Shattered crystal balls

Posted on November 11, 2016. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Democratic strategists. Republican establishment. Political insiders. Past campaign managers. Observers and pundits. Paid consultants. Pollsters. Researchers. Activists. News anchors. All wrong.

Not about Trump, mind you—but about the vast breadbasket of working American people and the issues confronting them.

Trump was Trump all along. He didn’t vary at all from his famous/infamous persona. All he had to do is what millions of voters have been hungering for someone to do for decades now: pay attention to real issues instead of pandering to special interests. Hillary Clinton didn’t lose the election. It wouldn’t have mattered who the Democratic candidate was. Any Democrat that played by the party’s playbook was destined to crash and burn.

Hillary was, in many ways and by traditional measures, a very strong Democratic candidate. Her intelligence, experience, and political and policy savvy are undeniable. Her lifelong advocacy for children—and its resulting and resounding successes—is unquestionable. Her concession speech was poised and impressive, like the woman herself.

But she was bound by conventional campaign rules and principles, which have devolved into a bipartisan electoral myopia regarding voters.

Today’s political types focus more on how to get elected, instead of how to connect with voters.

That misfocused thinking drove strategy in both parties to the detriment of each. Campaign “experts” from both sides of the aisle snickered about Trump’s disdain for the modern methodology—focus groups, data-driven analysis, micro-message testing and the like—necessary for successful election runs.

Those Saturday Night Live skits of the Republican debates were so funny because the truth was also hilarious. Trump easily bested the whole battalion of GOP-preferred primary opponents in casual, amusing fashion. The arrogance at the top of the party was so blind that even when confronted with stunning record turnouts—in many instances nearly 100 percent increases over past records—leaders couldn’t recognize Trump’s appeal wasn’t about the celebrity candidate.

It was always about regular people and their issues.

Instead of learning from watching those primaries, Democrats fell lockstep into a similar elitist march. They pushed their political heads deeper into the sand as well, seeing what they wanted to see, hearing what they wanted to hear.

Heck, even stalwart conservatives didn’t give Trump a chance. A Labor Day article in the National Review headlined the question “Does Donald Trump Have a Path to 270?”

It took only five paragraphs to render a verdict: “The answer, barring unforeseen and politically transcendent developments, is no.”

But it’s only to insulated political types that issues like violent crime, immigration, inner-city decay, jobs shipped overseas and the like were all so unforeseen. Campaign analysts and advisers look at data about those issues. Trump looked at, and reached out to touch, the people they affect.

In the final analysis, that may be the best descriptor about this election. It wasn’t about left versus right, rich versus poor, urban versus rural, black versus white or even Democratic versus Republican. It was about disconnected versus connected.

The establishment in both parties has become so distant and out of touch that the leadership couldn’t see the voters for the electorate. When Trump insisted on addressing the nation’s abhorrent violent-crime problem, pundits like Paul Krugman ridiculed it as demagoguery, and claimed crime to be at “historic” lows.

Guys like him don’t have a clue, and even worse, don’t have the gumption to go get one. His definition of “historic” must only extend to the mid-1990s, because violent crime in every state and every major city is a multiple of what it was 60 years ago.

It’s a costly, tragic scourge on society, and millions of low- and middle-income people living in fear of crime have been ignored for decades by both political parties. Little surprise Trump sounded like a savior to many of them.

Likewise with immigration, which has been atrociously dodged by career politicians. It’s not necessarily Trump’s solution to the issue—the wall—that galvanized support, but his attention to it from a common-sense level.

In retrospect, that helps explain why the incessant and ubiquitous attacks on Trump had so little effect. In trying to sully the candidate, Trump’s opponents merely validated working-class voters’ suspicions of and cynicism about a rigged establishment concerned only about re-electing itself.

Trump’s penchant for coarsely calling spades what they are often made Republican leaders wince and Democratic leaders salivate. The hapless politician class didn’t understand that using pretty words to dodge ugly problems is exactly what so many voters were completely fed up with. The irony of a billionaire’s ability to connect with and tap into average voters is just another remarkable aspect of this momentous election.

It’s too early to tell how Trump’s miraculous run will transition into governance. But any glance at the electoral map reveals a great deal more national unity than what still-shocked political establishments will admit.

Old habits, like trying to win elections by pitting factions against each other and worshipping at the politically correct altar, die hard. Both parties have badly needed overhauling, and maybe this election will be the requisite wake-up lesson. It’s certainly shaken things up.

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