By Matthew Pertz, Opinion Editor
What many pundits described as impossible or unthinkable mere weeks ago has happened: Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. After Tuesday, both the executive and legislative branches of the government will be controlled by Republicans as they also retook the Senate and held the House of Representatives.
Most poll aggregators failed to predict this outcome. Some, like the Huffington Post, still had Clinton’s chances of winning upwards of 99% on Election Day, while even those skewed towards Trump, like FiveThirtyEight, gave Clinton two-to-one odds.
Political narratives shifted dramatically over the course of the night. In the months leading into November 8th, news outlets hammered a stake into the division of the Republican Party. A party running 17 presidential candidates led by a reality television star who brags about sexually assaulting women and the size of his hands falls short of Lincoln’s ideal unity. But the storyline magically transformed after Trump began picking up electoral votes. Suddenly, the Democrats are fractured without a leader, and without Clinton, Obama, Biden and Bernie the party seems to lack a realistic challenger for President Trump’s reelection bid in 2020.
It’s worth noting that both of those plots would still remain true had Clinton eked out a win. The Democratic Party has lost races at an indefatigable rate since Obama’s election in 2008. Though they are at their highest, the President’s approval ratings seem to be inflated due to the record unfavorable ratings of the two candidates vying to become his successor. The blue party’s bleeding isn’t a turnout issue but instead America’s referendum on the Barack Obama years.
A party running 17 presidential candidates led by a reality television star who brags about sexually assaulting women and the size of his hands falls short of Lincoln’s ideal unity.
Political science professors are rewriting their textbooks as we speak. The Trump campaign flipped the traditional route to the White House and seemingly reversed the bases of both major parties. Fifty years ago, Democrats stood for the working man; coal miners and factory workers across the nation typically voted blue because of the party’s strong relationship with labor unions, while Republicans represented the rich upper rungs of our economic ladder. Over the past five cycles those roles have been slowly shifting, until Trump slammed the process into fifth gear. He abandoned the wealthy Republican donors that shaped Republican presidencies for generations, instead claiming he was self-funding so he could earn the trust of the working class and casting Clinton as the friend of Wall Street billionaires who wrecked the economy eight years ago.
Only wholehearted Trump supporters realistically believed in this outcome; Clinton led in every traditional election metric. She led in all swing state polls before FBI Director James Comey’s surprise letter, and even in the flash polls following his decision she still held a projected 20-vote margin in the Electoral College. She won all valid post-debate polls by wide margins. She deployed dozens of well-regarded surrogates, like both the President and First Lady, her former rival Bernie Sanders, the bombastic Sen. Elizabeth Warren and even superstar athletes like NBA champion LeBron James.
Somehow, all of those couldn’t place a second Clinton in the Oval Office. Several theories attempt to explain how Trump overcame the odds. Some believe he simply connected with midwestern voters better than Clinton (Trump won Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, all once considered locks for Clinton). Some say polls couldn’t factor the “shy” Trump vote: a demographic either too afraid or too apathetic to admit supporting him in polls but still choosing to vote for him. Some even blame the weather; it rained in Michigan and Ohio, possibly discouraging casual Clinton voters since they already held a lead and voting wasn’t necessary. Regardless of what subplot caused Tuesday’s surprise, America must now prepare for the next surprise Trump’s presidency might entail.