What Had Happened Was…

So many people went into November 9th completely shell-shocked. “What happened? What just happened? What in the world just happened?” After one of the most publicized, criticized, scandalized, and humor-ized Presidential campaigns ever…people were positive that they knew what the results would be.  Those people were wrong.  Very wrong.  There was talk that the Senate majority could flip to the other side, that didn’t happen.  There was talk that many of the governor seats that were up for re-election could be flipped, for the most part that didn’t happen.  The polls, the media, and a good percentage of the population were dead wrong.

Well, what had happened was…

Historical/Cultural Context

So there was an election in 2008 that put a guy named Barack Hussein Obama into the White House.  As amazed as so many of us were that it happened, many were so enraged that they hatched plots to see to it he would not win re-election.  Some public officials went so far as to broadcast their opposition openly.  Others organized into a grass-roots organization known as the Tea Party.  The opposers and the Tea Party built a force large enough to take a majority of seats in both the Senate and House of Representatives in 2010, as well as several Governor positions.  From there the movement went to oppose President Obama’s re-election in 2012.  Well, they lost again.

This caused the anger to reach a fever pitch.  On the backs of the Trayvon Martin killing in 2012 and the re-election of President Obama, the tenor of that opposition changed.  The actions turned to police violence/homicide against minorities and began to birth an Identity War.  When the Confederate Flag came under attack, when gay marriage became legalized, when the Bundy family staged a standoff with the government, when suddenly white characters and straight characters weren’t always the lead and even sometimes the goof…it fueled this identity consciousness of a large percentage of the white and Conservative people in America.  These items became more pitched and more heated as events like Ferguson, Missouri, the “War on Christmas” and the taking down of the Confederate Flag at the South Carolina State House came to be.  When you add that to the fact that human manufacturing jobs have been disappearing (some to off-shoring, but most to automation), this created a mindset of white, Conservatives are under attack and something had to be done about it.

The Guy & His Crew

Here enters Donald J. Trump into the picture.  He was a real-estate developer with a very checkered personal and professional life.  His successes were remembered (Trump Tower, Miss America pageant, The Apprentice) and his failures were forgotten (3 personal bankruptcies, 3 wives, and a laundry list of failed projects and companies).  That said, he had two major things going for him…he was staunchly anti-establishment and he had an attitude, a bravado, that attracted throngs of angry Conservatives to him.  These two things carried him well above all of the establishment Conservatives very quickly, which surprised everyone.  By the time he won the GOP nomination he had already said enough things that would have buried the campaign of any other candidate, but he had a finger on the pulse of a larger movement than anyone realized.

So he moves into the Presidential election and the wave of support pulls former enemies (e.g. Chris Christie, Ben Carson) into supporters.  He had rallied the support of all the major Conservative media (FOX News, Breitbart, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter) and furthered the belief that “mainstream media” is biased against Conservatives and Liberals have “rigged the election.”  All the while there was a growing, but behind-the-scenes, relationship with hate groups around the country.  He would re-tweet statements from known members of white supremacy groups.  They, in turn, referred to Mr. Trump as “glorious leader” and refer to his wife as “Empress”.  If Mr. Trump disliked someone, the hate groups would terrorize that person (see Julia Ioffe, Bethany Mandel, Trump rape accusers).  Somehow this tie-in with white power groups was not hit on because the focus was all on Trump’s other antics.  Meanwhile Trump rallies were getting increasingly more violent and have a much more “white power” tone to them.  So between the angry Conservatives, the political opponents of Barack Obama (which became opponents of Hillary Clinton), the ties to the growing white power movement and scandals that repeatedly rocked Hillary Clinton’s campaign…the game was flipped though the media and most of the country couldn’t see it working.

