In the end, the evening’s unfolding I-can’t-believe-what-I’m-seeing surprise magnified Donald Trump’s election victory.
But it shouldn’t have.
The anger in America’s troubled heartland at the political establishment has been brewing for years, beginning with the tea party in 2009. It boiled over in the 2010 midterms, when voters took the House of Representatives from President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party.
It boiled over again in 2014, when voters enlarged that Republican majority and gave the Senate to the GOP to stall Obama’s far-reaching initiatives.
And in 2016 it emerged again in both parties. Bernie Sanders’ primary crowds, votes and victories reflected intense dissatisfaction with Democrats’ anointed nominee, Hillary Clinton.
Donald Trump will be the nation’s 19th Republican president. But he is only the sixth man elected to the U.S. presidency as his first public office, all of them Republicans or Whigs. Trump defeated 16 other experienced, respected Republican men and a woman.
Trump boasted he was not a politician, though in hindsight the political rookie was better than all the veteran pols. Indeed, being seen as the anti-politician was arguably Trump’s strong suit in this hate-Washington era.
Not hard to discern the outsider between the billionaire and the former state first lady, national first lady, senator, secretary of state and two-time presidential wannabe.
Trump became the default change agent, vowing to drain the Washington swamp, which is actually what part of the nation’s capital was in 1790 when Maryland donated the sodden land to the new country.
Trump boasted he was not a politician, though in hindsight the political rookie was better than all the veteran pols.
Clinton was the status quo, only more so, with her close ties to Wall Street and political and financial cronies, as uncloaked in daily WikiLeaks emails.
American voters have refused to give Democrats three consecutive White House terms since World War II.
In 1976 ex-Democrat, then-Republican Ronald Reagan vowed to create a new political coalition by convincing millions of blue-collar Democrats they really were conservatives. It worked for two Reagan terms plus one for his vice president, George H.W. Bush.
Trump’s victory is similar. His public communication skills were honed through the mass medium of TV, like Reagan, then funneled through social media and mass rallies. At age 70, Trump will supersede Reagan as the oldest incoming president.
Despite derision among political cognoscenti, the New Yorker followed his gut instincts to go after the forsaken Rust Belt with his Washington-is-broken, the system-is-rigged, restore-American-greatness message.
“The forgotten men and women of this country,” Trump repeated, “will be forgotten no longer.” He won Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania, which the GOP had lost since 1988. Trump likely won Michigan which – don’t forget – Sanders shoplifted from Clinton last spring.
And Trump won Wisconsin, which Republicans haven’t captured since – wait for it – the 1984 Reagan landslide. Clinton’s inexplicable decision not to campaign there at all will form part of Democrats’ painful political autopsy these next few years.
“People,” said Brian Ballard, a Trump state finance chair, “entirely underestimated the hunger for change and a true outsider.” Further proof of a main Trump point – that both parties and the media in the nation’s capital have become woefully out of touch with Americans in flyover country.
Trump driving the staid GOP into populism may or may not outlast his larger-than-life personality. However, House Speaker Paul Ryan offered praise for the new party leader. “Donald Trump heard a voice out in this country that no one else heard,” he said.
The win certainly creates a compelling 2017 political dynamic to see whether the imperative for conservative Supreme Court justices, Obamacare repeal or replacement, and other agenda items makes cooperative bedfellows of starkly differing Republican factions and the new commander in chief.
They wanted change so much they were willing to disregard outrageous Trump remarks and behaviors.
In the end, it turns out, this election was indeed rigged, rigged for change not by Eastern elites but by nearly 59 million scattered, unhappy voters. That’s fewer than Clinton got, fewer even than Mitt Romney got in 2012.
As has happened 44 previous times in the past 240 years, voters’ collective wisdom produced another imperfect but viable solution to run the nation through the next leap year.
Voters craved White House change more than they wanted the status quo of a third Obama term with Clinton. They wanted change so much they were willing to disregard outrageous Trump remarks and behaviors.
In Congress, however, more than sweeping change, voters clearly wanted a status quo, though a narrow one, warning leaders there to produce change, for a change.
Well played, Founding Fathers, well played.
Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s. Follow him @AHMalcolm.