It’s June 16, 2015. Donald J. Trump, our to-be 45th President of the United States, declares his intention to run for President of the United States. You’ve probably seen the video of him riding down the escalator at Trump Tower, waving and grinning.
Does he not see the irony in riding an escalator down, liberals chided. It was too perfect. This dipshit was literally providing the media with the symbolic moment of his short-lived presidential bid for them: a descent downward, crashing and burning, and a man too thick to realize any of it was going to happen to him.
The media hacks could hardly contain their glee. What’s the over-under on how long this will last? A month? Three months? They were going to make an example out of him, alright. This year-and a half-long marathon for the presidential race isn’t some sort of never-ending dystopian circus, the presidency is sacred damn it, and Trump will rue the day he ever tried to throw his hat in the ring.
Fast-forward to the morning of November 8, 2016. Donald J. Trump, the man who will get obliterated in about 10 hours, walks into a Manhattan polling station. The people in the lines, his New York brethren, laugh at him. “You’re gonna lose!” shouts one man as Melania and Donald pass by the line. That’s followed by more laughter.
And he is to lose, mind you. The New York Times gives him a 15% chance. 538’s the most generous at 35% (Silver adjusts this to 30% a few hours later in light of new polls, and then to 25% a few hours after that). Huffington Post’s got him at single-digits, as do a number of outlets. The battleground polls have been unkind to Trump—he’s going to need to flip a couple blue states and the numbers just don’t add up.
The question leading into the evening wasn’t particularly who would win, but whether the thing would be close at all. Would it be wrapped up by 9? Or, god forbid, will we have to wait for perhaps 10:30 to know? Hey, maybe we’ll even know by 7:30 when Florida polls close, maybe she’ll be +10, the panelists on CNN and MSNBC chuckle. There was quite a bit of laughter at 5:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m.
Even as the Florida returns were coming in, King and Kornacki (who do a fine job, I might add, nothing against these guys), seemed to be in a slight bit of denial. Yeah he’s faring quite well in Northern Florida, “the true South” of Florida as they like to call it, but just wait until Miami-Dade and Brouward counties come in for Clinton in the southeast. It’s looking closer than we thought, but there are only so many votes in the panhandle, and some fucks from just outside Jacksonville aren’t going to begin the cataclysm of a lifetime, are they?
They did. Miami-Dade never offset the panhandle counties that continued to pour in throughout the evening. If you removed the narrative from your mind that Hillary was supposed to carry Florida, you could’ve done the math yourself and quickly realized the margins were going to be insurmountable. It was the theme of the night: Trump would build these leads in the battlegrounds, and you’d go, “Well the Democratic counties haven’t reported all that much yet… but wait a second, even when they do it’s not going to be enough.” I mean, Minnesota was in play for fuck’s sake, I was sweating out Virginia before I realized Virginia wasn’t going to even make a difference.
Wisconsin never came home. Michigan never came home. North Carolina never came home. Pennsylvania never came home. Ohio was never at home to begin with.
Racism’s to blame, liberals will cry until the cows come home. Sorry guys, but racism doesn’t explain why Obama counties in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio became Trump counties…by +20. It factored in, but it didn’t swing the election.
Misogyny, they’ll scream from the rooftops. Again, it plays a part, but misogyny does not explain why white women with a college degree only voted for Hillary by a 10-point margin. Misogyny doesn’t explain why Trump carried married women. Now I know these married women aren’t as progressive as the crowds our generation may flock about with, they don’t read Jezebel or watch Amy Schumer stand-ups, but I struggle to believe the woman tending the crackers & cheese table after Sunday’s service hates women. Maybe I’m just naïve. But then again, I didn’t just run a losing campaign that spent much of its energy pointing and laughing at those they called misogynistic racists.
In fairness, the more charitable depiction of Trump’s supporters as the economically anxious doesn’t necessarily completely hold either. Those making below $30k/year broke for Hillary Clinton. As did those making less than $50k/year. $50k and up broke for Trump, as they did for Romney as they did for McCain as they did for Bush as I reckon they may just do forever.
The Republican base came home. The number I kept seeing flashing was 88%. 88% of Republicans in this country voted for the Republican nominee. The guy on Wall Street, your deacon, your deacon’s wife, your friend who says he’s a Republican because he’s a fiscal conservative, for the most part they all came around in the end. If you promise not to raise taxes, the wealthy will look the other way on everything else. If you promise to fight against abortion, the church will look the other way on everything else. If the alternative is the woman that the right-wing media in this country has demonized for 25 years, filling in the bubble next to Trump wasn’t particularly difficult.
