2016 chronicled a set of political campaigns for president that featured genuine contrasts within each party and across the political spectrum. Our commentary followed grass-root movements in both the Democratic and Republican camps that resulted in a nation split twice over.
Hillary Clinton’s preparation to run and become president had been going on for over a decade. After losing the nomination to President Obama in 2008, Clinton continued to make the necessary alliances and waited her turned to run with the blessing of the party.
She had paid her dues and was enjoying widespread support for a trajectory that promised to put the first woman in the presidential seat. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Bernie Sanders, a challenger to her left, lighted a spark across the landscape of a mostly Millennial group that had just become the largest national constituency and wanted balance and justice in our economic system.
“Feeling the Bern” was the rallying cry of a movement that filled event venues to capacity and fueled the frustration of American youth with the uneven recovery from the Great Recession. The new players on the Democratic political scene challenged the established order and the party platform had to be written to reflect their views as a way to fend off their candidate.
On the Republican side, the campaign process took an even more surreal turn as a reality TV showman and political outsider crafted a grass-roots movement that promised to reestablish political control of the country by the old power structure beginning with a raw attack on Latinos, immigrants and women. Donald Trump found a political vein of fear that brought out many that had not bothered to vote in the past, cobbled together a successful anti-establishment agenda and did away with 16 or more other well-established politicians seeking the Republican candidacy for president.
With his Twitter account working overtime, Trump managed to insult major leaders and sectors of national authority and in doing so, endeared himself to his followers. The pattern of insulting his opponents and key American institutions was followed often by big rallies that served to keep his base strong.
The practice of doubling down on his constituency without necessarily seeking to expand his popularity went against every political convention. Yet, it worked, as he continued to expand his following from the same type of people who originally came to his side.
On the other hand, Hillary Clinton attempted to expand her following and even went as far as to think that she could capture Republican strongholds such as Arizona and Georgia. Yet, as a political leader she was accountable for past mistakes that significantly influenced the outcome of her campaign.
As Secretary of State, Clinton decided to keep a private email server that was deemed to hold sensitive material that could compromise national security. The issues surrounding this decision kept interfering with the progress of her campaign and last-minute disclosures on the matter dampened her support on election eve.
Clinton won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College votes of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin that the campaign expected to win. Trump won the election by squeezing every vote from the rural areas that had produced less votes in the past.
President-elect Trump is now filling important positions with senior retired military officers much like small third-world countries where the best educated are the military. However, the unconventional election and its unconventional aftermath do not hide the fact that the demographic count continues its march toward a different reality and leadership.