It turns out that Donald Trump was right: the election was rigged.
On November 8, Hillary Clinton won a majority of votes cast, approximately 1.5 to two percent more than received by Trump, but Trump will become the new president in January. Constitutions have consequences.
The following are observations and predictions from a Republican who strenuously opposed Trump at the Republican National Convention and continued that opposition through election day.
The Trump Victory Offers Both Silver Linings and Potential Pitfalls
Trump’s victory is a bittersweet moment for “Never Trump” Republicans. Clinton will not be president. A Republican will fill the Supreme Court vacancy. The opportunity exists to end Washington gridlock and reverse Barack Obama’s liberal policies. If congressional Republicans can get past a Senate filibuster, Obamacare can be repealed and replaced. Immigration reform legislation can be passed on Republican terms. Taxes will be lower than they otherwise would be. If only losing could always be this good.
The downsides: Trump is ethically-challenged; has thus far lacked the temperament for the office; will reverse longstanding Republican policy positions on trade and fiscal responsibility; and possesses a disquieting authoritarian disposition. If he continues to display hostility towards women and minorities, he will solidify the party’s negative perception among those groups. Furthermore, the unethical political operatives who strongly backed Trump during the campaign will not be marginalized, but empowered with cabinet appointments and other rewards.
In addition, Trump’s lack of concern about policy details increases the probability of massive policy failures. For example, consider that Trump relentlessly campaigned to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, but the replacement was always theoretical. In order to satisfy tremendous pressure from the Republican base, will Trump demand that Obamacare be repealed even without a well-defined replacement? Will congressional Republicans pass a plan in time to prevent millions of people from losing their coverage? Policy missteps by a party and candidate who have not paid attention to policy details could result in severe political consequences.
Trump’s Election Victory is Not a Mandate
The reasons for Trump’s win are not entirely clear (CNN devised 24 possible reasons), although clearly the issues of Supreme Court appointments, Obamacare, and immigration drove many Trump voters to the polls. Despite Trump’s Electoral College majority, the election was exceedingly close. Trump lost the majority vote, and he won fewer votes than either John McCain or Mitt Romney. Clinton failed to attract black and Hispanic voters more than Trump won them. Those voters mainly voted for third party candidates or failed to vote.
Clinton supporters are somewhat justified in believing that the election was not a fair contest. Based on the best intelligence available, it appears that Russia intervened in the election by hacking the e-mail accounts of Clinton staff and dumping those emails into the public domain over the course of many weeks. FBI Director James Comey’s letter to congressional leaders 11 days before the election, announcing a review of newly-discovered Clinton-related emails (emails which later turned out to be completely inconsequential), turned the public’s focus to Clinton’s alleged corruption at the worst possible moment for her. On the other hand, there is some truth to Trump partisans who contend that the media was biased against him.
The Republican Party is Still Sitting on a Demographic Time Bomb
The Republican National Committee’s Growth and Opportunity Project report warned that the party faced electoral oblivion unless it found a way to become more appealing to minorities (especially Hispanics) because, with time, those groups will become an ever-larger larger percentage of the electorate. Many Republicans will conclude that Trump’s win means that the party doesn’t need to work hard to diversify itself and that Never Trump Republican concerns about Trump’s alienation of non-white voters was overblown. They are wrong.
Trump did better than expected with minority voters and women, which will lead many Trump supporters to believe that all is well. Most of the post-election demographic comparisons in the media have compared the performance of Trump (8% black voter support, 29% Hispanic support) with that of Romney (6% black voter support and 27% Hispanic voter support). However, Trump ran against a white woman with serious character issues, but Romney ran against a black man with no major character issues. A better historical example would be George W. Bush in 2004, who performed better than Trump with blacks (11%) and Hispanics (44%). Trump underperformed at a time when the GOP needed to gain ground on the Democrats.
American Politics Will Become More Machiavellian
The American political elite learned some lessons this election cycle. Demagoguery works. Making up facts about your opponent works. Ignore the fact-checkers and keep telling the lies. Promise to fix what may be unfixable and worry about the details later. Delay confirmation hearings on a Supreme Court nominee for ten months in order to permit your party’s president to pick the nominee.
The Republican hardball tactics succeeded. As a result, Democrats will be very angry in 2017 and will likely retaliate. The real change wrought by Trump may be an increase in Machiavellian tactics and the decline of civility.
Never Trump Republicans Should Stay with the Party—For Now
Some Republicans opposed to Trump are already leaving the party. However, Republicans of conscience will be more influential if they stay in the party and attempt to check its excesses from within. It’s certainly possible that Trump will grow in the office and be more inclusive and statesman-like. After all, he repeatedly confounded conventional wisdom in 2016. His critics should brace themselves for the possibility that Trump will indeed make America great again.
Currently the principal of Everest Law Firm in Alexandria, Virginia, Kris Hammond has served as an attorney for a district court judge, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the U.S. Department of Justice in its Civil Rights Division. He has run for office twice and was an elected delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention.