Wow, Trump Did It!

The Briefing, Vol. IV, Issue 45-
  • Trump’s astounding, confounding triumph
  • Obama coalition collapses beneath Clinton
  • Republicans keep Congress

President 2016

Paul Ryan called Donald Trump’s victory one of the greatest political feats he had ever witnessed. It is one of the most amazing anyone currently alive has ever witnessed — perhaps even more shocking than the famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” moment of 1948.

Hillary Clinton’s victory party on Tuesday night went from joy to shock to horror as her bid for the presidency unexpectedly failed. The Left is having a hard time accepting the result, with protests breaking out to reject Donald Trump’s legitimacy.

But he won. Donald J. Trump is the president-elect because the voters of enough states with large enough populations chose him over his opponent, just as the Constitution prescribes.

The win also makes Trump the leader of the Republican Party. With Reince Priebus expected to become his chief of staff, he will choose its new chairman (or chairwoman, as Carly Fiorina‘s name has been bandied about) and become responsible for some large part of his agenda.

And they won’t call him “Mr. Trump,” anymore, as he famously prefers — they will call him “Mr. President.”

Few believed Trump could pull it off, or pull it off in the way he did. But it turns out that his stated goal from early on — to persuade working-class voters in the industrial Rust Belt states whom Romney could not win over — was exactly the right strategy for him. For all the sneering he got, he really did manage to put a lot of new states into play. He won Michigan and Pennsylvania, in addition to the must-win swing states of Florida and Ohio.

Civic virtue: Rioters in Portland seem to believe that they can make it go away (or something) by smashing up their city, as they were doing Thursday night. More peaceful protestors in other cities have embraced the idea that he is “not my president.” Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, might have been the worst of all: He seemed to encourage the questioning of Trump’s legitimacy with a not-very-gracious statement on Friday, calling Trump a “sexual predator” even as he discussed the possibility of national “healing.”

But Trump won, and he deserves every American’s best wishes and prayer that his presidency succeed in promoting the common good. That applies to those who like him and those who do not.

Not all Democrats were such sore losers as Reid. As Clinton said in her gracious concession speech on Wednesday, this is the time for Americans to approach the coming Trump administration with “an open mind.” If someone who has worked all her life for the presidency and must be hurting now can show that much respect for the burdens of the office that Trump is about to take, then surely anyone can.

Even President Obama, despite the pain he must feel at leaving his party in total disarray as he exits the White House, was similarly respectful toward Trump in his remarks and in the meeting between the two men.

One other remark by way of introduction: With his own conciliatory victory speech, and his behavior in the time since, Trump really does seem to be acting more presidential. The office of the presidency is a grave responsibility. He must now fill enormous shoes, and like any other man or woman who takes an office with such immense power, he will need the prayers of all Americans.

Shocking result: Having said all that, that doesn’t make Trump’s victory easy to understand. How was everyone so wrong? The pollsters were wrong, obviously. The journalists and coastal elites were wrong. The politicians were wrong. I was wrong. And so was everyone who underestimated the appeal of Trump’s message.

Even people supporting Trump, and many opposing him — not just liberals, but conservatives as well — were somewhat confounded by his victory. The fact is, nothing in the polls suggested it was coming — and that includes Trump’s own internal polls. But Trump’s team did see the race moving in their direction late.

CNN’s Phil Mattingly reported Wednesday that the RNC’s data operation believed Trump was far behind in early October. But the race moved in his direction late. This coincided with two key events: Trump’s decision to focus on Obamacare and keep up a more disciplined approach to campaigning, and the FBI’s announcement that it was investigating new Clinton emails found on the laptop of former Rep. Anthony Weiner. As we 

One other factor may have been the most important of all. First, Clinton missed early-vote targets in key states like Ohio and North Carolina. And then on election day, when the Trump campaign recognized that most swing states were at least within striking distance, Clinton failed to meet their turnout expectations for her. They carried states that they weren’t sure they could win.

