Commentary: Thoughts After Unexpected Election Results

Nov 18, 2016

Well.  I did not see this election coming.  I take no comfort in being in good company.  The evidence was in plain sight.  I chose to discount or ignore it, because I was wed to old ways of thinking.  Clearly many of the analytics we use in elections are obsolete or irrelevant or both.  This applies especially to polls, whose problems I have been talking about in this space for some time.

About the only certain metric was that Republicans win the presidency in years when the Cubs win the World Series: 1908 and now 2016.  And about the only undisputed outcome is that two political dynasties came crashing down in the same year – the Bush dynasty last summer and now the Clinton dynasty.  That’s impressive. 

This election was two things and it was not one thing.  This was a change election and this was a coattails election.  The last time we had one that was both was when Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980.

Enough Americans wanted something different, very different, that nationally they elected Donald Trump president an in Missouri they elected Eric Greitens governor, just to give the two most obvious examples.

And Trump’s coattails were long enough nationally to increase the Republican hold on state legislatures and governorships.  In Missouri’s U.S. Senate race Roy Blunt went all in on by staying with Trump and he won his bet, as did every other statewide Republican, for the first time in Missouri history.

Trump’s coattails extended even into Boone Co, electing Caleb Rowden to the state senate and Fred Parry to the county commission.  I predicted they would win but for the wrong reasons.  I thought they would win for local or idiosyncratic reasons.  They won because they hung ten on the big Republican wave.

So now what?  Republicans own Washington and they own Jefferson City.  They won’t have President Obama to obstruct and they won’t have Governor Nixon’s vetoes to override.  They must produce.  And at the national level, Trump’s campaign promises now come due.  If he doesn’t build a wall, if he doesn’t bring back jobs, if he doesn’t appoint a special prosecutor for Hillary Clinton, how will his more fanatical supporters respond?

What this election was not was a realigning election.  Voters are not massively shifting from one party to another.  It wasn’t a landslide.  Nationally it was pretty close and Clinton actually won the popular vote.

Democrats must regroup and quickly identify a leader.  You Democrats must ask and answer some hard questions, starting with: How do we get the white working class vote back?  In my opinion you need to start by acknowledging that you lost them on social issues.  You have been dismissive, if not condescending, about citizens who seem to be voting against their economic self-interest.  You don’t need to abandon your principles but you do need to change the conversation about social issues so these voters will stop tuning them out on the economic ones.

And Congratulations to Republicans and I wish you well.  You are in the best shape nationally since the 1920s.  But you are absolutely set up for overreach.  American demographics are still decidedly in the Democrats’ favor in the long term and your new leader could not be more arrogant.  You are perfectly capable of messing this up.

Thanks for listening these months.  I’ll be back occasionally to give a few thoughts about this brave new world of American politics.