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National Politics|By Charlie Cook, December 9, 2016
This story was originally published on nationaljournal.com on December 6, 2016

Vir­tu­ally every day, Pres­id­ent-elect Don­ald Trump says or does something that many in the Wash­ing­ton es­tab­lish­ment find hor­ri­fy­ing. Most, though cer­tainly not all, of his de­cisions and ac­tions run against the grain of people who, like my­self, look at polit­ics and policy through pretty tra­di­tion­al lenses. A key ques­tion is wheth­er these ob­jec­tions are more of an in­stinct­ive hos­tile re­ac­tion to all things Trump, or if there is a sub­stant­ive basis for the cri­ti­cism that would ap­ply to any pres­id­ent-elect.

Quite a few things Trump has said and done in the last month, and even dur­ing the cam­paign, have caused me con­sid­er­able anxi­ety. But it is worth re­mem­ber­ing that Trump’s nom­in­a­tion and elec­tion were not ran­dom events. On one level, his im­prob­able rise can be seen as the cul­min­a­tion of a mood in this coun­try that has been dark­en­ing for a long time. Al­most every month for dec­ades, poll­sters for NBC News and The Wall Street Journ­al have asked re­spond­ents wheth­er they be­lieve the coun­try is headed in the right dir­ec­tion or if it is on the wrong track. The late Richard Wirth­lin, who made a name for him­self as Pres­id­ent Re­agan’s poll­ster, used to call this ques­tion “the Dow Jones In­dic­at­or of Amer­ic­an polit­ics.” These days the right-dir­ec­tion num­ber is typ­ic­ally in the low to mid-30s, the wrong track in the 60s. The last time right dir­ec­tion ex­ceeded wrong track was more than 12 years ago, in Janu­ary 2004. This in­creas­ing sour­ness among Amer­ic­ans has be­come so in­grained that it’s of­ten over­looked by pub­lic of­fi­cials and polit­ic­al op­er­at­ives. It is the new norm, and many poll­sters stopped even ask­ing the ques­tion be­cause they pretty much knew what the num­bers would be.

From the very be­gin­ning of this pres­id­en­tial race, we saw signs that this gloomy mood might have un­ex­pec­ted con­sequences. From the end of World War II un­til this year, every GOP nom­in­ee ex­cept Barry Gold­wa­ter came from one of five groups: sit­ting pres­id­ents, sit­ting or former vice pres­id­ents, a pre­vi­ous nom­in­ee or run­ner-up for a pre­vi­ous nom­in­a­tion, the son of a former pres­id­ent who also happened to be a ma­jor state gov­ernor, or the com­mand­ing gen­er­al of a re­cently-won world war. Even Gold­wa­ter had been a sen­at­or for al­most 12 years. Re­pub­lic­ans had al­ways gone for fa­mil­i­ar names and faces.

But Re­pub­lic­an voters this year turned their backs on up­wards of a dozen known com­mod­it­ies—sit­ting or former gov­ernors of Arkan­sas, Flor­ida, Louisi­ana, New Jer­sey, New York, Ohio, Texas, Vir­gin­ia, and Wis­con­sin; sen­at­ors from Flor­ida, Ken­tucky, South Car­o­lina, and Texas; and a former sen­at­or from Pennsylvania. Among this group were two former Iowa caucus win­ners. That Re­pub­lic­an voters nom­in­ated in­stead a real es­tate de­veloper and TV real­ity show host was noth­ing less than ex­traordin­ary.

Yes, Hil­lary Clin­ton had enorm­ous neg­at­ives, and all but the most par­tis­an Demo­crats privately con­ceded that she was a prob­lem­at­ic can­did­ate. But polls showed Don­ald Trump’s neg­at­ives were much high­er in Clin­ton’s areas of weak­ness—hon­esty and trust­wor­thi­ness, for ex­ample—and in oth­er meas­ures, like qual­i­fic­a­tions and tem­pera­ment, she ran far ahead. Voters were ex­tremely fa­mil­i­ar with Trump’s short­com­ings, par­tic­u­larly after his miso­gyn­ist­ic re­marks in the Billy Bush tape and his un­know­ing per­form­ance in the first pres­id­en­tial de­bate. Even so, they were will­ing to roll the dice.

All of this is a long way of say­ing that many Amer­ic­ans were des­per­ate for change and were will­ing to take a chance. Iron­ic­ally, a fair num­ber of the people de­mand­ing change seemed afraid of how the coun­try had changed and what it was chan­ging in­to. Small-town, rur­al, and ex­urb­an Amer­ica felt left be­hind, dis­missed as “fly­over coun­try” by the elites on the East and West Coasts. Demo­crats had be­come so en­am­ored with the fu­ture that they skipped over the present and dis­respec­ted the past. Sure, the coun­try has changed, both cul­tur­ally and demo­graph­ic­ally, but not as fast as Demo­crats be­lieved.

“Trump ran on fear; Clin­ton ran on fear of Trump,” a voter told me. I heard someone else say that people feared the fu­ture even more than they feared Trump. For whatever reas­on, enough Amer­ic­ans, par­tic­u­larly in places like Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wis­con­sin, turned on both Demo­crats and es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­ans. Clin­ton won labor-uni­on house­holds by only 8 per­cent­age points. Trump had vir­tu­ally no pub­lic sup­port among For­tune 500 CEO’s, but he came out on top any­way, des­pite all of the ex­perts who said he couldn’t and shouldn’t win.

So as we watch Don­ald Trump do and say things that no Demo­crat or con­ven­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an would even con­sider, things that most ex­perts say shouldn’t be done or said, we need to re­mem­ber that, for bet­ter or worse, Amer­ic­an voters chose this path. They knew that Trump was in­ex­per­i­enced and un­tested, but they were so sick of the status quo that they elec­ted him any­way.