It is not breaking the protocols of green room conversations, I think, to say that a certain prominent pollster arrived last night at CBS headquarters in New York City declaring firmly that Hillary Clinton would win by five points, the GOP would lose the Senate, and that it would not be close. I believe he said as much on Twitter. I was more skeptical. Having heard the exit polling myself, and knowing as we all do that Trump voters are less eager to talk to these youngsters with their clipboards, I had already warned The Federalist’s staff to not anticipate an early call. As the night wore on, it became abundantly clear that the exits had dramatically underestimated the support for Donald Trump in key states. And then it became clear that they had overestimated support for Clinton in several key states. And then, at some point, it became clear that this would not be a Bush-Gore close loss at all – that she was sinking to the point that her performance was comparable to Michael Dukakis. And then everyone started to lose their minds.
The strongest thought in my head as the night wore on, and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania remained uncalled despite a clear advantage for Donald Trump, was: what on earth must the conversation be like in that room with Barack and Michelle Obama, watching the returns, followed by that magnanimous speech. Make no mistake about it: this election is Barack Obama’s legacy. He pushed hard for Hillary Clinton in the end because he understood that as such. And it was all for naught. No celebrity, no sports star, and no current president with a strong approval rating was enough to drag Hillary Clinton over the finish line. What did Obama say? What epithets did he utter? And on what did he blame the result? Schadenfreude has always been part of the case for Trump, and it is particularly sharp when it comes to the feelings of the current chief executive.
Last night Jamelle Bouie and Van Jones voiced something I expect we will hear from many of Obama’s firmest supporters in the coming weeks – the idea that Trump represents a “whitelash” against eight years of Obama. But this dramatically oversimplifies the case, particularly if as it seems at the moment Trump won more minority votes than Mitt Romney in 2012. In fact, as Nate Cohn notes, Clinton failed in areas of the country where Obama’s support had been strongest among white Americans. She failed to keep pace with Obama in the Rust Belt states that he won repeatedly. Her vaunted GOTV machine failed to attract the votes of young people, of union members, and of minorities to the degree necessary to win. And meanwhile, Trump’s utter lack of a campaign was more than made up for by the emotional dedication of his supporters. This was about more than just race – it was a sustained rejection of the country’s ruling class. But expect the media to try to make it about two things: race, and about Hillary Clinton’s lousy campaign. Ah, look, they’re doing it already.
The big winners from last night, beyond Donald Trump: Reince Priebus, who gets to keep his job; The Heritage Foundation, which bit the bullet and worked with Trump’s transition team on numerous points; Nate Silver, who got pounded by the left for a month for his poll skepticism only to be proven correct; TV networks who sold ads; Republican pragmatists who backed Trump while criticizing his excesses; Republican Senators who won back their majority while keeping Trump at arm’s length; Peter Thiel; pro-lifers and federalists, who will likely get two Supreme Court seats; Breitbart and Laura Ingraham and the pro-Trump factions of cable television, who were to the hilt defenders of Trump; Claremonsters; and civil libertarians, who probably will get to work with liberals again, which they love.
The big losers, beyond the Clinton family and Barack Obama: The Democratic Party, which now looks like a leaderless husk of what was once a coalition sure of its demographic destiny; the true NeverTrumpers who hoped Trump would lose big; John Podesta and the Clinton team; TV networks who garnered a new degree of hate from a frustrated electorate; James Comey, who will get it from both sides; old media conservatives who didn’t just reject but dismissed Trump and the phenomenon as mere celebrity worship; conservatives in the foreign policy space who explicitly backed her; any consultants who specialize in expensive GOTV efforts; the GOP autopsy; Bill Weld, who pretended to be a libertarian to try and get Hillary Clinton elected; and Joe Biden, who everyone will look back to as being able to beat Trump handily had he run.
A word about the overall failure of the media this cycle: it will be very interesting to see which reporters learn from this, and which ones double down on their ignorance. The majority of political reporters never seemed to get outside their bubble. They spoke to anti-Trump conservatives, and printed anti-Trump views from conservatives, but rarely would even publish the sorts of views I and others have been sounding for months about the real and rational gripes of Trump voters. Many in the media preferred the caricature to the real thing. If you are a member of the media who does not know anyone who was pro-Trump, who has no Trump voters among your family or friends, realize how thick your bubble is. Change this. Don’t stick to the old sources, who clearly didn’t know what was going on – add new ones, who offer the perspective from the ground.