Donald Trump’s Historic Victory


The Electoral College


            Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, becoming the first president since Benjamin Harrison in 1888 to win the White House in the Electoral College but lose the popular vote.  Trump won the White House with 306 electoral votes (56.87%) making him the 29th most popular president out of forty-four, just behind Harry Truman and ahead of John F. Kennedy. He can move up in his second term.


            There have been three other presidents: John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, and George W. Bush who have become president without winning the popular vote. In the case of Adams and Hayes it was the United States Congress that awarded the presidency to the candidate with fewer votes, and in the case of George W. Bush it was the Supreme Court.


            So, the Electoral College has only changed the outcome of an election from the popular vote twice in American history. In the case of Benjamin Harrison, the loser, Grover Cleveland, returned four years later to win his second term. 


            The Electoral College serves at least five important functions. First, it keeps the selection of the president in the hands of the states and out of the hands of the federal government, an important check and balance in the Constitution. Second, it forces the president to have support in all five[1] geographic areas of the nation and not just one or two, ensuring that the president represents the whole country. Third, it compensates for the bias toward small states in the United States Senate by favoring the big states in the selection of the president.[2] Fourth, it puts the selection of the president in the hands of ordinary citizens who are free to act in the nation’s best interest in the event of egregious electoral shenanigans at the local level. Congress awarded the disputed electoral votes to Hayes to remedy massive black voter intimidation. And fifth, it is responsible for the much maligned swing state system that actually forces candidates to get out and meet the people in person.  With over 130,000,000 votes cast in the 2016 election, all presidents would be creatures of mass media if it weren’t for the fact that in every election cycle there are one or two crucial small swing states, like New Hampshire, where the voters are accustomed to getting to know the presidential candidates in person.


            As for the argument that all voters are not equal, even in House races that are based on population, some districts have 365,000 voters while others have 163,000 which is less than half.


            Another sign of the weakness of Trump’s victory is that this election is only the eighth time in the forty-one contests over the past 160 years since 1856 that the winning candidate for president’s party lost seats in both houses of congress. George W. Bush’s stolen election in 2000 was one of the eight (another indication that Gore actually won the election), along with Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996. The other five were Eisenhower’s re-election in 1956, Wilson’s re-election in 1916, Taft’s election in 1908, McKinley in 1896 and Cleveland in 1884. So the norm is that winning candidates for president help their party in congress. There have been two clusters where this does not happen, the past twenty years, and the thirty-two years between 1884 and 1916. Ike was an outlier, the only one in eighty years. The years 1884 – 1916 was the time when America was industrializing and there was much conflict and turmoil between capital and labor, gold and silver, men and women, wets and drys, etc. Look for continued rough weather. The worrying sign is that McKinley in 1896 presided over the Spanish-American War, Wilson in 1916 took the country into World War I, and Harry Truman took us into Korea.  Trump is determined to wage war with Iran, so the situation is precarious.


            Trump is a bully, media star and a gangster. He ran a racist, xenophobic, misogynistic campaign. He did not release his tax returns, admitted to paying no taxes, yet held himself out as a successful business man. He shortchanged his small suppliers and, I think, made his money by fleecing the other investors in his real estate empire through his multiple bankruptcies.  Not well known is that in Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, published on November 10, 2015, Jon Meacham reports that when George H. W. Bush was looking for a vice-presidential candidate in 1988, his campaign received a communication from Donald Trump asking to be considered as his running mate. Bush and his staff considered the request bizarre. This proves that Trump has been running for president for at least twenty-eight years, he just chose the alternate entertainment route, outside the political establishment. But it is all an act. He is as much a professional politician and insider as any, he just has a better façade.


            Trump is a multi-millionaire who, like many of his well-off supporters, masquerades as a friend of the working man. In a sense, he is one of them, to the extent that he is totally ignorant of government and how it operates.  Sometimes voters elect the solution and sometimes voters elect the problem and force it to govern. Trump is definitely one of the latter, given the fact that he lost the popular vote by 2.56 million. National interest does not change depending on the distribution of votes. Trump’s victory was clearly based on domestic economics, not foreign policy in which he is completely ignorant. 


            Trump won because he has the skill set that the country needs at this moment. The voters chose the builder to rebuild the infrastructure: roads, bridges, tunnels and airports, all of which he accused of being “third-world” during the campaign. Clinton campaigned on her devotion to children and families, and experience in foreign policy.  Her problem was that all the social goods she espoused can not happen without jobs and money. The nation is broke. The big question is whether the Republicans in congress, the fiscal conservatives who tried to shut down the government during Barack Obama’s presidency, are now going to start writing checks. If they do, they will prove what many already suspect, that the white men of the Republican Party, on the Supreme Court and in the FBI are racists.


