‘How Trump Won’: Connecting with Voters Clinton Took for Granted

Trump laser beams New Hampshire (Chip Somodevilla / Getty)
Chip Somodevilla / Getty

Joel Pollak and Larry Schweikart’s new book, How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, includes a passage describing the last days of the campaign that answers the question rather neatly: Donald Trump won because he went after voters Republicans are supposed to ignore, and that threw a huge monkey wrench into the gears of the Democrat machine.

The telling passage comes during Pollak’s description of Trump’s final rally in New Hampshire, which the media thought was a waste of time, notable primarily because Trump read a letter from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick that reporters thought might have been a fake.

Trump told the pumped-up crowd, on the night before Election Day: “Tomorrow, the American working class will strike back.” Pollak notes that it was easy to see why the left-wing media thought that was a joke, but the crowd certainly didn’t:

Here is the billionaire nominee of the Republican Party, the party of the rich, declaring himself to be the champion of the working class, and directing them to the barricades.

It is ironic. It is the essence of Bernie Sanders’s tragicomic campaign, and it is the same sentiment that Hillary Clinton and her party vainly strive to emulate in every election.

And, however flawed the messenger, however problematic the policy prescriptions that Trump might propose to address it, that message sums up how Americans of many different classes and walks of life feel about our government.

Strip away the words “working class”—are we a society of classes?— and keep the core: strike back.

That is the cause to which Donald Trump lent his name and his legacy. It is the essence of opposition, fighting for power.

The media didn’t take that seriously because they didn’t think any decent person felt oppressed by the Obama administration. They thought most people loved President Obama’s benevolent-dictator act, Getting Things Done against that dastardly obstructionist Republican Congress with his sacred Pen and Phone.

How Trump Won Cover (Regnery)

When dissenters spoke of inalienable rights and the rule of law, reporters figured it was just a few fringe loudmouths belching out insincere praise for the Constitution to cover their racist loathing of the First Black President. The press ran ten thousand editorials trying to convince everyone the Obama economy wasn’t as bad as it looked. They didn’t believe any significant number of swing voters still doubted them.

From this viewpoint, Trump was nuts to waste his time in Democrat enclaves, especially given President Obama’s final round of approval ratings, and Trump’s low favorability numbers. Democrat strategists and reporters (but I repeat myself) thought the GOP candidate would have been better advised to shore up his support among the “deplorables” — a group the media claimed was small and rabid, when they were trying to cover for Hillary Clinton’s appalling “deplorable and irredeemable” remarks — and shooting for a more narrow loss than most pundits anticipated. He’d collect a few “he did better than we thought, and that’s a testament to his unflagging energy” op-eds as consolation prizes, and then Big Media could comfortably settle in for six months of lecturing the rubes that they owed President Hillary Clinton complete respect and total obedience, no matter how narrow her Electoral College victory was.

A great deal of scorn was heaped upon those who believed Trump’s huge, hyperactive rallies were a better indicator of his support than scientific polling and conventional political wisdom. Critics thought Team Trump was choosing where to hold its rallies by throwing darts at a map. Everyone Knew rallies were no substitute for big ad buys, which produced good poll numbers and fueled media coverage of “momentum.” Everyone Knew the Clinton campaign was doing everything right.

Those analysts should have paid more attention to how Trump was playing to big, enthusiastic crowds on turf Clinton was taking for granted. The attendees went home and told their friends how excited they were, and how Trump would bring something different than the economic doldrums and hostile social environment of the Obama years.

As for Clinton’s command of the press… well, after eight years of blowing smoke about how awesome Obama was, disaffected Middle Americans were not inclined to believe the media’s confident predictions that Trump was doomed and Clinton was a lock. The self-fulfilling prophecy of polls driving positive media coverage that led to votes piling up in the ballot box didn’t work, because too many people in key districts didn’t trust the poll prophets any more.

The post-election media narrative holds that Trump won entirely because Hillary Clinton’s negatives were driven up. The current frenzy over Russian hacking is just a way of poisoning the tip of that narrative, by portraying voters’ negative perception of her as illegitimate — they were tricked into thinking she was a lousy candidate and shifty politician by Russian agents, on orders from Vladimir Putin himself, because Clinton insulted him.

Readers of How Trump Won will understand that Trump wasn’t just the lesser of two evils, chosen by an electorate dismayed that the wonderful Barack Obama couldn’t run again. (Shouldn’t the poll that showed Trump would have beaten Obama finish off that political fiction?)

In reality, Trump voters affirmatively chose him because they preferred his vision to the microwaved leftovers of Obamaism offered by Clinton. In the crucial districts where Trump won the Electoral College, voters embraced Trump’s vision so enthusiastically that the personal baggage carried by both Trump and Clinton didn’t matter.

Trump was a door-to-door salesman for his message, in neighborhoods where Republicans weren’t supposed to peddle their political wares. It mattered very much that he showed up at all those rallies, and connected with the attendees, instead of just dropping off a canned speech and zipping off to the next dog-and-pony show. Nothing about the electorate’s opinion of Hillary Clinton had any bearing on how well Donald Trump was able to connect with them.

(How Trump WonThe Inside Story of a Revolution will be released by Regnery Publishing in e-book form Jan. 17 at Amazon (Kindle) and Barnes and Noble (Nook), and will be released in paperback Feb. 27.)