I don’t usually like to write about things that are probably much better explained by others (this one, for instance), https://theintercept.com/2016/11/09/democrats-trump-and-the-ongoing-dangerous-refusal-to-learn-the-lesson-of-brexit/
but here it is. With so many people saying “WTF just happened?”, I feel obliged to explain a little. People all over the world are asking:
HOW DID SUCH AN OBVIOUSLY DISGUSTING PERSON GET ANYWHERE NEAR THE WHITE HOUSE, NOT TO MENTION WIN IT?
This is really a two-part question:
(1) How did he get the Rep nomination?
(2) How did he win the electoral college?
(1) Ok, let’s start with what we have here: an actor who plays a billionaire on tv, whose only known financial success (other than choosing the right parents) is in marketing himself as a corny image of “success”. Is it really any surprise that someone with a background in this sort of marketing would appeal to a sizeable segment of Republicans?
Yes, it’s unprecedented that an entertainer would go straight to the presidency with no previous experience in public service. Reagan and Schwartzenegger at least started with the governorship of the largest state. But it’s not all THAT big a leap from these two to Trump.
Given that entertainment background, of course he had a name recognition advantage over all other competitors for the Rep nomination. We saw this in the 2003 special election for California’s governor: Out of 100-odd candidates, the actor had all the name recognition and got all kinds of free media attention because the media make their money on holding your attention. The merit of the candidates is simply not their concern.
You can say: “Oh those nasty media people!” all you want, but most voters are no better. The last thing your average American voter wants to do is think through all the intricacies of good public policy. Holding the attention of someone who has two minutes to look at the tv between putting the fish sticks in the zapper and taking them out to feed the extended unemployed family is not easy. Many shortcuts are taken. One is to shout out a recognizable name.
On top of the name recognition advantage, there’s the way the Reps allocate delegates to their nominating convention. It varies state by state, and some states still do it winner-take-all, “winner” meaning plurality. For the noobs, “plurality” means more votes than any other one candidate, not necessarily a majority (which would be anything more than 50% of the vote). So if Trump got 20% of the vote, and the other 80% were divided among 15 candidates, he could still get a plurality and take all that state’s delegates.
Then there’s the fact that some Democrats, in some states, are allowed to vote in the Republican primary. Trump was perceived early on as the weakest opponent the Dem could wish for, and a little sabotage of the Reps might have been tried.
Then there are a couple of particular issues that he took up in ways that other candidates didn’t want to touch:
● It’s a Republican tradition to favor “free trade”, whatever form that might take in secretly negotiated treaties that give power to secret corporate-appointed courts, often producing a race to the bottom in labor and environmental standards. The working class “left” see the TPP as a betrayal by the likes of Clinton and Obama, because the executive happens to be held by Dems at the moment, though office-holding Republicans are much more consistent in their support for such treaties. Trump criticized the TPP when other Reps couldn’t.
● It’s a Republican grassroots tradition, which the party leaders often shy away from these days, to blame the working class’ troubles on immigrants. Trump made a point of playing to this when the others didn’t dare.
Then there’s the assholic personality he projects. That’s his gig.
Newsflash: There is a large segment of the population, a great many of them Republican, who are not at all interested in polite discourse, or even making any sense when they talk. They’d even call it elitist to think one should speak in coherent sentences with words that mean something. Making noise with a few much-repeated feelgood or feelbad words can go over very well with many crowds, not all of them Republican.
(2) Now the second question: The electoral college. It’s an ancient system whereby a voter in Wyoming has about three and a half times the influence over choosing the President as a voter in California. All those low-population states in the middle of the country are overrepresented to one degree or another. Clinton won the popular vote, but it’s all about how it was distributed. 5% of California’s vote, if redistributed right to some other states, could have easily flipped the election.
Ok, that’s only the most immediate explanation. You’re wondering how this jerk got anywhere NEAR winning with voters as a whole, not just Republicans.
For that, you need to look at his opponent, and how she campaigned. Clinton was perhaps the most unpopular person the Dems could have chosen to run.
For someone so well-funded and well-connected, she came surprisingly close to getting whupped by Bernie Sanders in the primaries. The Clinton name is strongly associated with neoliberal policies, which are associated with the banking crisis of 2007 and the trade agreements mentioned above that are blamed for extensive unemployment in the rustbelt (Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania in particular). Sanders took advantage of this, and Trump would have been a fool not to do the same. Not saying we should expect him to do anything with the economy except loot it for himself and his friends, but his campaign made vague promises about this. Clinton did not.
Clinton also had voted for the invasion of Iraq, a real point against her with nearly everyone not part of the “Washington establishment”. Trump exploited that too. He surely would have done the same if he’d been in the Senate at the time, but he wasn’t, so he could pretend to be better.
If Clinton had had a clue how to address the economy and the endless wars, she would have done so, but she didn’t. Three quarters of what I saw watching the Dem convention was “Look at me! I’m a woman! Vote for the first woman President!”
Newsflash: There are many, many voters who would be quite happy to see a woman as President. Just not Her.
So keep in mind that Trump actually stole some issues from the “left” to defeat Clinton. No one should expect him to perform on them at all, but he used them to campaign.
“But such a repulsive person! Insulting three-quarters of the population!”
… I hear you exclaim.
This is clearly why he didn’t win the popular vote. But the question remains how he ever came ANYWHERE NEAR what he got, after violating every rule in the book about how to treat people.
Turn on any fairly “edgy” standup comic. How long does it take most of them to get around to crude sweeping generalizations about gender or ethnicity? If listening to such people is our idea of a good time, why would you expect a politician with a background in show biz to be any different? As this writer points out:
http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-reasons-trumps-rise-that-no-one-talks-about/ people didn’t have to believe anything he was saying, or like the guy at all, or think he would do any good in office at all, to want to send a “F*ck You!” to the Washington establishment represented by both Clinton and the Rep leadership. Yes, they could have voted “third” party, but that’s still not in the vocabulary of most Americans, for all kinds of reasons I won’t go into.
The number of such votes surprised most of us. It might have surprised Trump most of all. He has to have some power of persuasion and sense of people to get to where he had got to before this, and it’s hard to believe he or his advisors were quite as tactically stupid as they appeared.