The Something Mattered Election

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Back in April I wrote an article describing the Teflon-nature of the leading presidential primary candidates at the time, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  Nothing seemed to matter to their supporters, whether it was Clinton’s corruption and cronyism or Trump’s… well, anything.  Democrat voters valued Clinton’s leftist ideology over morality and ethics, while Republican voters seemed to just want to turn the whole system upside-down.  Thus, nothing mattered because America was left with a choice of two candidates with the highest “unfavorable” ratings in history.

However, something clearly mattered on Election Day, as conventional wisdom on polling and demographic trends was rendered meaningless in an election result that almost no one saw coming.  Though there are numerous reasons for how an election plays out, it seems that two interrelated themes emerged and resulted in Donald Trump winning the presidency.

The Candidates Mattered

Though both Trump and Clinton had “unfavorable” ratings close to 60%, they were unfavorable for different reasons, which ultimately proved to turn the election to Mr. Trump.  He was rude, crude, insensitive, egotistical… in short, he was Trump.  While this was personally disagreeable to many of his supporters, they did not see it as disqualifying him from office.  In fact, many saw his unfiltered, raw, politically incorrect belligerence as exactly what was needed to shake up the system and overturn “politics as usual.”  His style, combined with his populist rhetoric and his emphasis on American exceptionalism, turned out to be an incredibly powerful formula for millions of Americans looking for, ironically, change.  His message and candidacy resonated in ways that the prior, more conventional GOP candidates failed, and the result was garnering more votes than any Republican candidate in history.

On the other side, Hillary Clinton had high “unfavorables” because she is the embodiment of what people have grown to hate about politicians.  She is a politician’s politician as her political history is an encyclopedia of corruption, backroom deals, unethical behavior, and playing by a different set of rules.  She was running against a multi-billionaire, yet she was considered the candidate of the “elite.”  In addition, she personally came across as abrasive in style and tone and robotic and programmed in substance.  This turned out to be a recipe for disaster in traditionally Democratic states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, especially when compared to Trump’s unscripted, shoot-from-the-hip approach.  Ultimately, her failure to appeal to these voters, particularly minority voters, is what cost her the election.  Her “unfavorables” were just as bad as Trump’s but they, importantly, were considered unfavorable for different reasons, and Clinton’s brand of unfavorable represented the status quo and was thus rejected by many who came out twice in support of Barack Obama.

Obama and Progressivism Mattered

Eight years of President Obama’s policies combined with heavy-handed progressivism encroaching on culture was kindling for the fire of the Clinton candidacy.  The Obama economy has been objectively bad.  During his watch:

  • The Labor Force Participation Rate dropped over three percentage points (65.7% to 62.4%) to its lowest rate in nearly forty years;
  • The median household income (adjusted for inflation) has dropped over $1600;
  • The national debt has essentially doubled, from around $10 trillion to approximately $20 trillion.

But perhaps the most impactful economic metric that contributed to the election was the unmitigated disaster that literally carries the President’s name, Obamacare.  It was sold on a series of lies that had a profound impact on the day-to-day lives of millions of Americans, specifically, they can’t afford insurance anymore.  While there are countless ways to measure an economy, the practical ways that mattered for this election were the realities that less people are working, those that are working are making less money, and their insurance costs have skyrocketed despite worse coverage.  Some may try to rationalize these indicators but what mattered for voters is the perception that the economic drag, especially Obamacare, was because of Democrats; thus, Hillary represented a continuation of the policies that lost them their jobs and caused an increase in their personal budgets.

Something else that mattered is the progressive gestapo that seeks to force its worldview down the throats of Middle America.  People are simply tired of constantly being called racists if they don’t 100% accept the Left’s diagnosis and solution to race relations, they are tired of being called xenophobes if they want orderly and lawful immigration, and they are tired of being called homophobes if they think that biological boys shouldn’t be allowed in girls’ bathrooms and showers.

The Left has become unhinged with its fixation on identity politics and its vicious demonization of anyone who doesn’t bow the knee at the altar of their worldview.

As Columbia University Professor Mark Lilla wrote in the New York Times, “In recent years, American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender, and sexual identity that has distorted [its] message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.”  As Lilla noted, the culmination of rabid identity politics ironically served to unite the groups being ignored or targeted, not the groups the Left ostensibly wants to protect.  Make no mistake, an important theme in this election was Middle America pushing back against a progressive agenda that has, for too long, ignored their rights, needs, and voices.

While nothing seemed to matter in the primaries, something mattered enough in the general election for the American people to send a resounding message to Washington and to progressivism with its repudiation of eight years of Obama.  Democrats, under President Obama, lost 11 Senate seats, 60 House seats, 14 governorships, over 900 state legislative seats, and now they have lost the presidency.

A poor economy caused by Democrat policies combined with a deeply flawed and untrustworthy candidate, set against a backdrop of non-stop obsessive rhetoric on social issues resulted in a perfect storm that led to Trump.  Ultimately, the things that didn’t matter in the primaries were exactly the things that did matter in the general election.  Clinton’s corruption was minimized by Democrats but was found to be significant by much of the electorate, while Trump’s brash nature and unconventional candidacy did not affect Republican primary voters in large measure and turned out to be a positive for a general electorate looking for someone shake things up and send a message to the Washington establishment.

Whether Donald Trump is a successful president remains to be seen, but without question he has changed the way people view politics, polls, and punditry.  But more than that, he galvanized working-class voters that felt ignored and taken for granted.  Those voters sent a message that will be heard at least for the next four years and maybe longer, but will certainly require wholesale changes in the approach and messaging of both parties, especially the Democrats… and that, is something that matters.

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