called this, using his historical analysis of elections. One of his 13 keys to the presidency factors in whether the candidate is running to fill a third term for the party in power in the White House. Only twice in American history has such a candidate managed to win. Clinton couldn’t overcome it.
Trump’s Transgressive Campaign
With a salesman’s cunning, and an utter lack of scruples, Trump touched and inflamed every hot-button prejudice in America and the world: race, ethnicity, religion, the sanctity of NATO, an informal alliance with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The stunning prejudiced comments not only reached his base substantively; their very outrageousness ― so defiantly “not politically correct” ― convinced his voters that he was serious. Now we will see how serious he really is.
Fear In The Land Of The White Flyover People
America is increasingly two countries, separated not just by culture and politics, but by region. The coasts, which benefit most directly from global trade and ideas, and which are home to most of the nation’s leading universities, are moving in the direction of Democrats for the most part. The rest of the country, the interior for the most part, is moving in the Republican direction.
Legitimate Questions About America’s World Role
Trade deals have not been an unalloyed blessing; immigration to the U.S. is at the highest level in a century, straining the capacity of American culture and government to work properly. Trump ran as a candidate opposed to “stupid wars,” and they have indeed been stupid.
Putin The Troll
American authorities are confident that allies of the Russian leader hacked into the Clinton campaign. The stream of emails in recent weeks about the inner workings of Clinton World were devastating, and an unprecedented invasion of sovereignty.
The FBI director’s decision to announce that he was looking at Huma Abedin’s personal laptop not only brought her to center stage, but also her estranged husband, the unsavory sex addict Anthony Weiner. He became a last-minute symbol of Clinton World.
By treating Trump as a raffish ratings machine early on, the corporate media gave him hundreds of millions of dollars in free air time and legitimized him. Then, most of the media turned on him ― which then allowed him to run against the “elitist” power of the very news organizations that had built him up.
Insular World Of ‘Big Data’
Democrats kept consoling themselves with a closed loop of data and research. What the young hotshots at Clinton campaign headquarters didn’t know was the country.
Conservatives and Trump supporters cared more about this issue than Democrats did ― and they are paying for it. GOP-Trump voters want to reverse the court’s 1973 decision to legalize abortion. And they turned out in huge numbers.
Trump’s habit of lying and exaggeration is clear and beyond dispute. Yet his very recklessness made him appear to be the more “genuine” candidate. Perhaps this could only have been true with Clinton as his opponent. The Clinton campaign’s leaked emails showed her to be almost insanely programmed as a candidate.
Clinton’s Focus On Trump, Not Policy
As a general matter, the risk-averse Clinton campaign decided to focus more on tearing down Trump personally than on proposing sweeping new economic or other policy ideas. The idea was to make Trump totally unacceptable ― illegitimate ― as a possible president. But you can’t tell the American people that they can’t even consider voting for someone. If Americans see a sign that cautions “WET PAINT,” they are that much more likely to touch it.