Political analysts and voters are still arguing over how Donald Trump emerged victorious in the 2016 race for the White House. The billionaire and political outsider shocked the world by defeating Hillary Clinton, who had run a more conventional campaign and had considerably more experience in government.
Trump conducted his campaign in an outlandish manner. He insulted broad segments of the electorate and abandoned the typical backing of his own GOP. Donald Trump garnered over 1 million fewer individual votes than Clinton, yet he secured at least 290 electoral college votes. This was 20 more than the 270 required to win the presidency, reigniting the discussion of whether the Electoral College should be abolished in the United States.
Trump became the fifth president to be chosen without a majority vote. So why did Trump win the presidency despite belittling people, without fundraisers and the aid of the Republican Party?
Trump’s Celebrity Status
While on the campaign trail, Trump promoted himself as a prosperous real estate developer directly employing thousands of Americans.
His role as the host and producer of The Apprentice, a popular reality series in NBC, also boosted his public image. He built a significant national following during his time on the show. Donald Trump was a household name even before declaring his candidacy.
During one event, he claimed, “I’ve built a wonderful firm with tens of thousands of employees.” Trump also said in a different address that his presidency would be great for job growth and that he would be the best president God has ever made for jobs.
Based on a private financial disclosure form Trump submitted to the US Office of Government Ethics when he declared his candidacy for president, he is the CEO of dozens of businesses and sits on multiple corporate boards. Despite the claims of his detractors that he is worth far less than that, Trump has claimed to be worth up to $10 billion and is among the most recognizable brands in the US.
His role as the host and producer of The Apprentice, a popular reality series on NBC, also boosted his public image.
Huge Voter Turnout among Working-Class Whites
This was one of the main election-related stories of 2016. Because he pledged to renegotiate trade agreements with nations like China and impose high tariffs on products coming from these countries, working-class white voters—both men and women—left the Democratic Party and supported Trump. Trump’s stance on trade was perceived as a strategy to prevent businesses from moving jobs abroad, although many analysts pointed out that taxing imports would first increase costs for American consumers.
White working-class voters, particularly those who reside in historic steel and manufacturing areas, responded favorably to his message. At a rally outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Trump stated, “Skilled artisans and craftsmen and industrial workers have watched the jobs they loved moved thousands of miles away.”
Trump’s Stance on Immigration
Trump appealed to white supporters who were mostly concerned about crimes being perpetrated by undocumented immigrants or employment opportunities being filled by them. He promised to essentially shut down the borders to block “terrorists” from coming in. “We’re going to track down criminals with a history of crime, gang members, and drug dealers. We have a lot of these people—possibly two million or perhaps three million—, and we need to get them out of the country or put them in jail,” he added. On the issue of illegal immigration, Trump’s attitude stood in sharp contrast to his main rival – Clinton.
Hillary Clinton’s Legal Woes
Early in her 2016 campaign, Clinton was hounded by a scandal involving using a personal email while serving as secretary of State. But in the final weeks of the 2016 election, she seemed to have moved past the scandal.
In most national polls carried out between October and the early days of November, Clinton was ahead of Trump in the public vote total. Surveys conducted in crucial states also indicated this.
However, a few days before the election, James Comey, the director of the FBI, wrote to Congress announcing that he would examine emails discovered on a laptop belonging to a Clinton ally to determine whether they were pertinent to the then-closed investigation. The letter raised questions about Clinton’s chances of winning. Then, two days before the election, Comey released a second statement that both reaffirmed Clinton didn’t do anything wrong and rekindled interest in the matter.
After the election, Clinton specifically attributed her defeat to Comey. In a post-election phone call, Clinton reportedly said, “Our opinion is that Comey’s letter generating suspicions that were groundless, and unjustified, derailed our momentum.”
Massive Media Coverage
Trump didn’t invest much money in his campaign to win the presidency. He wasn’t required to. Many influential news outlets saw his candidacy as a theater or entertainment rather than politics. Trump thus received a ton of unrestricted free publicity on cable television and other networks. By the end of the primary season and the entire presidential election, analysts calculated that Trump had received around $5 billion in free media.
Trump also spent millions of dollars, primarily in keeping with his promise to fund his campaign and project an image of independence from special interests. Free media has long played a crucial role in US democracy by nurturing political dialogue and spreading electoral information. However, the sheer volume of media coverage on Trump focuses attention on how the media may have affected the outcome of the 2016 election.
Clinton’s Disdain towards Voters
Working-class voters never felt a connection with Clinton. Perhaps it was because of her personal fortune. Perhaps it was her position among the political elite. However, it was probably related to her contentious characterization of Trump fans as despicable.
“If you want to be incredibly generic, you might classify half of the Trump supporters as belonging to the “basket of deplorables.” Right? You name it: racist, misogynistic, homophobic, fascist, Islamophobic,” Clinton claimed a few months to the polls. Despite Clinton’s apology, the harm had already been done. Voters who had supported Trump because they were concerned about their middle-class position changed their votes decisively against Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, profited from her error by highlighting the patronizing tone of Clinton’s comments. According to him, “The people supporting the Donald Trump campaign are actually hard-working citizens representing every class in America. They also believe that we can resurrect America’s greatness.”