The Play For Power

  1. In 2015, the Supreme Court repealed sections of the Civil Rights Act that placed restrictions on election laws in many Southeastern states.  Once that decision came down, a wave of new election laws (voter IDs and others) and gerrymandered districts hit those states, led by North Carolina and Mississippi.  Despite several Supreme Court rulings that struck down a number of unconstitutional laws, including one ruling against the State of North Carolina stating that their gerrymandered districts “target African Americans with almost surgical precision“, the race was on to suppress voting by any opposition groups.
  2. To further this agenda, Trump openly recruited people to “monitor the polls”, you know, in case some of “those people” were going to commit voter fraud.  Despite his instructing people to do so being a direct violation of Election laws, the number of these folks increased to over 3000, with the express purpose of influencing voting in minority and otherwise known-Democrat-leaning polling locations.
  3. The GOP majority in the Senate refused to hold confirmation votes on candidates that President Obama put forth for the vacant Supreme Court seat.  This had never happened before in American history.  After the death of Antonin Scalia, there was a political stalemate in the Supreme Court and the next justice appointed would hold the tie-breaker (which is very important).  Appointing Supreme Court Justices is the right and responsibility of the current President.  Confirming (or not) the President’s appointed justice is the duty of the Senate.  In favor of letting the next President appoint the Supreme Court Justice, the Senate blocked a confirmation vote on the Presidents nominee. This made the balance of power in the Supreme Court a front and center issue.
  4. Hacktivist groups (WikiLeaks, Anonymous, and others) found a huge pile of inflammatory material on Hillary Clinton and released it within the last months of the election cycle.  At one point, Mr. Trump went so far as to openly ask Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails.  Somehow, despite openly committing a treasonous act, the circus of Mr. Trump’s antics just kept right on.  The onslaught of material seemingly called into question her ethics as Secretary of State, her family’s Foundation, her personal dealings with Major Banks, and her collusion with the DNC to rig the Democrat-primary.  This onslaught of blows pulled many an independent voter away from their original Anti-Trump vote because now they considered her a bigger threat to the country than he was.
  5. The FBI sent out a cryptic message to Congress that insinuated there might be some link between Hillary Clinton’s emails and an active investigation.  Before even the FBI could determine what they had, this was blown into a massive scandal just two weeks before the election.  This was both unprecedented and illegal.  The FBI cannot interject itself into a political campaign either by direct investigation or passive insinuation.  Still, with so many voters trying to decide between the “lesser to two evils”, the exit polls showed that quite a few people made their decision on who to vote for within the last week of the campaign, right after this story broke.
  6. Then there were the state battles over early voting, how long would it be provided, where would it be provided, what hours would they be open and how many ballot boxes they would have.  There were several states where the line to vote lasted hours.  In several battleground states there were open lawsuits over how the State Electoral Board was manipulating polling locations and availability to reduce access to voters who typically lean-Democrat.  These tactics, and others, led to an increase in non-voting and provisional ballots.

Apathy & Traps

By the time early voting began in most states, many people had just gotten tired of the election.  The never-ending talk about his scandal and her scandal left a lot of people torn because they didn’t like either candidate.  Many people decided this was a great time to vote for a third-party candidate (Jill Stein or Gary Johnson) and others decided to not vote at all.  By some counts more than 100 million eligible voters (more than 43%) did not vote in this election.  In most elections you would think that this would impact both candidates the same, but this was not most elections.  By any account Trump supporters were more enthusiastic and more active for their candidate than Clinton supporters were for theirs.  Mr. Trump knew this about his followers and said so back in January, that he could “stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody” and he wouldn’t lose one voter.  As it turns out, he was right.  Despite not releasing his tax returns, numerous offensive remarks, tapes admitting to sexual assault, stating he might not accept the election results, openly advocating for people to break election laws, and insinuating that “2nd amendment folks” might “do something” about Hillary Clinton if she were to win the election…despite all that, his following didn’t shrink, it grew.

