Nobody knows nothin’.
All the supposedly smart people underestimated Donald Trump at every step of his campaign for president. On the morning of election day, most of the polls (with the notable exception of the L.A. Times poll) and most of the pundits who believed those polls were saying Hillary Clinton had several easy paths to the 270 electoral votes needed to become president. By the end of the day, all those paths proved to be illusive and all those experts looked like dopes.
Donald Trump is going to be the 45th president of the United States of America.
As you let that reality sink in — feeling either a giddy thrill or an impulse to vomit — let me tell you why this happened. Yes, I know, I’m an official member of the justifiably derided punditocracy, but I never was convinced Trump was destined to fail. Much as I believe in the value of logic and reason, I have long contended that democracy is not a logical process. It is a collective gut reaction ruled mostly by emotion and impulse.
Three gut reactions drove this election.
One was a broad disgust with the system as it is, from Wall Street to K Street to Pennsylvania Avenue.
The second was a sense among a majority of white voters that the country they grew up in is threatened by social and economic forces they do not fully comprehend but which they see exemplified by illegal immigration, gay marriage, liberal Supreme Court appointees and closed factories.
And third was a deep dislike and distrust of Hillary Clinton, however unfair and misguided that assessment might be.
The collective force of these three gut reactions created a massive wave that Trump expertly surfed all the way to the White House.
Now that the votes are in, we have solid understanding of just how wrong conventional analysis turned out to be. Yes, the gender gap was a big determining factor, but it wasn’t women giving a lopsided share of their votes to Clinton; it was the overwhelming majority of white men who went for Trump. Yes, Trump lost the Latino vote to Clinton, but he actually did better than Mitt Romney did with that slice of voters in 2012. Yes, Clinton was way ahead in fundraising, ran many more TV ads, had a spectacularly great convention, was the consensus winner of the three debates and surrounded herself with A-list celebrities like Katie Perry and Bruce Springsteen — in other words, as close to a perfect campaign operation as anyone could hope for — but it did not add up to victory.
Maybe the Clinton campaign leaned too far in the direction of an electorate that has not yet fully coalesced — the young, racially diverse voters who will one day run the country. Trump proved that the older white majority still holds control. And their collective gut reaction has now given us a president who I believe is intellectually, temperamentally and psychologically unfit for the awesome responsibility he has been given and who has surrounded himself with a crew of right-wingers who fill his head with crackpot ideas.
That does not give me an especially cheery view of what the next four years hold in store, although the high-minded, conciliatory words in Trump’s late-night victory speech suggested there just might be a better Trump hiding inside the tiresome, bellowing bully who dominated the campaign. For the sake of our country, I hope this improbable president surprises us all.
Follow me at @davidhorsey on Twitter