But still, Republicans weren’t going to be enough. Romney got Republicans and McCain got Republicans, and they got torched. Herein, lies the kicker: Trump secured the base, and to boot he expanded it. He flipped Obama counties in the Midwest, and he flipped them comfortably. He turned Romney +10 margins into Trump +20s and +30s.
How every poll missed it, how Hillary’s internal polling missed it, I’ll leave that for the pollsters and the campaign to explain. The leading theories are either 1. Trump supporters were too shy to admit they were supporting Trump or 2. the pollsters were just missing these rust belt, “fly-over country” towns because they hadn’t voted before now or the pollsters were just too arrogant to bother polling them. Either way, it’s a catastrophe. It’s hard to argue with a straight-face that the polling industry even matters after this. Or campaign operations. Or ads. Or consultants.
Trump was able to make gains in these communities because he was willing to craft a message that wasn’t peddling bullshit, political speak. The financial collapse happened because these politicians screwed you over. They bailed out Wall Street, they sent your jobs away in shitty trade deals, spent your money and your kid’s heartbeats on foreign wars, and they didn’t think twice about it. Hell, they’ll do it again if you let them.
That message resonates with the autoworker who was making $60k/year before getting laid off, the plumber, the carpenter, the small business owner who has seen their proud communities go to shit over the course of their lifetime.
But unemployment rates have dropped under President Obama, bellows the coastal liberal. The family living 20 minutes outside Green Bay can’t hear you. Their income’s down, job creation is disproportionately on the up on the coasts.
Oh but if he had only joined a union, the liberal retorts, he would’ve been protected. You raise a fine point, you smug prick that has never been a part of a union in your life and never will, except what has the Democratic Party done for unions of late? Where was the Democratic Party when Scott Walker waged his war on teachers in blue Wisconsin, where was the Democratic Party when Chris Christie spewed similar venom in blue New Jersey? Union workers and ex-Union workers didn’t owe the party anything because you didn’t deliver them anything. They acted accordingly.
It’s baffling that the Clinton campaign and the DNC didn’t try to court them. They can’t pretend they didn’t know Clinton could be beat in races in the Northern firewall: Bernie won the Wisconsin and Michigan primaries. I guess they just trusted the polls, and laughed at Trump for wasting time courting working class workers in blue states. Turns out the Democratic Party never had a monopoly on the working class all along.
Columnist Jeb Lund has written the sentence that I believe defines this election. All the people ever wanted was accountability for the fuck-ups that led to their worlds falling apart. You don’t even necessarily have to have a plan or a cure for it—lord knows Mr. Trump does not have these things in his arsenal. But they just wanted the elites to own it. They just wanted to hear them say, “Y’know what, we did screw you guys over. And it won’t happen again.”
Hillary Clinton was, ultimately, unable to articulate this message in the way Trump was able. You can attribute this to her position as a lifelong insider, you can attribute this to her inability to tap into Bernie’s message and ultimately court downtrodden working class voters, you can attribute this to the fact that her campaign chose to paint Trump as some Cold War-USSR sympathizer when anyone with half a brain could realize Trump was ad-libbing this whole thing and didn’t have fucking ties to the Kremlin out of some James Bond movie. Pick your poison.
It’s the morning of November 9, 2016. Early morning, 1:00 a.m., perhaps. My dad comes walking down the stairs, staring blankly ahead. It’s done-and-dusted.
“I knew it was there, I just…I just didn’t think this was our country,” I go, not really making sense, half-lying to myself.
You had to be pretty dim to not entertain this being a reality—only the polls in the lead-up had me pretty convinced Hillary Clinton would be our next President. My small Massachusetts town features auto shops dawning Trump signs, the local dive’s got a good-sized one, my neighbor two doors down had a custom one with a bald eagle on it.
Maybe if we stopped laughing at these people, we could’ve swayed them. Maybe if the Democratic Party offered a populist message, we could’ve swayed them. For them, the Democratic Party wasn’t offering anything new, and what was happening now wasn’t exactly all they ever dreamed of in life.
Maybe if we stopped laughing at Trump, he would’ve backed down. Maybe if people had stopped laughing at Trump for years before this election, he would’ve never ran in the first place. After all, his entire campaign was to prove to everyone who ever told him he couldn’t amount to anything, to prove to everyone who ever told him he was only successful because Daddy gave him a loan, to prove to every New Yorker who wouldn’t let him in the club that he could do anything he put his mind to, and do it in his own way at that.
We couldn’t contain our laughter. It fueled Trump. It fueled that guy in the red hat that made you roll your eyes as you walked by him—or her.
They kicked our fucking ass.
It wasn’t even close.
No one’s laughing anymore.