Trump's "Surprise" Victory and the Bernie Factor

I rushed to publish a bunch of election-themed posts on this blog the night before Election Day, (actually Election Day morning), and one of them was this one: My Electoral College Prediction: 329 to Clinton, 209 to Trump.

I didn't spend much time thinking about my prediction, but simply used the assumptions from polling websites like FiveThirtyEight about which states were "safe" and then guessed that Trump would win Ohio while losing North Carolina—only two changes from the results of the 2012 Romney-Obama election.

2016 election results, with Michigan and New Hampshire
still not confirmed and Trump flipped states darkened (source)
That's pretty hilarious (or bittersweet) to look at now, considering the election result—almost the inverse of my predicted Electoral College score, with Clinton expected to take 232 and Trump 306. Trump won with a wide margin by taking states that pollsters considered "safe" or "leaning" for Hillary—Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan—primarily through low turnout among Democrats and greatly increased support from lower-income voters and white voters without college degrees.

In retrospect, however, there were some people who predicted that this was exactly how Trump would win, and in many ways we should not be surprised at the result, even if the pollsters were.

Filmmaker Michael Moore made the best prediction I know of, with his piece "5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win." He correctly pointed to Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as the hotspots to watch; he summoned the image of the "angry white man" to explain the reaction of many white people to major cultural changes in our country—a phenomenon that definitely helped elect Trump; he pointed out how Hillary Clinton's candidacy was a very bad choice for the Democratic Party—very much borne out by the low turnout; and he pointed out that many people cast votes to express anger toward a broken political system or throw a wrench in the works.

In short, many, many Americans wanted change in our government and saw Donald Trump as a preferable agent of that change over Hillary Clinton—or perhaps as the only possible agent of change, if Clinton would bring none.

a simple yet effective statement from Bernie Sanders from
after the election showing how he would have won
That's where Bernie Sanders comes in. For many of us who supported Bernie Sanders in his campaign for the Democratic nomination, one of our first reactions to the election results was to reflect on how easily Bernie would have defeated Trump. Bernie's offered a clear vision for change to lower income and middle class Americans, and he offered praise for aspects of Obama's presidency but criticized many others (a point Clinton attacked him on). Very importantly, Bernie never campaigned in a way that put down conservatives and Trump supporters; as matter of fact, he repeatedly made sympathetic statements, showing concern and understanding for why they might feel how they did. (Also read this piece he wrote after the election.)

The results of this election show that the attacks from Hillary Clinton and her surrogates against Trump and his supporters did a great deal to galvanize them. Even if Trump really was the least-qualified presidential candidate ever, even if many of his words and actions should have disqualified him from the presidency, and even if he endangered or will endanger certain groups of Americans, none of that justified generalized attacks on his supporters—and it was a losing strategy anyway. Bernie Sanders wouldn't have taken that road, and all the sympathy he expressed for downtrodden voters would have been felt as genuine, unlike anything that came from Hillary.

the Democrats' presidential candidate wasn't offering
much inspiring change that mattered this year (source)
Additionally, Trump's victory was certainly backed by feelings of economic loss and marginalization that Clinton did little to effectively assuage. (Trump offered to "Make America Great Again" while Clinton offered "America is Already Great.") Meanwhile, the message of economic justice and revitalization was central to everything Sanders did and said. Articles by Thomas Frank and Glenn Greenwald do a marvelous job of outlining how people living under neoliberal regimes in America, Europe, and elsewhere are ready to lash out—and how the Democratic Party selected the perfect representative of the neoliberal order in nominating Hillary Clinton. For many Americans still seeking "hope and change," Clinton did not offer it.

I and many others have little doubt that Bernie Sanders would have defeated Donald Trump if he had been the Democrats' nominee. Who knows how many more Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania voters he would have won—along with voters around the country—who instead voted for Trump, a third-party candidate, or merely stayed home. I hope this defeat sends shockwaves through the Democratic Party in particular, toppling corporatist Clinton supporters and paving the way for real progressives to take charge. Donald Trump may not have run a great campaign, but he found a clear path to victory and appealed to voters in ways that Hillary could not. Now we all have to live with him as our next president, and keep working for positive changes whenever and wherever we can.