The simplest way to illustrate her dramatic drop-off in turnout from the Obama era is to share this chart of the total national vote, courtesy of Brian Cates — although bear in mind, her totals (as well as his) will rise as California’s last votes are counted, but not by more than 2 million votes or so. Trump may ultimately meet or come close to Romney’s total, but Clinton will not come anywhere near to either of Obama’s totals.

screenshot-2016-11-10-at-12-18-58-amSo what happened? One, Trump managed to replace any bleeding in Republican support by bringing new voters into the fold. This was more true in some states than others, and we will discuss this in more detail next week.

Two, Clinton is not Barack Obama, and her party is not as strong as Obama has made it look for all this time. And this is critical to understanding Obama’s presidency and legacy.

Have a look at what we published in April 2015, two months before Donald Trump jumped into the 2016 race, on the Democrats’ future in the post-Obama era:

With Hillary Clinton’s candidacy now a reality, Obama now semi-officially moves into the shadows as his party’s former leader … Was he a long-term builder of his party? Or was he its momentary source of strength, without which it suddenly goes back to being the loser of the John Kerry/Michael Dukakis/Newt Gingrich era? This question will determine the course of the next 18 months — and probably the composition of the Supreme Court for the next 20 years.

Between this and Clinton’s personal weaknesses as a candidate, Trump could defeat her while posting vote totals comparable to the last two Republican candidates.

Bear in mind, this was the first presidential election since 2004 in which Democrats didn’t have Obama on the ballot. And we may have just seen a glimpse of the post-Obama future.

The Obama-era Democratic Party might just have been a relatively weak political party attached to a talented, all-star quality candidate who could not only persuade but also drive turnout like no one else can. This remains the best possible explanation for why Democrats won decisive victories when Obama was actually on the ballot (2008 and 2012), but always seemed to lose the midterms and off-year elections where he wasn’t on the ballot (2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, and now 2016).

Yes, we argued 17 months ago, the post-Obama era might usher in a permanent Democratic majority based on demographic change, as the Democratic triumphalists believed. But far more likely, Obama’s exit from politics will simply return the Democratic Party to where it was at the turn of the century.

The post-Clinton Democratic Party of 2000-2004 was one with more warring interests than appealing national candidates. When it wasn’t nominating low-quality presidential candidates like Al Gore or John Kerry, it was trying to string together congressional majorities by clinging desperately to seats they had no business holding in the first place. (Recall, for example, that they held all four Senate seats in the Dakotas and in much of the South as recently as 2004.)

It was then that Obama came onto the scene. In 2008, he helped his party build on its successes in the 2006 midterm in a very convincing win at the beginning of the financial crisis. In 2012, Obama won again — by less, but still decisively — by pulling together the same Democratic voter coalition that included historically high turnout by blacks, Hispanics, and younger voters.

Here’s the problem: Could anyone else bring out that coalition in the same large numbers that Obama did, and win their votes by the same large margins? The answer seems to be no, at least with respect to Hillary Clinton.

cib1601111-trump-house300Latino Voters: The expected surge in Hispanic votes — which in swing-state terms is really only relevant in Florida and Nevada — never materialized. In Florida, the differences were well within the exit polls’ margin of error.

In Nevada, Latino turnout was flat, and Trump did a lot better than Romney had, losing them by only 31 points instead of 47. Nationally, Trump’s margin with Hispanic voters was significantly better than Mitt Romney’s — which is to say, Clinton’s margin of victory was 8 points smaller than Obama’s.

Black Voters: The black vote is more reliably Democratic, and more important to Democratic hopes in more states.

And as much as black primary voters preferred Clinton, it stands to reason that she would not do as well with them as the first black president, either in terms of turnout or margin. Take North Carolina, for example. In 2012, Obama had narrowly lost the state with black turnout making up 23 percent of the electorate and voting 96 percent for Obama. This time, Black turnout was only 19 percent of the electorate and blacks went only 91 percent for Clinton. At the margins, such differences matter. In this case it meant Trump could cruise to a four-point win, instead of squeaking by as Romney had.

