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The Trump movement

Sunday, November 13, 2016

At the time of writing, with the votes still being counted in many states, it is possible that for the fourth time in its history, the first past-the-post system may elect a United States President who has won the Electoral College and lost the popular vote to a rival candidate. It has happened with Rutherford B Hayes—1876, Benjamin Harrison—1888, and George W Bush—2000. In 1824 John Quincy Adams was elected with neither the Electoral College vote nor the popular vote as that election was decided in the House of Representatives.

Fast forward to 2016 and Donald Trump has already won enough votes to deliver the Electoral College to him. How did he do it? My own hypothesis has been that he drew support from two leaderless populist movements of angry voters, namely the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Taxed Enough Already (TEA) party movement.

He became the voice of millions of people who were angry with the political and financial establishment and just wanted a change. Those voters were out there and during the primaries it was obvious that he was winning them in the Republican primaries and Bernie Sanders was winning them in the Democratic primaries.

Then came the shock release of Wikileaks emails in July that showed how Debbie Wasserman-Shultz and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) were conspiring to deny Bernie Sanders his legitimate right to fairly compete for the Democratic nomination. Wasserman-Shultz resigned as chairman of the DNC. 

The Bernie Sanders message that won him 22 states in the Democratic primaries was exactly where Trump went to create his movement. Just like Sanders, he attacked media corruption, Washington corruption, trade deals, Wall Street corruption, and then added his own attack on immigration and the rising costs of what he called “Obamacare”, and joined that with his anti-abortion position and his stout defence of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

The key to the Trump victory can be found in the “Rust Belt” states of Pennsylvania (20 votes), Ohio (18 votes), Michigan (16 votes), and Wisconsin (ten votes) which accounted for 64 Electoral College votes. This is where the working class lay unrepresented and could identify with either the Occupy Wall Street or TEA Party movements. 

Trump’s campaign manager and chief strategist Kellyanne Conway identified the “Rust Belt” as the key to a Trump victory—together with North Carolina and Florida—and clearly advised her candidate to focus on those states. 

Without those 64 Electoral College votes—of which he has 48 so far as Michigan is still being counted—he would not be heading to the White House. He was being criticised in the mainstream media for visiting those “Rust Belt” states as they constituted what was called the “blue firewall” around the Clinton victory and it was a waste of his time and resources, and he kept making a joke of it on the platform by saying that the mainstream media did not think that they (the voters) were worthy of a visit from him. 

By the time it was too late for the Democrats to realise what was going on, Van Jones, on CNN’s State of the Union programme last Sunday, said: “There is a crack in the blue wall. It has to do with trade. This is a ghost of Bernie. There is a discontent with some Democratic voters over trade and some blame Hillary Clinton.” 

That realisation came too late in the final days of the campaign. Furthermore, the opinion polls never picked it up and Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Centre for Politics admitted that they missed rural America in their methodology. Kellyanne Conway did not miss it and staked her reputation on the advice she was giving to Trump.

In the “Rust Belt”, Bernie Sanders defeated Clinton in the Wisconsin and Michigan primaries, even though the flawed polls predicted at the time that Clinton would win the Michigan primary, while Clinton won the Pennsylvania and Ohio primaries. That told a story that Bernie’s message was getting through to voters there. The Trump campaign made that a key pillar of their campaign once the DNC had orchestrated Sanders’ eventual defeat at the convention. 

If Bernie Sanders was the Democratic candidate, one could speculate whether or not Trump would have won the “Rust Belt”.

The three debates did not matter as Clinton won all three and Trump won the presidency. The Republican establishment did Trump a huge favour by not supporting him as it made him more acceptable to working-class Democrats who felt that Clinton was not addressing their needs as much as Trump was with his “Drain the swamp in Washington” and anti-trade deal rhetoric against NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That is what they wanted to hear and he was the only one saying it.

On December 19, the Electoral College meets all across America in the state capitals to cast their votes. On January 6 the United States Senate will meet to count the Electoral College votes and certify the winner. On January 20 at 12 noon, the new President will take the oath of office.


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