Congratulations, President-Elect Donald Trump.
Let’s begin with the obvious: I did not see that coming. Heading into last night, I said yes, Trump had a path, but he needed the ball to bounce his way in a bunch of states simultaneously, and the ball never bounces the right way for a Republican candidate in state after state. That assessment was completely wrong; Trump was in much stronger position than he seemed all along.
Everything I wrote yesterday about the polls generally being right most of the time is now inoperative. Pollsters have had off years before, but there has never been a colossal ten-car pile-up like this in the polling industry. The entire industry needs to scrap everything they know about the electorate and start over. One of the giant questions they must address is whether we now live in an atmosphere of such far-reaching and stifling social disapproval of politically incorrect positions that a significant portion of respondents no longer feel comfortable expressing their actual beliefs to a pollster.
There really was a silent majority.
It turns out the Republican National Committee really can run a get-out-the-vote operation. Reince Priebus, who appeared to be on the verge of being the chairman who presided over the Republicans’ worst defeats ever, is the man who ran the shop as the party enjoyed one of its biggest and most consequential comeback in history.
Hillary Clinton’s multitudes of state offices didn’t amount to a hill of beans. Clearly, her team was as blindsided as anyone else. All those data metrics, all those surveys, all that technology… In the end, all of that didn’t help her win a race where she was the frontrunner all along. What’s more, none of that stuff gave her a clue that she was losing it. There has been a real Cult of Data built in the world of political campaigns, and I’ve genuflected a time or two to the idea that everything can be quantified, measured and calculated. Maybe gut feelings matter.
Heck, maybe crowd size is a more meaningful measurement of a candidate’s momentum than we thought. Heck, maybe yard signs are significant.
Like Jonah and Charles, I stand by my past assessment and criticism of Trump, but acknowledge he has pulled off a stunning victory, the biggest upset in American political history. He’s earned a fresh assessment, a reevaluation. He’s the president-elect now. He’s stepping into an awesome responsibility, and now all of us have to root for his ability to tackle the country’s problems and, yes, make America great again.
My friend Cam is a lot more Trump-friendly than I am. We talked before yesterday’s show and we concurred that a Trump victory would be a genuine shock to the system that might just spur changes in the right direction. All of the groups and forces allied with the Left and largely thriving in Obama’s America – Silicon Valley, the media, academia, would have to stop and look hard at the rest of the country and its problems. And they wouldn’t be able to ignore it or sneer at the rest of the country as being uneducated, unwashed, racist, sexist, backward, and destined to wither away. Identity politics turns America’s e pluribus unum into the Balkans. If you want to build a better America, you have to see everybody as part of it, not just the parts that agree with you politically.
Give Trump credit, in the wee early hours of Wednesday morning, he hit all the right notes. He was gracious to Hillary Clinton in defeat, generous and magnanimous. He offered an agenda that should appeal across the aisle:
It’s time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me.
For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people. . .
. . . I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.
Every single American will have the opportunity to realize his or her fullest potential. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.
We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.
We will also finally take care of our great veterans.
Back in August, I offered the counter-intuitive theory that the Right was winning the culture wars in 2016, that the hard Left had bitten off way more than it can chew and was crumbling before a backlash: transgender bathrooms, celebrating Catilyn Jenner and policing the pronouns people use, college alumni donations down, the end of Gawker… now we can add in a giant, sweeping victory for Republicans of all stripes to the list.
The Fantastic News Down-Ballot
Whatever the flaws of Trump, he drove conservative Republicans to big wins.
Senator Pat Toomey won in Pennsylvania, a huge win for Republicans in a state that usually breaks their hearts in presidential years. Our Eliana Johnson points out how he did it:
Toomey’s was the story of most Republicans this campaign season. He needed to carry voters such as those in Luzerne County while also winning enough of the moderate, Democratic-leaning voters in the Philadelphia area to carry the state. He touted his work on bipartisan gun-control legislation and advertised the praise he had garnered for it from Obama. And he got help from Clinton and McGinty, who underperformed Obama’s 2012 campaign in the urban areas where they needed to rack up votes. While Obama won 85 percent of the vote in the majority African-American county of Philadelphia, Clinton and McGinty managed just 82.4 and 81.7 percent respectively. The drop-off proved decisive in their respective losses — and in Toomey’s victory.