In Florida, black turnout was comparable to 2012, but Clinton won it by only a 76-point margin, not Obama’s 91-point margin. She lost the state by only 120,000 votes. Black Democratic margins and/or turnout were also smaller for Clinton than they had been for Obama in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The story of how Trump won Michigan can be illustrated simply by looking at Wayne County, home to Detroit, a heavily black city. Mitt Romney had lost Wayne by 382,000 votes. Trump lost it by only 289,000 votes, and won Michigan by about 12,000 votes out of more than 4.5 million cast.

Youth Vote: On the national level, the under-29 vote in 2016 looked a lot like that of 2012. Not so in Pennsylvania, where turnout in that age group shrank from 19 to 16 percent, and Donald Trump won 43 percent of it, compared to just 35 percent for Romney.

The story was similar in Wisconsin and Ohio. In Florida, Obama had won this age cohort by 34 points in 2012; Clinton won them by only 18 points. In Iowa, youth turnout was slightly up, but Trump actually managed to tie Clinton with young voters. Romney had lost them by 16 points.  

Again, these are small difference-makers, which when added with other similar effects translated to Clinton losing Obama’s edge.

Obama’s broad appeal: It’s also worth mentioning that Obama had appeal that went beyond just these groups. He won far better vote shares than Clinton among whiter and older and rural populations in states like Iowa and Wisconsin.

For a sense of this, look to the northern counties in Wisconsin. In several of them, Trump added votes over 2012, but Clinton’s vote totals in these rural areas plummeted by far more. Her lack of appeal compared to Obama was quite vast.

One further thought: Next week, once most of the results are finalized, we will take a closer look at specific results. But the question Democrats face already is whether they have a future after Obama. Who among them can hold a candle to Obama’s appeal?

With the Clinton dynasty now dead, and so many Democratic pols ousted or kept out of power in 2014, the Democrats’ bench continues to be very weak. This could well present a problem for them in 2020. Republicans, at least for now, have a much stronger stable of young candidates going forward, whether or not Trump seeks re-election in 2020.

Senate 2016

What was expected to be a scary night for Republicans ended up being a pretty good one. Trump did not hurt Republican incumbents, and he may have in fact helped them keep their Senate majority. Once Louisiana’s runoff is finished, they should have 52 seats, for a loss of only two.

The biggest surprise of the night — aside from Trump’s win — was Sen. Ron Johnson’s convincing upset in Wisconsin, a win of nearly 100,000 votes.

Pat Toomey CPAC
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., also won a second term, slightly outperforming Trump in percentage terms and nearly matching his vote total. Their paths to victory were very different, though — Trump had an easier time running up the score in rural counties, whereas Toomey managed to keep his race relatively close in Philadelphia’s suburban counties of Chester and Montgomery, where Trump was getting clobbered.

Rob Portman and Marco Rubio easily won second terms, and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. survived a scare to win a third term by 5 points.

The two GOP casualties of the night were Sens. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who was obliterated, and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who lost by just a hair.

Republicans’ victory in the Senate guarantees Trump the ability to replace Justice Antonin Scalia after he takes office. It will also leave open the reconciliation path for repealing Obamacare, and generally make it easier to move legislation.

Finally, another note, with a quick look ahead to 2018. Most presidents suffer defeats in Congress in their first midterm. That may well happen with Trump, but the 2018 Senate map is brutal for Democrats, who will have only one good-looking pickup opportunity (in Nevada) and will have to defend about 6 or 7 seats that are on shaky ground. So Republicans seem likely to keep the Senate until at least 2020.

House 2016

With four races still outstanding (including two Louisiana runoffs and the San Diego-area seat of Rep. Darrell Issa), Republicans appear on track for 241 seats — just six fewer than they had won in 2014.

This is also an astounding result, as greater losses seemed likely. But Democrats failed to convert in nearly all of the competitive races they need to win in order to retake the chamber.

Among the GOP casualties: Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., in northern New Jersey; the scandal-scarred Rep. Frank Guinta in New Hampshire; Rep. Bob Dold, R-Ill.; Rep. Cresent Hardy, R.

Democrats also gained one open seat (in Nevada) and picked up three other and lost one due to court-ordered redistricting in Virginia and Florida.

Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., was the only Democratic incumbent House member to lose his seat.