One of the most amazing things about Donald Trump’s historic victory was how badly almost everyone in media and politics misread the country.
Time and again in the months before the election, the establishment suggested I was either insincere or insane in predicting a Trump victory.
Our differences reflected two very different understandings of reality.
The establishment’s self-reassuring assumption was that the American electorate was the same as it was in 2008 and 2012, only more so. This led them to believe that no Republican could win the presidency without doing dramatically better than Mitt Romney among the groups Romney lost badly–Latinos, African Americans, and women.
They further assumed that Donald Trump could not possibly do better among these groups than Mitt Romney, because in their view, Romney was a pleasant, appealing candidate, and Trump was alienating and offensive.
They assumed that turnout among these demographics would be high. And they assumed turnout among white males would be low. (After all, their moment in history had passed.)
The lack of understanding and imagination became self-reinforcing. These assumptions were used to weight polls, producing results that appeared to prove the conclusions true.
The political-media establishment then set about talking to itself, and discovered that apparently everyone it knew was anti-Trump. This explains why Hillary Clinton and her team thought attacking his supporters was a good strategy. They really did see Trump voters as a fringe minority.
All of this led almost every voice in politics and the media to believe Trump would suffer a historic defeat Tuesday night.
In the end, their assumptions proved a house of cards. It turned out that demographics weren’t destiny after all. Leadership was destiny.
If they had not been so insulated from the rest of the country, they might have seen this: the vast majority of Americans found them deplorable. This is the reality the establishment refused to see.
As Pat Caddell reported in his essential essay on “the uprising of the American people,” Donald Trump’s closing argument was a winning one. According to Caddell’s research, Americans believe the following by overwhelming margins.
2. The country is run by an alliance of incumbent politicians, media pundits, lobbyists and other powerful money interests for their own gain at the expense of the American people. AGREE = 87%; DISAGREE = 10%
3. Most politicians really care about people like me. AGREE = 25%; DISAGREE = 69%
4. Powerful interests from Wall Street banks to corporations, unions and political interest groups have used campaign and lobbying money to rig the system for them. They are looting the national treasury of billions of dollars at the expense of every man, woman and child. AGREE = 81%; DISAGREE = 13%
5. The U.S. has a two-track economy where most Americans struggle every day, where good jobs are hard to find, where huge corporations get all the rewards. We need fundamental changes to fix the inequity in our economic system. AGREE = 81%; DISAGREE = 15%
6. Political leaders are more interested in protecting their power and privilege than doing what is right for the American people. AGREE = 86%; DISAGREE = 11%
7. The two main political parties are too beholden to special and corporate interest to create any meaningful change. AGREE = 76%; DISAGREE = 19%
8. The real struggle for America is not between Democrats and Republicans but between mainstream American and the ruling political elites. AGREE = 67%; DISAGREE = 24%
These numbers describe a reality the establishment is psychologically incapable of understanding. So they did not realize that the country–and the electorate–had changed dramatically, in ways that had nothing to do with demographics.
On Tuesday, Americans’ version of reality defeated the establishment’s version–in the form of President-elect Donald Trump.