The GOP class of 2010 is largely returning intact: Marco Rubio in Florida, Mike Lee in Utah, Rand Paul in Kentucky, Rob Portman in Ohio, Roy Blunt in Missouri, Ron Johnson in Wisconsin… Throw in Richard Burr in North Carolina – man, Democrats were so certain they were going to knock him off, for two straight cycles now! – and, depending how that final vote total comes out in New Hampshire, Republicans won just about every winnable Senate race for two straight cycles now.
There are no permanent victories in American politics, but last night will have far-reaching consequences. If the Republican advantage in midterm elections continues, two-term incumbent Toomey will look pretty good in 2022.
Republicans not only keep the Senate with at least 51 seats (probably 53 if Ayotte keeps her lead and John Kennedy wins the runoff in Louisiana as expected), they’re likely to keep control of the Senate in 2018. A lot more Democrats are up for reelection next cycle than Republicans, and these are all of the Democrats carried along by the Obama wave in 2012. Presuming the Republican-leaning states stay Republican leaning, how would you like to be a Democrat incumbent running in Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia? How about in Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin? That was once the Democrats’ Blue Wall. This is now the Republicans’ Red Wall.
As of this writing, Democrats have picked up… seven seats in the House. The GOP holds 235 seats with the votes for nine seats still being counted. If the Democrats couldn’t win the House in a year of presidential turnout like this… they’re not likely to win in 2018.
The Democratic Collapse
I wrote back in May about the seemingly-unlikely scenario of a Trump victory. Democrats are living out their nightmares this morning.
A Trump victory in November would destroy the legacies of Hillary Clinton and President Obama.
A Trump victory in November would affirm every criticism lobbed her way since she appeared on the national scene in 1992: too dishonest, too arrogant, too cold, too calculating, too out of touch, too vindictive for the American people. Democrats would suspect, with justification, that they dodged a bullet in 2008: If Clinton can’t beat Trump, how would she have fared against John McCain and Sarah Palin, even amid the economic meltdown?
If Trump wins, the recriminations against Clinton and her team will be brutal. The idea that she could be the first woman president will be seen as a mass delusion, a grand, party-wide exercise in willful denial. Democrats are now given to softly worrying that “she’s just not as good a retail politician as her husband was.” The more honest truth would come out after a November loss: Her instincts are terrible. She plays it safe with focus-grouped pabulum and offers implausible lies when people call her on it. Her record as secretary of state offered no reason for inspiration or confidence. When faced with a garish, absurd opponent who generated broad, bipartisan fear, she offered only the soggy mush of the status quo. Democrats are trying to make themselves love her now; they’ll hate her if she loses.
Now contemplate Obama’s legacy if, on January 20, 2017, he’s looking on in barely suppressed disdain as the unlikeliest of figures places his (not at all too small, he insists) hand on a Bible and declares, “I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear [or affirm] that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States.”
After a Trump win, Democratic recriminations about Obama would flourish as well. His presidency would have been the story of the party’s slow, steady, painful fall from the heights of power to the depths of defeat.
In short, if Clinton fumbles this race, her defeat could leave the Democrats with nothing — no presidency, no Senate majority, a House minority that doesn’t appear likely to grow until after the 2020 redistricting at the earliest, no replacement for Scalia, and a minority of governors and seats in state legislatures. The bench and farm teams would look pretty thin; the 74-year-old Sanders, 78-year-old Jerry Brown, and the 73-year-old Joe Biden aren’t coming back in 2020 to save the party. Who would step in and lead the Democrats? Julian Castro? Andrew Cuomo?
ADDENDA: I’m off for a post-election vacation and then the National Review cruise.