“Historic” is one way to describe the 2016 election. A better way would be “How the fuck did this happen and when will this horrible nightmare be over?” Let’s take a look at the commonly held bits of Beltway wisdom that went down the shitter that year.
1. Evangelicals Care About a Candidate’s Morality
In the 2016 election, Evangelicals had the chance to vote for a candidate who has often talked about the value of her faith and traces her religious upbringing back to sixth grade, where she participated in the Altar Guild and took Bible classes at the First United Methodist Church.
Instead they ended up voting for a profane, formerly pro-choice New York casino magnate and serial adulterer currently on his third wife, who has been accused of sexual assault by more than a dozen women and has personally cameoed in softcore pornography. And they voted for him bigly. Exit polls show he won 81% of the Evangelical vote, more than any other candidate. The comparatively chaste George W. Bush came closest with his 78% share in 2004.
One potential explanation is simple hypocrisy – they voted for Trump because they will always support the Republican candidate, even if that candidate was a walking example of many things that goes against their religious beliefs. Another, less likely potential explanation is Mike Pence.
2. The Vice Presidential Pick Doesn’t Matter
With the VP pick, Trump and Clinton were presented with an opportunity to choose someone who would bring balance to the ticket as well as energize the base. The Trump team succeeded with Pence, who presented himself as a genteel, grandfatherly figure who believes you can electrocute the gay out of people and once signed a law mandating funerals be held for miscarried fetuses. Pence’s calm exterior offered a fitting counterpoint to his bombastic, shit-spewing running mate, while still maintaining the backward views that helped propel Trump to the presidency.
For Democrats, finding out about the Tim Kaine pick was like waking up on Christmas morning to find that all of your presents were socks. He would do the job well enough, but he was a milquetoast centrist who did nothing to energize a base full of disaffected Bernie Sanders voters and people who were dying to see Clinton’s team go on the attack against Trump.
3. Republican Candidates Have to Release Their Tax Returns
Mitt Romney faced a torrent of criticism during the 2012 election when he released only two years of his tax returns. Presidential candidates going as far back Gerald Ford have released their tax returns, and in most cases multiple years worth. In Trump’s case the returns were more relevant than they would have been for any presidential candidate in US history. Given the sheer scope of his business dealings, many of which were with foreign entities like Russia, it was critical that the public had a chance to gauge any potential conflicts of interest. Trump saw that criticism and simply rode through it, often repeating the lie that he could not release his tax returns while he was under an audit, despite there being no rule against such a release.
Trump not only managed to not avoid releasing the tax returns himself, he also managed to survive when those returns were released for him. When the New York Times released a leaked Trump tax return from 1995, it showed that Trump lost nearly a billion dollars in 1995 and counted it as a loss. Not only did this deal a huge blow to his “successful businessman” image, but it also showed that he effectively sent the bill to the federal government to cover his poor financial decisions. He still won the vote of notoriously anti-bailout Republicans who were busy excoriating the other candidate for her secrecy.
4. Last Election’s Runner-Up Is The New Frontrunner
One blessing in this otherwise calamitous election cycle is that nobody, generally, talked about Rick Santorum.
There is a long string of runners-up who have gone on to be their party’s nominee. Gore didn’t face any significant resistance in 2000, but John McCain came in second to George W. Bush that year, then went on to be his party’s nominee in 2008. Mitt Romney came in second in the number of contests won in that year, and went on to be the nominee in 2012. 2012 saw Santorum rise up to a second-place finish, but the writing was already on the wall by the time the 2016 contests came around.
The Runner-Up fallacy also infected the Democratic side. Hillary Clinton was so assured to be not only the party’s nominee, but “inevitably” the first woman president, that it was surprising when the independent democratic socialist Bernie Sanders started to give her a serious contest. The inevitability argument would combine with the bullshit email scandal and the media’s normalization of Trump to suppress voter turnout and cost her the election.
5. You Need Government Experience to be President
Experience Vs. Change was the highlight of the 2008 campaign, both in the Democratic primary and in the general election, with both Hillary Clinton and John McCain questioning Barack Obama’s experience to lead this nation. He had only been a US Senator for four years and a member of the Illinois State Senate for seven – how could he possibly have enough experience to be President of the United States?
This year we elected a man who has never run for office in his life. Trump cited his business experience as something that qualified him for the presidency, but even if we accept that argument as valid, he was a terrible businessman. Aside from the outstanding nearly $1 billion loss in 1995, he would also have made more money if he had simply taken the loan he got from his father and invested it in an index fund that tracks the DOW, rather than trying his hand at business. After the tremendous failure of Trump Steaks, Trump Airlines, Trump University, and others, it’s clear that the only thing that Donald Trump is good at is telling people what they want to hear. And this year, it was enough to win him the presidency.