Donald Trump’s victory marks the biggest political upset in living memory. A man without solid party support nor any major newspaper editorial or celebrity endorsements has defeated Hillary Rodham Clinton, the queen of the political establishment in Washington. His presidential victory represents a defeat for globalism, political correctness, identity politics, climate change mitigation and a Pax Americana. In the process, it has confounded most of the pundits (including this writer), the polls and the forecasting agencies.
Nothing better demonstrates the significance of Trump’s economic nationalist appeal than his victories in not just Ohio, but the other rust-belt states Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin or what Michael Moore has called the “Brexit states.”
Wisconsin had not voted Republican since Ronald Reagan’s landslide in 1984 and Pennsylvania and Michigan had voted Democrat in every election since 1992. The exit polling indicates that significant segments of white working class living there voted for Trump. These are folks who’ve seen decades of wage stagnation and rising income inequality; many resented career politicians; others fed up with losing wars in the Middle East; and many had been generally apathetic about politics and voting.
The prevailing wisdom suggested not enough of those voters would turn out on election day, and in any case couldn’t compete against the well-organised Clinton machine with its awesome ground game to get-out the Democrat vote.
Compounding the Republican Party’s problems, Trump was a rude, crude and lewd buffoon. This was the bloke who said John McCain was no hero, that some Mexican illegals are ‘rapists’ and some women ‘pigs’. A candidate who wanted a temporary ban to Muslim immigration. A bully who fought with a Gold Star mother and father. A vulgar sexist who allegedly made several advances on a dozen women and uttered extremely lewd remarks about women. And yet Trump’s supporters stood by him through all the controversies.
What we experts didn’t take into account is a new phenomenon: the Shy Trump voter.
In other words, the raw polling findings overstated the support for Hillary Clinton, because some people were ashamed of admitting that they would vote for Donald Trump. The logic is clear: if you’re a Trump supporter, you aren’t just depicted as a self-serving throwback, but also as a racist, a xenophobe and a misanthropic ignoramus who has missed the point of most of the cultural progress of recent decades. A popular bumper sticker read: Vote Trump. No One Will Know.
For years, British pollsters have had to deal with the Shy Tory factor, where people fear being bullied out of admitting that they’re Conservative voters because they believe Conservatism to be associated with selfishness or just being generally old-fashioned. So they pretend they’re voting for the more progressive parties, such as Labour and the Liberal Democrats. At the 1992 election, Shy Toryism was endemic: the polls pointed to a clear Neil Kinnock victory, but the Shy Tories crept into the polling booths in their millions and voted for the conservative candidate.
Ditto America today. And one wonders whether Shy Toryism is rampant throughout Europe. Already various populist, nativist movements are on the rise in response to sluggish economic growth, lax border controls and a genuine fear of Islamic terror. All this has been exacerbated by the decline of the mainstream media and the rise of noisy angry outlets that allow populists like Trump to propose simplistic solutions to fantastically complex problems.
After the celebrations over Donald Trump’s astonishing victory, come the hangovers. It would be pleasant to think everybody would now close ranks and get on with the nation’s business. The sad thing about this election, however, is that it hasn’t clarified America’s problems — but deepened them. It hasn’t unified the people but divided them. To put it mildly and politely, it was an immoderate campaign, coarse in its tone and unedifying in its substance, and the nation’s politics are likely to stay that way for the next four years and beyond.
At the presidential level, it was too personal, negative and downright ugly. Neither long months of fierce campaigning nor Trump’s wins in crucial battleground states have produced any general agreement—even within his own party—about the policies that should guide the American people through the next four years.
Instead, it has left Trump with no clear policy mandate, and Clinton, despite her defeat, without much public regret. And, crucially, it has also left US allies with profound doubts about the future of American global leadership.
Obviously there’s been a populist sweep of opinion in the nation—not only against Clinton but also the Republican establishment. Trump, remember, was the least conservative candidate in a crowded field of 17 GOP primary candidates. But it doesn’t follow that a Trump administration can impose a dramatic, nativist set of policies on a Congress still dominated by conservatives.
Trump is undoubtedly exhausted by the struggle and stunned by the result and will need time to rest and reflect on the consequences of the vote and the implications of his promises, such as building a wall, banning Muslim immigrants and launching a trade war on China. Indeed, it’ll be surprising if Trump and his supporters, after their celebrations, try to insist on the policies they pronounced during the campaign or assume they can govern without the help of those they defeated.