The nation is staggered by what it had done in Tuesday’s election. Analyses and recriminations abound. And the rabble take to the streets shouting mindless slogans and generally breaking things. Some believe FBI Director Comey did it with his fumbling announcements about the email server investigation, and I’ll grant he played a role. But I have three observations about what really lay at the bottom of this unexpected result. And unexpected it certainly is if you talk to the pollsters, but who would do so in the future after their abysmal failure this time?
First, the Democrats have a very weak bench. The main candidates were among the weakest I have seen in many decades. Compare Hillary to either her husband, ex-President Bill Clinton, or the sitting President and the contrast is stark. Vice President Joe Biden might have made a difference, but see the next issue.
Second, as with most elections following a two-term President, this was a change election. This is even more true with the current heavy dose of “Jimmy Carter malaise.” Hillary couldn’t conceivably remake herself as an instrument of change and she didn’t even try to do so.
Third, Hillary draped two anchors around her neck with her own decisions to scrounge for wealth in rather grubby ways and attempt to hide her thoughts and actions on a private email server. While she is not a great public orator, nothing she could have said or done could erase the consequences of these decisions in the current political climate. Trump exploited this skillfully but so would any other competent opponent.
So, what did it all mean? Democrats have a demographic edge, so they should be the going-in favorite in any Presidential election. It is theirs to lose, and they almost pulled it off even with a damaged candidate. But if you dig into the election data you see something ominous for Democrats. With the most vulnerable possible of opponents, their grip on their prime constituencies proved tenuous. Hispanics may not be their great hope for the future as they are more diverse than many seem to assume. Moreover, blacks are beginning to see that mainline Democrats are insufficiently devoted to their issues, whatever they say to the contrary.
For Republicans, the crystal ball is murky. Has Donald Trump assembled a new nationwide coalition, as Ronald Reagan did in 1980? Or is this a unique and unrepeatable phenomenon? I don’t think we will know the answers at least until the next midterm elections in 2018.
One special aspect of this election was somewhat masked by its other unusual considerations. We will no doubt eventually have a female President, but we may not be ready yet. Women have successfully led great democracies all over the globe, such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and India. Yet there is real evidence that Americans are not quite ready, and that probably played a minor role in this contest.
A diverse test group of voters was asked whether they could foresee and would welcome a woman in various political capacities. Almost all said they were comfortable with female cabinet members or as directors of important agencies. But when asked, “What about a woman as head of the FBI?” unexpectedly only one-fourth said they would support that. It seems that Americans, both male and female, may not yet be comfortable with women in the role of protector.
Presumably that concern would extend also to the role of Commander-in-Chief. That question was not asked because an answer would inevitably be biased by our recent political contest. The fact that we have had many female State Governors seems to contradict this result, but perhaps that arises from their perceived lesser scope of responsibility.