Let’s begin with the obvious about the 2016 U.S. presidential election: Given that they were the two most-disliked American presidential candidates in polling history, Hillary Clinton was the only opponent Donald Trump could possibly have beaten, and Donald Trump was the only opponent Hillary Clinton could possibly have beaten.
Twenty years ago, when Hillary Clinton was First Lady, New York Times op-ed columnist William Safire called her “a congenital liar,” a characterization he later regretted but which might still be accurate nonetheless.
Donald Trump, however, has gone Clinton one better: He’s a reflexive liar who, as one observer noted, has no principles or standards – just context. Trump says whatever benefits him most in that moment.
Thus, when the American public came to view Trump as more trustworthy than Clinton, the presidential race was truly through the looking glass, as 19th century British author Lewis Carroll (no relation) would put it.
Amid all that reality-bending, how then to explain the stunning results of the 2016 race for the White House?
Perhaps it will help to frame it this way: In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Hillary Clinton was the taxicab industry, and Donald Trump was Uber.
And how, exactly, was the self-styled billionaire businessman like the digital ride-hailing service?
Donald Trump’s campaign was disruptive
The Accidental Candidate broke every rule in the campaign handbook: He refused to release his tax returns; he refused to appear in person on the Sunday morning TV talk shows (he alone was allowed to phone it in because he was ratings catnip); he threatened to jail his opponent upon becoming president; he demonized and delegitimized the news media.
Best quote about the Trump press coverage came from Salena Zito in The Atlantic: “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”
Donald Trump’s campaign was decentralized
Like Uber, Trump ran administratively lean: At one point, his campaign staff was 1/10th of Hillary Clinton’s. Instead of hiring, he outsourced his get-out-the-vote effort to the Republican National Committee and to the ground operations of GOP statewide races for U.S. Senate.
Trump was the perfect gig-economy candidate: No credentials, a spotty background, makes his own hours (always got home for bedtime), and constantly whines about not getting a 5 rating from his customers.
Donald Trump’s campaign was destructive
Call the roll:
- Trump dismantled the establishment wing of the Republican Party
- Trump neutered the news media
- Trump knee-capped the Democratic Party
In other words, Donald Trump blew up the whole system.
So, to recap:
Despite – or because of – all of the above, Donald Trump easily won the Electoral College vote and will be the 45th President of the United States.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, won only the popular vote.
Fun fact to know and tell: In 2000, after George W. Bush won the Electoral College vote (thanks to the Supreme Court’s intervention) while Al Gore won the popular vote, Hillary Clinton advocated abolishing the Electoral College system of choosing presidents.