Editorial: Post-election: What now?
The morning after this election, the liberal nation was in a daze and even Trump supporters were shocked. The prevailing political wisdom and the polls were off just enough to produce an unexpected result and send President-elect Donald Trump to the White House, with a narrow 52-48 majority in the Senate and control of the House. Just 10 days earlier such an outcome seemed inconceivable.
The week after the election, the daze is slowly lifting, allowing more analytical thinking. Two questions must be asked and understood: What happened? What now?
For Republicans, their task is to examine their primary and ask if Trump-like candidates are the future of their party, and how they can reconcile what has happened to their conservative principles. Moving forward, the party must galvanize an agenda from a campaign that never one that was based on policy. Rather the Trump campaign was based on marketing tactics: how to sell their candidate, how to tear down the opposing candidate, how to spread false information and how to suppress voter turnout. The one genius of Trump’s campaign was that it focused on telling voters what they wanted to hear, to eliciting a gut reaction that validated their personal beefs, and that tapped into the angry, white middle-class worker who (ironically enough) feels like he’s been given the shaft.
For Democrats, they must first understand what went wrong. Here are a few of many answers:
• FBI Director James Comey’s unprecedented release of the emails connected to Hillary Clinton’s aides’ computer 10 days before the election did have an impact. It is not sour grapes to recognize that Comey’s ploy changed the narrative of the campaign from one focused on Trump being unfit for the office, to Clinton’s seemingly endless connection with scandal. Even though, as Comey admitted one day before the election, those emails were inconsequential, it is clear that damage to Clinton was done. That matters because in four swing states, Clinton lost to Trump by less than 1.3 percent of the vote. Trump won Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by 1.2 percent (49 percent to 47.8 percent in Florida, 48.8 percent to 47.6 percent in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin), and Trump edged Michigan, 47.60 percent to 47.33 percent.
Trump ended with 305 electoral votes to Clinton’s 232. Had Michigan (16 electoral votes) and Florida (29) swung in Clinton’s favor (as predicted before Comey’s bombshell), she would have won the election with 277 electoral votes. Had she won those four swing states, she would have won 307 electoral votes to Trump’s 231. This is particularly significant in this election because almost 10 percent of the voters were undecided the week before the election, both candidates had high negatives and neither candidate had a solid base of support — that is, they were vulnerable to last minute bombshells that could change the election. Comey knew this, yet released the false accusation against national precedent and his superior’s advice.
The take-away from this point is that while Clinton lost the election by far more than anyone had predicted, it was much closer than the final tally suggests — and Clinton will end up winning the popular vote by about a percentage point or a million votes.
• Clinton neglected the past core strength of the party — the industrial worker whose lives have been upended by the changing nature of the global economy, robotics and automation. And, because of her past association with scandal, she wasn’t able to attack Trump effectively for his numerous shortcomings. She did focus on women’s rights and minority rights, but she failed to arouse the same support among the blue-collar working Democratic base that Sen. Bernie Sanders had tapped into during the primary. She was, in the end, the flawed candidate many of Sanders’ supporters talked about at the start of the Democratic primary.
• Understand also that only one in five eligible Americans voters supported either Clinton or Trump; 19.8 percent voted for Clinton, while 19.5 percent supported Trump. Of the remaining Americans, 2.2 percent voted “other”, 28.6 percent were ineligible to vote (under 18 or other reasons), and 29.9 percent didn’t vote or were disenfranchised.
What, then, is the next step for Democrats?
First, it is to organize into an effective minority party. The party must advocate for the gains made under the Obama administration and, in particular, for policies that recognize the reality of climate change and that reduce our carbon footprint, for income disparity, tax fairness and that the party’s agenda really addresses the needs of middle America.
Second, as hard as it is to want to work with Republicans after six years of an concerted effort to undermine every initiative the Obama administration proposed (to cause him to fail rather than allow the nation to prosper), the party must work with Trump in those areas that benefit the country. The party should not, however, give him the benefit of the doubt. Policies that work against Democratic values should be stringently opposed right from the get-go.
Third, Democrats and progressives have to focus on changing their economic message so that it resonates with middle-America. Anyone who looked at the political map showing the “sea of red” that represented Trump’s victory — covering 80 percent of the country’s land mass — understands it as a rude wake up call. Whatever the Democrat’s message is to those in the nation’s heartland, industrial Mid-west and the deep South, it’s not working at the national or local levels, but the Republican message is. Until Democrats understand how to deliver a message that resonates with that broad swath of the country, the party is not serving itself or the country well.