The Victory Of Donald Trump: Why This Was NOT A Wave Election 

The Victory Of Donald Trump: Why This Was NOT A Wave Election 

by Praful Shankar - Nov 18, 2016 12:42 PM +05:30 IST
The Victory Of Donald Trump: Why This Was NOT A Wave Election A Trump doll (MARIO LAPORTA/AFP/Getty Images)
  • One, this was not a wave election as many are making it out to be. Second, for all his claims, it would not be as easy for Donald Trump to overturn Obama policies.

Every major election result – especially the ones of an unexpected nature – brings with it, its own set of hyperbole.

Take for example, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) victory in Delhi, which was said to be the backlash against the governance of the Modi government, or the Mahagatbandhan victory in Bihar, which was touted by the media and intellectuals as the people's uprising against the supposed 'intolerance' allegedly gaining traction under the Narendra Modi regime. Now that the dust has settled, it is clear for all to see that both the Bihar and Delhi mandates were not all they were cranked up to be.

The unanticipated victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential polls has been similarly accompanied by bombastic declarations from armchair commentators – some see it as a revolt by 'white America' against the establishment while some others have characterised it as the victory of 'bigotry, sexism and racism'. There have also been declarations of the end of the Democratic Party and of the rise of the 'international Right'.

In reality, while the election result was probably made up of some elements of all these factors, it is important to view – what was ultimately an event of global significance – with some level of a dispassionate mind.

Some key takeaways from such an attempt are mentioned below:

This was NOT a 'wave or rage' election.

Had the winner of this election not been Donald Trump, the fanciful claim of this election being about the rage of the blue collared white voter would not have even been considered.

Wave elections tend to have two major characteristics – increased voter turnouts and decisive results. This election had neither.

The voter turnout for the 2016 polls has been marked at 57.9 per cent, which is actually marginally lower than the one four years ago when it was 58.6 per cent and much lower than in 2008 – a true 'wave' election – when it was 61.6 per cent.

Donald Trump and the attendants of his rallies may have been noisy and angry but the general electorate wasn't. Else, they would have rushed to the polling booth in greater numbers. If anything, this has been an election of voter apathy.

Secondly, the Trump mandate is not as decisive as it may seem. Hillary Clinton has actually beaten him by over a million in the popular vote. Also, Trump's Electoral College tally is not overbearing either. Excepting George W Bush, he has the lowest number since Carter. Preliminary counts have Trump at 306. In comparison, Barack Obama won with 365 and 332. Bill Clinton won 370 and 379.

While none of these factors can challenge Trump's legitimate victory, it is tough to imagine a candidate riding an electoral wave when he gets fewer votes than his opponent.

Hillary Has Only Herself To Blame

In all respects, this is an election which Hillary Clinton – a formidable and credible politician – should have won hands down. Except that she didn't. It’s more her fault than anyone else's.

US elections (and elections in general) are won on two counts – creating a winning message and tight operations on the ground. Clinton did neither.

For someone with enormous policy experience and deep knowledge of major issues, Clinton ran a campaign which had very little to say to the American people in terms of her vision for the country's future. She could have learned a lesson or two from her vanquished primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, who ran a campaign of populist ideas and succinct messages which resonated with the people despite the fact that Sanders was an almost unknown when he started his run. For too long, Clinton ran on the 'I'm not that other guy' platform and that was never going to be enough for the American public.

She had weaknesses in her ground game as well. Clinton looked to construct a voter coalition of progressives, women and minorities. In doing so, she completely neglected 'white blue-collared working male’ demographic – even in states where they leaned towards her party. This allowed Trump to steal away blue leaning states likes Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin – states which has overwhelmingly supported President Obama during his two runs.

There is also the harsh truth that Clinton was badly let down by both women and minority voters. The African-American turnout was poor in many of the key states and the women vote did not break for her anywhere near the margins she needed for a victory.

Don't Write Off The Obama Legacy Just Yet

The Trump win, along with the continued Republican control of the House and Senate are seen by many as the death knell for the Obama legacy. Trump is expected to try to repeal Obamacare and walk back on Obama's deals with Iran and Cuba. There are also question marks over what the American commitment to Obama's pet climate change initiatives will continue to be.

These alarms bells may be slightly premature. Trump will find it had to walk away from ratified treaties and the Democrats are expected to fight tooth and nail for Obamacare in both the House and Senate.

There also remains the fact that the Obama legacy will be shaped somewhat by the Trump Presidency. Despite the Clinton upset, Obama is still a popular President, with extremely high approval ratings. He has successfully reversed the downward economic spiral from the last Bush year and stewarded the country to steady economic growth. If the Trump presidency blows up and is restricted to one term, Obama's legacy will look even better than it does today.

There is also another matter to be considered. Post his presidency, Obama will likely be the most popular Democrat in the country. For a party which is in flux and devoid of many national leaders at present, the political stewardship of an ex-President Obama during the next two years will be invaluable. If Obama decides to take on such a role and returns his party to its glory days, he will probably be remembered as the most towering American politician since Reagan.

Democrats Have A Lot Of Soul-Searching To Do

Just as Hillary will have to shoulder most of the blame for her loss, the same rings true for her party as well.

Over the past half-decade or so, the Democratic Party has spent most of its time digging its own grave – alienating itself from blue collar America and allowing internal ideological rifts to lead to the party distancing itself from a largely popular president. The party has only to look to the other side of the aisle for ideas on how to recapture the initiative.

Following the first Obama win, the Republican Party doubled down and concentrated on governorships, state legislatures, the House and the Senate. Their success in these areas, in effect, brought them back into play nationally. They identified Hillary Clinton as an opponent early on and went about systematically attacking her credibility with the voter. The end result was that the independent voter could not actually see a difference between Trump and Clinton.

As a start, the Democratic Party will have to look at reconnecting with the working class American. This will mean that they will have to properly address common citizen concerns around jobs, illegal immigration and Islamic terror without taking the preachy approach that has become common over the past few years.

They will also have to look at who their faces are for the future. Obama, Sanders and the Clintons can only lead from behind from now on. The party would need to pass the baton onto the Andrew Cuomos, Tulsi Gabbards and Cory Brookers sooner rather than later.

But the main task would be to recapture the national narrative. For a party, which is on the right side of a host of issues like climate change, race, women's rights, minimum wages and marriage equality, a continued spell on the sidelines would be only due to its own deficiencies more than anything else.

Praful Shankar is a political enthusiast and tweets at @shankarpraful.

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