How Trump defied pundits, pollsters to win White House

Thursday November 10 2016

Republican president-elect Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech as his son Barron Trump and wife Melania Trump looks on during his election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016 in New York City. Donald Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the United States. PHOTO | AFP

Republican president-elect Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech as his son Barron Trump and wife Melania Trump looks on during his election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016 in New York City. Donald Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the United States. PHOTO | AFP 

By DANIEL K. KALINAKI
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Donald John Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States on Wednesday after a campaign characterised by racial slurs, claims of sexual assault and attacks on rivals and the political process.

Hillary Clinton led in almost all opinion polls by the time voting started but not only did Trump beat her to the 270 electoral vote mark needed to win, he also upset the political establishment and stunned the world.

A real estate developer and reality television star, Mr Trump, 70, was laughed off when he declared his presidential ambitions. The thrice-married businessman with an eye for beauty queens then sparked more derision with his public comments about his rivals, allegations of improper sexual conduct and a leaked tape in which he was overheard boasting about sexual assault against women.

Even his policies were controversial to the point of being unconstitutional. He derided Mexican migrants as rapists and vowed to build a wall across the common border, proposed a ban on Muslim immigrants, objectified women, vilified the war record of Senator John McCain and called Mrs Clinton a “nasty woman”.

His policy positions shifted often, as did his campaign team, and he ran as much against the Democrats as he did against his own Republican Party.

Foreign allies were left anxious after he openly questioned America’s military commitments abroad, including under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), and he vowed to scrap or renegotiate the country’s international economic partnerships.

But there was a method in the madness. Not only had Mr Trump donated to both the Republican and Democratic parties, he had in a 1988 speech in New Hampshire ahead of the election that year warned against the threats to America’s economic power by foreign countries.

He tapped into those fears at home, appealing to mostly white Americans who have fallen behind as manufacturing jobs were outsourced to China and elsewhere, and who have, partly as a result, become anxious about the shifting sands of cultural and religious identity in America.

Eight years after Americans voted Barack Obama as their first African-American president, Mr Trump used thinly veiled xenophobia, Islamophobia and — critics argued — racial bigotry to prevent the election of the country’s first female president.

LACK OF CREDIBILITY

The lack of credibility in the candidate and the crudeness of the campaign turned many, including within the Republican Party itself, against Mr Trump.

Senior party officials refused to endorse him or openly campaigned against him and none of the living former presidents, including Republican George HW Bush and George W Bush, endorsed him.

Unfazed, Mr Trump dismissed the snub as political correctness by the Washington, DC political establishment and instead dug deeper into the base instincts of his disaffected core.

The message resonated with blue collar and middle-class white voters, including in places such as Michigan and Pennsylvania that had once been the hub of Made in America before they were left to rust by the rise of cheaper manufacturing in China and the 2008 financial crisis.

It was a decidedly negative campaign run against foreign trade, against foreign wars and against foreign workers — but a populist one, appealing to the “forgotten men and women of our country” and promising to be their voice.

It was also, as Mrs Clinton and other critics repeatedly pointed out, shallow on specifics but Mr Trump more than made up for his paucity of policy with a populist pomposity, speaking repeatedly about the “tremendous” and “amazing” things he would do and vowing, in his trademark campaign slogan, to “make America great again”.

He was, admittedly, helped along by some of Mrs Clinton’s own shortcomings. A former first lady, senator and secretary of state, Mrs Clinton was, in the words of President Obama, the most qualified presidential candidate in the history of the country. Yet she failed to connect with ordinary voters and lost the trust of many in her use of a personal email server and her lack of contrition in the subsequent investigation.

POLITICAL ELITE

Revelations of the large sums of money earned by her and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, in speaking fees, while not illegal or improper on the face of it, allowed Mrs Clinton to be cast as part of the political elite that had let the country — and those blue collar workers in Pennsylvania and Michigan — down over the years.

Mr Trump was himself not without blemish. He refused to release his tax records as previous presidential candidates, including Mrs Clinton, have traditionally done. He admitted to using legal loopholes to avoid paying income tax for many years. He was also repeatedly called out for lying and his judgment questioned several times.

Such revelations, under normal circumstances, are enough to sink a politician but Mr Trump was far from a normal candidate. He brushed off allegation after allegation and blustered his way from one lie to another.

Rather than pour oil over troubled racial waters, Mr Obama’s election to the White House and the killings of many mostly young, male African-Americans, often at the hands of police officers had brought race to the fore of American politics. Ideological differences had left the Democrats and Republicans deeply divided. The two parties were also divided, as the primary races showed.

Britain’s surprise decision to vote to leave the European Union, which caught many pollsters unawares, was perhaps a warning sign of trouble afoot — but for much of the campaign, few people took Mr Trump seriously. On an appearance on a late-night TV satire show, Mrs Clinton mocked Mr Trump for being little more than a laughing stock, adding that she no longer found him funny.

As America went to bed on Tuesday night, not only had they won the White House, the Republicans had also won the Senate and held onto the House of Congress, giving the in-coming administration wide latitude to implement the sweeping changes Mr Trump had promised on the campaign trail.

For many liberal Americans and their allies across the world, this was no longer a laughing matter and the joke that had been Mr Trump was now on them.