Now We Know: Trump’s 2016 Win Was No Fluke

The outcome of the US presidential election remains unclear the morning after the Nov. 3 election, but the results so far have cleared up one misconception: Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 wasn’t a quirky outlier. Regardless of who wins the White House in the hours (or days) ahead, it’s obvious in the numbers posted so far that nearly half of voters who cast ballots prefer Trump.

Until yesterday it’s been plausible to argue that Trump’s first win reflected an experimental effort by a large segment of the population to change the political narrative and focus in Washington and elect a candidate who would disrupt norms. On that basis, some have said that Trump’s 2016 win was an eccentric and speculative aberration that, once exposed to the light of a real-world track record, would wither and fade. But the numbers tallied as of this morning (Nov. 4) clearly show that half of the electorate, give or take, is willing to re-elect Trump – with full knowledge of his four-year record and what that implies for America in the years ahead.

Close to 66 million American have chosen Trump over Joe Biden so far. That’s less than the 68 million-plus that went for the Democrat, and so Trump appears to have lost the popular vote, again. That’s irrelevant, of course, since the presidents are selected on a state-by-state basis via the Electoral College. But whether Trump ultimately prevails or not, it’s striking and revealing that close to half of voters decided to give the president another four years.

Perhaps the biggest shock is that despite weak leadership (to put it charitably) on coronavirus management in the White House, the track record didn’t matter to half of voters. What accounts for the widespread willingness to look past Trump’s failures and give him another four years? Economic issues appear to be a leading factor — a factor that most gives Trump an edge in most polling.

According to GZero Media, the economy was the top voter issue in 2016 and remains so in 2020.

Cultural issues continue to play a crucial role too. To over simplify, many voters seem to support Trump as a statement for rejecting a range of so-called politically correct issues. Trump, in other words, has effectively weaponized the culture wars to his political advantage and to a degree unseen in past elections.

It’s a mistake to view Trump’s political success as an isolated event. As professors William Howell and Terry Moe write in this year’s Presidents, Populism, and the Crisis of Democracy, Trump is “a symptom of powerful socioeconomic forces unleashed by modernity – forces that have disrupted lives and politics throughout the developed West and generated an upsurge in support for right-wing populist leaders….”

The authors add that “no matter which party holds the presidency, these are not normal times.”

That was debatable in 2016, and perhaps even as late as Nov. 2, but there are no illusions today.

10 thoughts on “Now We Know: Trump’s 2016 Win Was No Fluke

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  2. David Fitzsimmons

    Both of the Democratic candidates were imperfect, flawed. And both were tainted by the irresponsible nonsense that sometimes ‘got press’ as Progressive proposals. Let us also observe, in passing, just how bad the selection of slogans for the Left were, the choice of words – if they were ever meant to rally all thinking persons.

  3. Marty Schwimmer

    I respectfully disagree with your use of the term “with full knowledge of his four-year record.” As he has acknowledged periodically, his practiced inculcation of the term “fake news” is precisely designed so that his base has anything but “full knowledge.” And it is simply inarguable that Fox News aids him through omission or re-framing of bad news.

    Yes – there are informed Trump voters who liked the tax cuts, and the de-regulation and the judicial appointments and the performance of the S&P. But a substantial part of the base has “full knowledge” of his track record – which would include awareness that the Trump Organization charges the US Government $3 for a bottle of water at Mar-a-Lago.

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  5. RepubAnon

    I’d suggest several factors at play:
    * Democrats so afraid of the Reagan years that they think anything other than Republican-lite is a sure-fire losing position
    * Clinton’s signing of the NAFTA agreement due to the above
    * Tim Geithner’s success at urging President Obama to bail out the banks, but not the middle class
    * An angry middle class buying the Fox News framing
    * Social media creating a confirmation bias bubble for everyone.

    Given this, it’s hardly surprising that so much of the country thinks Trump did a great job – that’s all they hear. There isn’t “one weird trick” to fix it, either – it’ll take years, and require things such as funding the IRS so billionaires taxes can be put under 100% audit.

  6. c1ue

    Excellent article.
    Noted Republican personality – Tucker Carlson – has it right: the 2020 presidential election is a repudiation of the ruling, bipartisan American class.
    Personally, I would have voted for whomever publicly advocated for national health care – failing that – Medicare For All.
    As an American, I see the ongoing health care fiasco as the single biggest problem facing Americans today. Americans are paying twice, per capita, what any other nation pays and is not getting better outcomes. This is possibly up to $2 to $2.5 trillion in wasted spending (=health insurance, drug and hospital profit) EVERY SINGLE YEAR.
    This is bigger than the entire Defense budget.
    Neither candidate addressed thiss issue although the Republicans are far less indebted to the health care tycoons than the Democrats.
    The second most important issue is the selling out of the American middle and lower middle classes by the ruling elites. Trump actually addresses this issue even as Biden has pretty clearly sold out (in line with his Democrat and mainstream Republican predecessors).
    That’s what people are voting for: someone who actually pays attention to what the deplorables – of all races and both sexes – care about.
    It is not clear to me that the Republican party recognizes this opportunity; it is quite clear the Democrat party has no intention of changing its Clintonesque ways.
    Time will tell…

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