It was the battle of the tallest dwarves, or, if you like, a race between the Titanic and the Lusitania.
Maybe there is a presidential contest somewhere in American history that was more repellant than that of 2016, but I would accuse the historian of being drunk. From the opening days of the primary season to the days following the election of Donald Trump, America was served a plate of acrimonious political bile that echoed pleading parents at a third grade violin concert: when will it be over?
Both parties managed to accomplish the feat of putting forth their worst candidate, thereby giving each a glimmer of hope. Had either of our two major parties nominated a person that most Americans didn't either vehemently distrust or dislike, the election would have been over before the MLB All-Star break.
For Hillary Clinton, the glass slipper was yanked away before she could hurl it at the glass ceiling. The culprits? James Comey, WikiLeaks, the Clinton Foundation, her lying over her email server, Bernie Bros, eight years of Obama, deplorables, but mostly, her. She's just not likable. The country didn't much care for her in the 90s, as the reminiscent swoon for the Clinton Years is only for Bubba. She was a well-packaged bottle whose wine had turned to vinegar. Her blue wall crumbled as voters either simply stayed home (to the tune of about four million), or they took a chance with the Republican version of Morton Downey, Jr. She was far more knowledgeable, better funded and less scary to most, but she simply couldn't become the person voters needed her to be this cycle: the Democratic version of Trump. Of course, people yelling, "Lock her up!" didn't help.
The other player in Root Canal 2016 was, of course, Donald Trump. While victory has the gift of erasing many grievances, it became apparent to many early in the general election that Trump was likely not only going to lose but drag a bunch of other Republicans down with him. Except that he won. And so did they. He/they did it despite his own penchant for lying, mocking, bullying and being wholly unprepared on the little things like domestic and foreign policy. I would need another page to write about all the childish, offensive, divisive words he used and tweeted that should have not only disqualified him ("punish women") but eliminated him from ever representing the Republican Party again. Despite the #NeverTrump crowd, comprised of lifelong Republican pundits, politicians, former government experts, economists and a couple of former Republican presidents, Trump triumphed. Bill Clinton was called the Teflon President. We now have Teflon Don. Nothing seems to stick.
Further, voters not only chose but rooted for a man who brags about not reading. Says he's never finished an entire book. His friends and coworkers affirm that. This should come as no surprise. People's reading habits are reflected in their speaking style, and Trump has the verbal fluidity of Mike Tyson with an ear in his mouth.
And yet, not only did he win, he won big ("bigly!"), flipping MI, WI and PA. Counties that hadn't voted Republican in decades cast their lot for a man some considered an apostate to the Party. He actually grew the Hispanic vote by 2 percent points and the black vote by 1 percent compared to Romney.
Why did Trump win? He was inoculated by the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and the angry sentiments of large swaths of voters.
When Trump said at his acceptance speech in Cleveland, "I am your voice," many people not only listened; they chimed in. They repeated his messaging about trade, jobs and immigration. They looked around at present, then past, and wondered where the America their parents had went. The clarion call to reopen factories and coal mines was what they had not heard from their own lifelong career politicians. Specifics didn't matter. Automation and global supply chains be damned. Voters chose to suspend suspicion because they had finally found that person, their vessel, who addressed stagnant wages, a service-based economy, a country that seemed to be getting away from them, combined with tough, direct talk on terrorism and immigration, and of course, the greatest political branding of all time, Make America Great Again.
Those who were burned out from years at war were heartened to hear the America First/non-interventionist language, despite his bellicose talk about Iran, ISIS, China and Saudi Arabia. Those who had pinned Hope on President Obama found little of it left after the reality of Obamacare set in, racial tensions flared, foreign battles raged and the gains on Wall Street seemed to stay there. Voters wanted change, and, my oh my, was Trump Mr. Change.
Republicans have cause for excitement and concern. The opportunities that come with unified government could provide the red team with a clearer path on tax reform, sweeping changes to Obamacare and Supreme Court nominees. These are good things. But concerns loom. Trump kept promising that he would change Washington by taking on "The Establishment." I think people forget that The Establishment, aka long-time politicians, were put there by … voters. Are voters suddenly going to start choosing Trumpian characters in districts far and wide? Also, he said he would "take the money out of politics." National talk show hosts said he would "destroy the donor class." To quote Trump from the debates, "Wrong." Lobbyists are going nowhere. There are 535 other politicians on the Hill to ply, not to mention all those at the state level, and they're the ones making legislation. Further, as long as Citizens United stands, donors will give because it's in their best interests.
For Republicans to win again in four years, against what will surely be a less flawed candidate, they need to make stuff happen. If not, Trump will become Harold Hill, the pied piper from The Music Man, with a message that roused and riled a nation, yet fleeced in the end. It's time for Trump to Make America Believe Again.