The billionaire capitalised on widespread disillusionment and the divide between whites and minorities, between the college educated and the working class, says James Oliphant
DONALD Trump was right. The others were wrong. The pundits who said the former reality TV star could not win the US presidency, the Republicans who shunned him, the business leaders who denounced him, and the Democrats who dismissed him failed to understand the depth of his support.
In a stunning victory over Democrat, Hillary Clinton, Trump stuck to a plan that worked to perfection in the Republican primary, a campaign built around his blunt-talking, celebrity persona, his command of social media, and his anti-establishment message of change.
“Ours was not a campaign, but an incredible and great movement,” Trump said in his victory speech.
It was a movement driven by discontent. The Reuters/Ipsos election-day poll found that most Americans who voted were angry with the direction of the country. Six out of 10 people said they felt the country was on the wrong track. 58% said “more and more, I don’t identify with what America has become”, and 75% said “America needs a strong leader to take the country back” from the wealthy. Those who felt the country was on the wrong track were three times as likely to vote for Trump as for Clinton.
In a bitter and divisive campaign, Trump cleared a series of obstacles that would doom any other candidate: An audio tape in which he talked of groping women; a refusal to release his tax returns; violence at his rallies; his mockery of a disabled reporter; and his attacks on the heritage of a federal judge and the Muslim family of a US soldier.
“He was an imperfect candidate with a near-perfect message,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who has long backed Trump. “I don’t think a lot of people understood that.” In a year in which voters in the United States and abroad showed their antipathy toward the political establishment, the globalised economy, and corporate welfare, Trump guessed correctly that he could ride that wave of discontent to the White House. He exploited a growing divide between whites and minorities, urbanites and rural residents, the college-educated and the working class. Trump beat Clinton, among white men without a college degree, by 31 points and among white women without a degree by 27 points, according to the Reuters/Ipsos polling.
He also benefitted from an opponent with flaws. Clinton was dragged down by questions about her use of a private email server hen she was secretary of state and about the activities of her family foundation. Her corporate-friendly background left some Democrats sceptical and unenthusiastic.
That cost her support among women, young voters, and minorities — three groups that are critical for Democrats to win big. Clinton won each of these groups, but by smaller margins than President Barack Obama did when he defeated Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, in 2012. Some 49% of women supported Clinton, the first female nominee of a major party, while 47% supported Trump. Among women aged 18 to 34, 55% supported Clinton, while 38% supported Trump. In 2012, 62% of young women supported Obama, while 36% supported Romney.
White voters, especially men in rural areas, flocked to Trump in record numbers. Trump appealed to voters unhappy with the hollowing-out of the country’s manufacturing sector and fearful of the country’s changing demographics, campaigning on a harsh anti-immigration message.
Trump won 56% of the white vote, while Clinton won just 39%. He was more dominant in rural areas, where he beat Clinton by 27 points. Trump won 8% of the black vote, and Clinton 88%; 29% of Hispanics backed Trump, and 65% supported Clinton
Trump promised big things: that he would bring jobs back and punish outsourcing corporations, that he would restore the country to some unspecified, early time of prosperity and security, even as unemployment tumbled below 5%. Specifics were never Trump’s strength. Instead, he used an ‘us versus them’ message to build voter enthusiasm in places where most Republican candidates never ventured: rural areas with voters who felt ignored by Washington.
Matt Borges, the chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said Trump, unlike Romney, made voters feel like they mattered. Before Trump, he said, “we weren’t listening to what voters actually care about.” Trump thumbed his nose at the extensive get-out-the-vote operation and data-rich organisation which are seen as essential to a modern, winning campaign.
His campaign relied, instead, on unofficial networks of rabid supporters to get the word out. His advisers argued that he would bring scores of neglected white voters back into the political process, including blue-collar Democrats, in places such as Pennsylvania. Until Trump, Republicans had not won Pennsylvania since 1988.
Craig Robinson, a veteran of Iowa Republican politics, said pundits underestimated how Trump’s strength in the primaries would carry over to the general election. “In an election where the conventional wisdom was proven wrong time and time again, they convinced themselves that conventional wisdom would prevail in the general election,” Robinson said. “The voters saw through it.”
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