            In 2016, the Electoral College did what it was designed to do, represent the land. In a closely fought contest, rural residents, outmatched in numbers but highly motivated by desperate economic conditions and prospects, turned out in droves to support Donald Trump. At the same time, Hillary Clinton’s inept campaign strategy kept many Democratic voters home.


Clinton Was Nixon, 1960


            Hillary Clinton was a deeply flawed candidate, much like Richard Nixon. Hard working and resilient, she had a shady background and was shifty on the issues. Like Nixon, she had a major health issue when she collapsed at the 9/11 memorial service in New York. Nixon hit his knee on a car door while campaigning in North Carolina. The knee became infected, and he had to be hospitalized for ten days, from August 30 to September 9th.


The media makes the man


            Not widely mentioned during the campaign, both major party candidates came from New York, the media capital of America. After two years of incessant Benghazi allegations, Clinton got caught up in an email imbroglio. She had used a private email server and personal communication device when conducting official business as secretary of state. What the actual significance of the email issue was remains a mystery to most people. It was given overwhelming publicity, more than all other issues combined during the campaign. Clinton’s inability to kill it or move beyond it was not helped by the October surprise of FBI director James Comey’s release of a letter he sent to congress ten days before the balloting, alleging the possibility of reopening Clinton’s email issue, and then sounding the “just kidding” on the weekend before the election.


            On October 10, the Trump Taj Mahal closed. Four days before the election, the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto, Canada went into receivership. These two business failures got scant, if any, media coverage. The media however extensively covered Trump on October 26, less than two weeks before the election, when he took time off the campaign trail to cut the ribbon at the opening of his new Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.


            Trump, the television media star of the “Apprentice” garnered tremendous media exposure as a result of his outrageous statements and claims on the campaign trail. By the time the campaign ended, it was estimated that Trump received $5 billion of free television time. In March, during the primaries, Les Moonves, the executive chairman and CEO of CBS said, “I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going. It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” This from the head of a broadcaster that is licensed to use public airwaves and is supposed to operate in the public interest.


The Rigged Election


            Donald Trump started claiming that the election was rigged early in the primary season. He said if he wasn’t treated fairly, he would run as an independent. He never said in what way the election was rigged. Of course, the election has rules, and those rules bias the playing field toward one candidate or another. The biased rules always favor the Republicans and Democrats and discriminate against independents.


            The so-called debates excluded Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, who was running as a Libertarian and was on the ballot in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. Did Donald demand Johnson’s inclusion in the debates to make the election less rigged?  No. 


            After Clinton won the Democratic nomination over Bernie Sanders it turned out that the Democratic National Committee was not impartial in their administration of the selection process.  This was true as I stopped contributing to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee when I discovered that it took sides in the Pennsylvania democratic Senate primary. Maybe that explains Trump’s 70,638 vote margin in Pennsylvania.


            Consistent with Clinton’s disastrous strategy (see next section) no one bothered to explain why Clinton’s 3.5 million vote margin over Sanders made sense.  Sanders’ coalition consisted of three legs: the Hillary haters, the gun nuts, and the students crushed by education debt.  In a general election campaign with Bernie as the candidate, the Hillary issue would have disappeared, and the other two legs were incongruous in governmental terms. Students and gun owners, that sounds like a viable coalition – not.


            Yet, Trump was able to use his accusations of rigged election to effect with Sanders’ voters, and Bernie himself never rallied to the cause of democracy. Sanders’ sour grapes certainly cost Clinton many votes, not to mention those voters who pushed the button or filled in the oval for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Let’s see how important the pipeline issue is now that Trump is in power.


Clinton’s Catastrophic Campaign Strategy


            The 2016 presidential campaign was unrelentingly negative in tone. Trump hurled vitriol and insults at everyone: Mexicans, Moslems, and fellow Republican candidates.  He was a name caller. Clinton and Obama were too clever by half promoting Trump for the Republican nomination by giving his absurd birther[3] claims viability and visibility. Trying to get the other party to nominate the weakest, instead of the strongest, opponent has been the strategy of both parties while in power. I have worried for decades that some day the straw candidate would win. Now, it has happened. Hillary also pursued an overwhelmingly negative campaign strategy. All the fund raising solicitations said, “Stop Trump.” Where was the positive message for Clinton, for choice, for the Supreme Court nominee, for gun control and maintaining the nuclear non-proliferation regime?


