I didn’t think she’d lose. She was up against a man who had mismanaged his businesses, lost money given to him by investors, and possibly profited from it personally at the same time. Later, when challenged, he denied wrongdoing and evaded questions and inquiries about his transgressions.
Yet people still cheered in rallies for him. Defended him. Voted for him.
Yes, I’m talking about Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election despite getting the minority of the popular vote.
It wasn’t because his policies were great. A third of those who felt illegal immigrants should be allowed to apply for citizenship ended up voting for Trump. A third who said international trade creates more jobs for the United States, not less, still voted for Trump.
In fact, when you look at the data, the hypothesis that seems to best fit why he won was because “he’s our man”. Voting was strongly along party lines, with 90% of voters who said they were Republicans voting for their candidate. This is a higher percentage than Democrats who voted for Clinton (89%).
A refinement of this hypothesis is “at least it isn’t her”. Make no bones about it, Trump the man isn’t popular even among the Republicans. One fifth of those who voted for Trump also admitted that they did not like him, which seems a rather strange thing to say after voting for him.
But his opponent, Hillary Clinton, was even less popular: 28% of Trump voters said the reason they voted for him was because they didn’t like Clinton.
Think about it. They were not voting for who could make the country better; they were voting against who they thought would make the country worse.
They didn’t like that she was part of a political dynasty and Bill “Slick Willie” Clinton. They didn’t like it that she was chummy with the bankers and the politicians and all those who represented the “haves” in a country that seemed to be gaining at the expense of the “have nots”.
There were some good things to take away from that bruising election, though. Firstly, money did not buy the election. Clinton’s campaign raised US$513mil (RM2.2bil) and spent US$450mil (RM1.9bil). In stark comparison, the Trump campaign managed with roughly half that, raising US$250mil (RM1.1bil) and spending US$239mil (RM1.05bil). He managed to do more with less.
Secondly, having powerful friends in prominent places didn’t guarantee a win. For all the allegations that the Democratic National Committee had conspired to help Clinton defeat Bernie Sanders (her challenger for the Democratic presidential nomination), there were as many examples of higher-ups in the Republican National Committee who were against Trump. Yet he still won.
Trump was clearly a product of a vote by the people for the people. It just happened to be a very particular segment of people.
In fact, the manner of victory is reminiscent of another election which Clinton lost: Obama’s challenge to be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008. He beat Clinton despite getting less money from the major donors, and he beat her despite going against the convention of the party elite.
There is a now-famous 2007 memo from the Obama campaign that laid out what was needed to beat Clinton. It recommended that they first try to identify Clinton as part of the establishment, and then represent Obama as the antithesis of that. As the memo summarised: “Barack Obama is change. She is not.”
If the two campaigns were so similar, what is it about the Obama effort that seems so uplifting, while the Trump campaign leaves a sour taste … well, everywhere?
I think it’s the attitude. Obama talked about creating change by working together with those different from him. He reminded people why they could be great, and appealed for votes from everybody, not just people who were like him.
Trump … well, Trump tells us he is great because everybody else who isn’t like him, isn’t. He divides the country, and those who are not with him are against him. It was Us Against Them with a great divide in between, gleefully mined by Trump.
His biggest support came from whites who did not have a college education. Roughly half his voters (around 27 million) came from this demographic.
But the truth is that there are an estimated 47 million other non-college educated whites that didn’t vote because they were not registered to do so this time around. If you assumed these people also voted (choosing their candidate in the same proportion as the actual election), Trump would have more votes from this demographic alone than he got as a total in the actual election.
In short, he doesn’t really need anybody’s vote except that of the non-college educated whites. It’s an idea reminiscent of what one Malaysian MP once told his party members: That if he could secure the votes of one race in his constituency, he would no longer need the support of the other races.
Of course I think this is a dangerous idea. Because, as mentioned before in this column, effort spent working together is more effective than work wasted creating divides.
If you want proof of that, look at the rallies this weekend as yellow and red (and whatever colours that may crop up) get together. And as they clamour that they represent the majority opinion, think about whose ideas they really are representing.
As Trump demonstrated, he managed to win with less than half the vote, and claims he has the mandate to do what he wants. Nevertheless, his responsibility is to govern the whole country – and given his campaigning track record, I’m not sure he understands that.
Logic is the antithesis of emotion but mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s theory is that people need both to make sense of life’s vagaries and contradictions.