In the aftermath of an earthquake or a volcanic explosion, there is the initial shock and then people survey the wreckage and see what is left standing. Many consider the long-term implications and whether there will be aftershocks; some will believe that their world has completely changed and try to understand what the new landscape will look like; and some will wonder whether it is safe to continue to inhabit the area, given the ongoing danger.
All analogies can only be taken so far before collapsing under the strain of their contradictions. That being said, what happened on 8th November 2016 was a seismic event in the political world like nothing seen in our lifetime, and the analogy holds well enough to be examined in depth.
In hindsight, the signs were there. The LA Times tracking poll, which consistently had Trump ahead throughout the Fall; Professor Allan Lichmann, who had correctly predicted every President since 1984, saying Trump would win; and, of course, Donald Trump's seemingly unshakeable faith in himself. Nevertheless, we were assured, by the overwhelming majority of experts, that Hillary Clinton would be the 45th President. Hillary and her team, although famously superstitious, were planning how to govern and who to appoint. Ignoring the cracks, they were busy building the house on a fault line!
In the 1980s, the BBC a weatherman Michael Fish was denounced for failing to forecast a terrible storm. By comparison, events last month were off the Richter Scale. The whole political industry: pundits, pollsters, commentators, and journalists failed to see what was coming. Despite losing the popular vote by two million and counting, Donald Trump won the Electoral College by the biggest margin for a Republican since 1988. He is now in the process of pulling together his Cabinet, and somewhat belatedly the other 4,000 plus other appointments, which will make up the Trump Administration for four, or even possibly, eight years.
So how do the Democrats survey the wreckage of what was assumed to be a coronation? The bad news is that there is almost no good news. The Republicans run the board: control of the White House and holding their majority in the Senate, against the odds. It is worth noting that there was an unheard of 100% correlation between how each state voted for President and Senator, costing Democrat pick-ups in the Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Indiana Senate races. Their substantial majority in the House of Representatives was only slightly eroded. Republican also gained three Governorships and now have over twice as many as the Democrats. Ultra-conservative Justice Anton Scalia's replacement in the Supreme Court will be nominated by a Republican President, as will any potential replacements of an increasingly ageing liberal minority on the Court. All three branches of Government appear to be firmly beyond the influence of the Democrats.
It gets worse. The mid-term elections in 2018, where the party of the President almost always does badly, is on truly inhospitable territory for the Democrats in the Senate. Of the 33 Senate seats up for election, 25 are Democrat and only 8 Republican, and those Republican seats are mostly in very red states. The House might be more welcoming, but there is still a big swing needed to overturn the sizeable Republican majority there.
Where do the Democrats stand on the Presidency for 2020? A two-term Presidency is the norm since the Second World War, discounting assassination and resignation, only Jimmy Carter and George Bush Senior were voted out after one term. However, it is unlikely that a Trump presidency will count as part of business as usual, so all bets are off.
Another problem for the Democrats is that their bench is very weak given their lack of strength in the lower parts of government. The problem is highlighted by the fact that Michelle Obama is mentioned so often, even though she has no direct political experience and genuinely seems to be eyeing the door with huge relief. Those with experience and name recognition are generally too old, and the up-and-coming are too thin on the ground.
All that being said, in the lead up to 1960, 1976, 1992 and 2008 John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were lesser known and mostly long shots. So, who don't we know at this point and who could turn things around? Start scouring the TV channels for billionaire Democrats in reality shows, because who knows?
For the Republicans, everything has come up rosy, or has it? They have no excuses; they can't blame the other guys as they are in charge of everything. The Democrats were in that position in 2008 and it only took two years for it to all start falling apart. Columnists are increasingly invoking the Pottery Barn Rule of "you break it, you own it," if the Republicans overreach. There are so many pitfalls, from cabinet appointments to scrapping Obamacare, never mind rogue tweets about Broadway musicals. They already seem to have forgotten that they have lost the popular vote in six of the last seven elections.
That is coupled with the fact that Donald Trump was not who or what the Republican Establishment wanted in the primaries, and many refused to endorse or vote for him in the general election. In the end, many were hoping he would lose and allow them to rebuild around what was familiar and safe for them. Everything he does or says for the next four years will be held against Republican candidates in their own elections. He is the Republican brand for better or worse now and they will live or die by how he is viewed. This is the Faustian pact they have made for gaining electoral victory.
There are many long-term questions to be answered and a few more elections will have to be fought before we know the answers. Has there been a major realignment where we see a new generation of working class and rural "Reagan Democrats" depriving future Democrat nominees a bedrock of Electoral College votes in the mid-West? Or, on the other hand, was this one final "white-lash" or death-knell of angry white voters who have lost control of the overarching narrative and electorate which are becoming increasingly diverse?
Both parties have the Governorships of New Jersey and Virginia to fight in November 2017, which often act as an indicator of what will happen in the midterms. These will be the next acts in an unfolding electoral drama.Suggest a correction