            Trump was vicious, but Clinton was a punching bag. Trump attacked the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as inept and poorly negotiated. Clinton never defended it, although it entered into force under her husband’s presidency. Trump savaged Obama’s foreign policy. Clinton was his Secretary of State in Obama’s first term. Early in her campaign, I read that her strategy was to put some distance between herself and Obama’s foreign policy. I wrote her saying, “Do you really think you can run against the foreign policy of the administration of which you were a part?” A few days later, it was announced that Clinton was supporting the Iran Nuclear Deal, but would strictly enforce it.


            After the conventions, in September, Trump was all over the news and there was no sign of Hillary. I asked myself, “Where’s Hillary?” The answer was that she was deliberately keeping a low profile so all the attention would be focused on Trump and everyone would see how terrible he is. Well and good. But during the debates, when Trump attacked the Iran Nuclear Deal, Clinton did not defend it.


            Hillary’s campaign strategy was especially perplexing given the fact that in 1992, her husband rewrote the campaign tactic rule book. His strategy was to refute every accusation as quickly and thoroughly as possible.  The whole campaign was consumed by accusations of Hillary’s misuse of her email server when Secretary of State. Although she accepted full responsibility, she never defended her actions so most voters still had no idea about what she did, or its seriousness, and Trump used this against her with effect. She could have said, “I welcome a full and fair investigation.”


            But Hillary’s biggest error was running a swing state instead of national campaign. Generations of Clinton insiders and others have complained of the poll driven conduct of both Clintons.  Hillary concentrated on the swing states to the exclusion of a vast stretch of the nation. Therefore, she never even visited Wisconsin once during the general election campaign.


            A split decision from the voters was the best to be expected from such a terrible campaign and flawed candidates. Trump was elected to rebuild the infrastructure, while his popular vote loss remains to constrain his conduct. National interest does not change depending on the distribution of votes; but this reality was ignored by George W. Bush who promptly plunged the United States into bankruptcy and two unwinnable wars.  Hillary’s popular vote plurality answers the question, “Can a woman be president?” The voters answered with a resounding “Yes,” just not this woman. Clinton’s problem, a fatal one in politics, was to take voters for granted. Seemingly, this trait is longstanding with the Clintons.


            Hillary’s law partner in Arkansas, Webster Hubbell, in his book Friends in High Places, says: “The Clintons move through your life like a hurricane, leaving nothing but a path of destruction in their wake.” President Donald Trump is the disaster we have Hillary Clinton to thank for.


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Election Night Coverage


            One of my earliest memories is of looking up at my parents huddled over the gray RCA victor radio, perched on the edge of the dining room table, listening to the 1952 election results. Their candidate, Adlai Stevenson, was getting creamed. The first time I stayed up past 3:00 a.m. on a school night was on Election Day 1960. My excitement was palpable on the Thursday after elections, when the New York Times carried long columns of election results.


            But in 1980, when Jimmy Carter conceded the election to Ronald Reagan before the polls had even closed in California, the New York Times did not cover the state by state vote totals. Distressed, I sent a letter to all fifty secretaries of state plus the District of Columbia requesting the complete official canvass of the election results. What I got in the return mail was an avalanche of incredible information that set the course of my life as a psephologist.


            In 1980, it cost $50 and $30 to get the complete election returns from Texas and Georgia respectively. In North Carolina, the state legislative results were not even sent to the Secretary of State’s office, they were kept in the hundred county courthouses. No chance for chicanery in choosing a winner under those circumstances, right? It took two years to get the complete and final tabulation of the New Hampshire presidential primary. One had to wait until the New Hampshire Manual for the General Court was published two years later to get the complete and official results of the presidential primary. It cost $8.


            Every two years thereafter I would send away for the election results and then compare them to the previous presidential or off year election. As a result, I was able to formulate my first postulate of candidates and elections: Previous performance at the polls is an excellent predictor of future vote pulling power. In other words, how a candidate did in the past is a good indication of how she or he will do in the future.


            Anyone watching CNN on election night 2016 would have been overawed by the instant reporting and analysis of the election results. The world had changed. Computers and electronic voting machines meant that analysis that took me months was being done in real time on a scale and in a depth that I could only dream about.



Mamaroneck High School Class of 1963


            I grew up in Larchmont, New York, an upscale suburb six miles north of the Bronx, bordering the Long Island Sound. It is a small community filled with successful artists, businesspeople, doctors and diplomats. Most famous are Walter Kerr who was the theater critic for the New York Herald Tribune and Joan Rivers the comedienne. The funeral of Dr. Herman Tarnauer, the famous diet doctor who was murdered by his mistress, was held at the Larchmont Temple.