While Mr. Trump was growing his empire, the moves of several states’ Election Boards caused significantly higher numbers of challenged and provisional ballots in this years election.  For those who might not be aware, a challenged ballot means that someone in the polling station believes that ballot may have been cast in error or may be a duplicate.  In many cases, a ballot that is challenged is not done so with the person present and they are never notified that their ballot was discarded.  A provisional ballot is something that a voter can cast if he or she believes they are eligible and registered to vote but is unable to cast a regular ballot (i.e. voting out of district, name doesn’t appear in official registrar list).  While a provisional ballot is, in fact, a vote there is one catch to a provisional ballot.  It is not counted on Election Day.  So, when the states are tallying their votes on Election Day to determine who won the state’s Electoral College votes, the provisional ballots are not counted.  In North Carolina alone, there were more than 60,000 provisional ballots cast.  In California it is estimated that more than 4,000,000 provisional ballots were cast. The Center for American Progress found “significant correlation between minority voting-age population and the number of provisional ballots cast at the county level in 16 states,” including the battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Colorado, Florida and North Carolina.

Lastly, we have the electoral college.  This is one of the most-commonly misunderstood concepts in American politics.  The electoral college is a separate group of individuals, selected by each state political party before the general election.  When citizens go to vote on Election Day or before, they are not directly voting for their candidate, they are instead voting to elect a slate of electors that each party has put forward to represent their party if they win the general election popular vote.  After the general election, the party whose candidate won the general election in that state gets their slate of electors.  There are exceptions but 48 states follow it.  These electors come together after the general election (it will be December 19th this year) and conduct the actual vote to determine who will be the President.  As you can imagine, electors are generally elected to their position for party loyalty or being in a position of leadership.  It is extremely rare that an elector turns against their party but it has happened in the past.

So how are the number of electors determined?

The total number of electors is equal to the number of members of Congress (538).  So for each state they add up the # of Senators (2) and the # of House Reps (in NC, there are 13) and come up with the # of Electoral College votes that are placed in the final vote for that state.  Because the Senate is required to have two-members for each state, this places a significant electoral advantage to states with lower populations (Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota).  While these states have small populations (e.g. Wyoming has just over 500,000 people, which is smaller than Milwaukee, WI or Albuquerque, NM) they are guaranteed at least 3 Electoral College votes.  Meanwhile, states with larger populations (e.g. California’s population is nearly 80x bigger than Wyoming) have fewer relative EC votes (California has 55 EC votes).  So a significant stronghold on states with smaller populations can have an effect where a candidate loses the popular election but wins the electoral college election.  We saw this when Al Gore lost to George W. Bush in 2000 and we’re seeing it again this year with Hillary Clinton.  Some would say the electoral college is wrong but there are two good arguments to keep it: 1) It has been long established, the first one was in 1787, 2) It is the only way that states with smaller populations can hope to impact the Presidential Election.  For example, the State of California has more people in it than the 22 lowest population states combined.

Conclusion

In the end the Presidential election came down to a whole bunch of factors, from Identity Politics to Political Treachery to a Cult of Personality, and very few of them could have been turned around in the last year.  The election was not, as some believe, stolen but it was absolutely manipulated.  In the end, two things mattered most in this election and there are lessons to be learned from both of them.

  1. Far too many people didn’t use the vote to make their voice heard.

    • Popular vote or not, the lack of voter turnout was an automatic boost to the Trump campaign because he made his supporters white-hot for voting, so any negative impacts of people not voting were most likely to be felt by his opponents.
  2. Too much arrogance and not enough strategy went into Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency.

    • The Clinton campaign made a number of the same mistakes that Mr. Trump’s opponents in the GOP primary made.  They assumed that his actions, attitude and behavior would turn voters off, when it is what turned many voters on.  They assumed that his inexperience as a politician, which is universally agreed on, would be a detractor when in fact it was one of his best selling points.  They mistakenly fed the Identity politics by calling his followers deplorable, racist, sexist, etc.  They assumed that because “mainstream media” agreed that Trump couldn’t win that he could be overlooked.

As I mentioned, the election was not actually stolen but the winner simply outplayed his opponent.  Checkmate!