U.S. Presidency: And So It Begins (Part 1)

By Prof Don DeBats January 28, 2017

Donald TrumpAn unexpected trail: the election outcome almost no one anticipated, the inauguration of a president almost no one considered a viable candidate, and the two weeks of executive action that has exceeded almost everyone’s expectations, or fears. Let’s consider these in three parts: Part I: The Election

The electoral win now has its metrics and the explanations seem to be reaching a consensus of sorts. The final popular vote is Clinton 48.19%, Trump, 46.10%, other 5.71%. The Electoral College vote, the only number that actually matters, is: Trump 304, Clinton 227, other 7 (the latter atypically large). Clinton’s margin in the popular vote (2.1%) is high by comparison with all other situations in which the winner of the popular vote lost the Electoral College vote.

This is probably the sixth, but certainly the fifth, US presidential election in which the winner of the popular vote did not carry sufficient states to win the Electoral College vote. The other cases are 1824, 1876, 1888, 1960(probably), and 2000. The only case in which the losing candidate won a majority of the popular vote was Samuel Tilden in 1876; Hillary Clinton, like the other four who lost the Electoral College vote, secured a plurality of the popular vote but not a majority. The 1960 elected is mired in ambiguities in the popular vote of Illinois and Alabama, but the likelihood is that Nixon won the popular vote, but again with a plurality but not a majority, of the popular vote.

The most relevant comparison to the 2016 situation is the Bush Gore contest sixteen years ago, but that election, with a smaller vote for minor parties, was a much closer election with a difference of just .5 percent of the popular vote between Bush and Gore. We might recall, however, that the 2016 US credibility gap in terms of the popular vote (2.1 percent deficit) is not all that much different than the 1998 result in Australia. In that contest ALP candidate Kim Beazley scored a 2.0 percent popular vote lead (two party preferred) over that of Prime Minister Howard who, like Trump’s win in the Electoral College, won a majority of the votes where they mattered, in this case seats in the House of Representatives.

The counting of the Electoral College votes by the US Senate on January 6 and the declaration of the result rendered moot all of the fantasy discussions of re-counts and the campaigns to persuade more members of the Electoral College to vote contrary to the popular vote in their state. As it was, seven members of the Electoral College did so, voting for a variety of third party possibilities: three for Colin Powell, one each for Bernie Sanders, John Kasich, Ron Paul, and “Faith Spotted Eagle.” Five of the “faithless electors” were from states carried, in the popular vote, by Clinton. Those seven Electoral College votes put this this election in the league with the only other two presidential contests since 1900 to produce more than a solitary defector: there were 15 in 1960 and eight in 1912.

The outcome was certainly unexpected: there were stories on election night of Champagne purchases by the Clinton camp. Those very few academic experts who got the call correct tended to be political historians like Alan Lichtman of American University or political scientists with a strong interest in history like Helmut Norpoth at Stony Brook University in New York. Those who relied the most on contemporary polls were the most likely to get the result wrong.

That same weakness for highly scientific polling was the fatal flaw in the Clinton campaign driven by 37 year old Robby Mook. Invested heavily in polling and a computer driven (evidence-driven) campaign strategy, the Democrats’ campaign became enamoured and then captive of its technology. At its height the highly sophisticated computer programs were producing 400,000 simulations a day. The high tech model ruled and “old hands” with their “feet on the ground,” were dismissed as yesterday’s politicians.

Yet the weakness of the Clinton candidacy was hiding in plain sight. The signs, in a literal sense were right there — in the form of the absence of yard signs and bumper stickers. It was not uncommon in Democratic terrain to see parking lots full of cars proclaiming via their bumpers, “Obama 2008, “Obama, 2012,” but nothing for 2016. Union leaders in Michigan and Pennsylvania reported alarming levels of not just indifference but resistance among the rank and file members to the Clinton message. Almost every African-American leader reported the same lack of enthusiasm.

Bill Clinton, the real campaigner in the family, sensed the difficulties, and begged the campaign to shore up the “Blue Wall” – the old industrial states from Pennsylvania west to Wisconsin – by sending Hillary Clinton and Obama to Wisconsin and to Michigan. He too was dismissed as old school. The visits never happened: Hillary Clinton did not make a single campaign stop in Wisconsin, the first Democratic Party presidential candidate to shun Wisconsin since 1972.

On the other hand, Clinton did make two stops in Michigan in the final days of the campaign and she made 11 visits to Pennsylvania and of course the Democratic National Convention which awarded the candidacy to Hillary Clinton was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the end she lost all three states as well as Ohio and Indiana.

The campaign was one problem, the candidate was another. Toward the end of the campaign Clinton favored private fund-raisers, where she felt more comfortable, to public campaign stops. Among many voters, independents as well as many Democrats, she never recovered from her well-practiced line delivered in those countless private fund raisers consigning “half of Donald Trump’s supporters to a basket of deplorables.” It was a line that time after time brought down the house. In private. Among wealthy Democrats. But when that quip became public knowledge, and when read, it was less amusing, especially in the declining towns and among the devastated industrial workforces of Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana. The “Blue Wall” came crashing down and the Clinton presidency was crushed beneath it.

To come: Part II: The Inauguration And the scales fell from their eyes. In some ways, as they say, not so much. In technical terms, in terms of themes, it was probably not so different from Barrack Obama’s first inaugural address in January 2009. Part III: The First 10 Days Well these ten days shook the world too.

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