            Children who live in Larchmont attend Mamaroneck High School. The class of 1963, of which I was a member until my senior year, was filled with smart, ambitious people, many of whom became great successes. Royal Massett became head of the Texas Republican Party. Tom Horne became attorney general of Arizona.  Tom Hauser was an early biographer of Mohammed Ali. Kathy Robbins became a super literary agent. The older brother of our classmate Priscilla Bijur, a high end real estate agent in New York, was chairman of Texaco Oil before it merged with Chevron. Larry Goldman, a graduate of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, was the $750,000 a year head of the Newark Performing Arts Center. Ricky Nicita, a former CAA director and the Hollywood agent of Sylvester Stallone, was also a member of our class. There were many equally ambitious classmates, though not as successful.


            So, in March of 1987 when I heard on the radio that Massachusetts Governor Mike Dukakis was thinking of running for president, I examined the election returns and discovered that Dukakis had not finished in even the top third of winning candidates for Massachusetts Governor since World War II.  John Kennedy, for example, won re-election to the Senate in 1958 with the highest number of votes ever cast for a statewide candidate in Massachusetts, running just 30,000 votes behind Eisenhower’s landslide pace in the 1956 presidential election. Kennedy had the third highest percentage of any senator in 1958, and still barely managed to beat Vice-President Richard Nixon. How could Dukakis, with his poor performance at the polls, manage to win the presidency? Impossible. So, I wrote to Governor Dukakis and urged him not to run. He wrote back acknowledging my objection, but indicating he would run.


            Our twenty-fifth reunion took place in June, 1988. Mike Dukakis was well ahead in the polls. While at the reunion, Karla Shepard, a classmate who was married to another classmate, Michael Rubinger, came up to me and asked, “Is Dukakis going to win the election?” I said no, which was not the desired response, so Karla ran off and came back with Michael. Michael had been a big man on campus in high school, on the football or baseball team, along with many of the aforementioned classmates. At previous reunions the Hollywood crowd of Mike, Ricky, Bruce, and Adam had made it abundantly clear that there was no place at their table for a loser nerd like me.  Michael was a big housing expert who would rise to become CEO of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and seemingly was heavily invested in the Dukakis campaign with an eye on a major Housing and Urban Development post. After discussing the election a little, I said to Michael, “Would you like to bet a dinner on the outcome?” I was trying to be friendly, to use the occasion to become reacquainted after a quarter century.


            Michael said, “OK, if you win the bet, we’ll go out to dinner; but if I win the bet, I’ll go out to dinner and send you the bill.” I took the bet in spite of his rudeness because I was positive Dukakis would lose. What Rubinger probably didn’t know was that after leaving Mamaroneck, I had moved to Brookline, Massachusetts for my senior year (both Dukakis and Conan O’Brien were alumni of the high school). Dukakis was then the state representative for Brookline in the General Court and lived on Rangeley Road, a few houses down from my girlfriend, Sue Marks. When I was in high school, Dukakis was known only for driving a 1948 Oldsmobile and occasionally taking the T to the State House.  In addition to my election analysis, (Dukakis didn’t make it even into the top third of the winning candidates for governor of Massachusetts since World War II) my personal knowledge of Dukakis led me to conclude he could not possibly win. It was not a fair bet.


            After Bush won the 1988 election I did not bother to contact Michael to collect on our bet. I had only made it to be friendly, and he was obviously not interested in being friends or even acquaintances. At our fiftieth high school reunion, I heard that Karla and Michael were moving to a house in Chappaqua to be near the Clintons. Occasional posts on Facebook by Karla referring to HRC indicated to me that the connection had been made at the highest level. It was to Karla that I sent the message in August that if Hillary ran a negative campaign, she would lose because she couldn’t out negative Trump.


            So, after the results came in on election night and it was obvious that her condescending comment that half of Trump’s supporters were an “irredeemable…basket of deplorables” not only cost her the election, but showed me that she had surrounded herself with successful people holding similar attitudes. My father taught me in the seventh grade to always pay your gambling and betting debts. In American capitalist terms, it is self-criticism, a way of forcing yourself to admit when you are wrong. If I had understood the disastrous consequences, I would have been sure to collect from Michael.


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[1] Presidents must carry at least one state on the east coast, the west coast, the great lakes, the gulf coast and one landlocked state.

[2] According to the Banzhaf Power Index, voters in California are 2.5 times more likely to change the outcome of a presidential election than voters in Wyoming. Voters in Wyoming have 66 times the power of voters in California in picking senators.

[3] Birthers alleged that Obama was not eligible to be president because he was not born in the United States and forced him to produce his birth certificate.