Warren Buffett famously said that when the tide goes out you find out who is wearing a bathing suit–in other words, who is prepared and who is not.
We are in the ebb tide of the 2016 elections, and we are about to find out whether we will have a conventional, mainstream Republican ebb tide or a yuge Trumpian riptide. Hang on to your suits!
The answer may come from the question, how did “less” money defeat “more” money—Clinton and her allied superPACs outspent the the Trump side (including SuperPACs) almost 2-1, based on late October data. In other words, in a “change” election like this we better understand the wave.
Put another way, did the “purpose” of Trump voters swamp Clinton’s “money” advantage?
A few thoughts:
First, this was a “wave” election–what happens when an emotional or social surge takes on a purpose of its own and drowns out the specifics that usually influence voters. President Clinton’s win in 1992 and President Obama’s in 2008 were similar.
Change appeals to voters who feel powerless.
The one thing the Clinton team knew it did not want was voters going to the poll thinking, Same? Or different?
The 2016 Trump wave carried the day but–significantly–did not include a popular vote surge.
That’s important, and not in a good way, for the politics and policy work of the Trump Administration; an electoral plus popular surge—think of Ronald Reagan’s remarkable 1980 wave win–produces a mandate. The Reagan Revolution was a political tsunami caused by an underlying tectonic shift in the electorate that had been building up for some time—in Reagan’s case, since 1964 (check out Rick Perlstein’s remarkable historical trilogy, capped by by The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan).
There is no Trump Revolution–it is a Trump Rebellion. Trump and his team will claim otherwise, but the popular vote results say “no.”
An electoral surge alone (Trump’s) is a win in a winner-takes-all game, but it’s not a governing mandate. It’s a call for bipartisan collaboration. I do not think the Republicans gathering at Trump Tower see it that way, however.
Second, there is not a Trump Revolution–it is a Trump Rebellion. Trump and his team will claim otherwise, but the popular vote results say “no.” Trump opponents are right to keep talking about the popular vote, and the movement to reject the electoral college is a good tactic but a short-sighted strategy.
There was no seismic shift beneath the rise of Trump. His win was a rogue wave—the product of two or more otherwise harmless waves that amplify one another. This year, the first wave was the anti-incumbent impulse that makes swing voters, well, swing back after two terms of a Presidency. The second is the desperate social and economic rebellion of a set of voters who feel they have been de-valued, right or wrong, as a result of structural (the surging racial and ethnic transformation of America) and systemic (the repercussions of the Great Recession and all that led to it) changes.
Third, governing after a rebellion without a mandate is not going to be easy. Or pretty.
Governing is very different work than campaigning and even further from rebelling. President-elect Trump’s decision on Sunday to make Reince Preibus and Steven Bannon co-equals in his White House—two entirely different political operatives, one mainstream Republican and the other alt-right—suggests that he knows he needs to unify the Republican Party in a way that he never even tried to do as a candidate. Good luck with that.
Already he has backed off some of his most extreme campaign promises, and his alt-right rebel wing will not sit quietly by. Senate and House leaders are distancing themselves and preparing to fight on their (legislative) battlefields, where broken government splinters into at least 435 micro-battlefields.
There’s every reason to believe that the President-elect does not have a plan to govern, let alone a philosophy that will guide his minions. Choppy seas ahead. Washington, DC, is impatient, unforgiving, and vengeful.
Between now and Inauguration Day, the Trump tide will roll in. Purpose may have trumped money in the campaign, but is a rogue wave enough for Trump ? Or are the shifting sands under our feet the first indications of a riptide carrying us out to sea?