The Briefing 11-09-16
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, November 9, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Trump elected 45th President of the US: Understanding the electoral forces behind a stunning victory
In a stunning reversal of political expectation, it now appears in the early morning hours that Donald Trump will be elected the 45th President of the United States. Even as votes continue to be counted in key states, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, it is abundantly clear that any avenue or victory by the candidate of the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton is now closing, and it’s also clear that what had been described as a very narrow path to victory in terms of the hopes of Donald Trump turned out to be not so narrow at all. There had been claims that Hillary Clinton was going to win and the only question was the margin of her victory. There was even talk in recent days of the potential of a landslide victory in the Electoral College and something of a political realignment.
But voters in the United States announced yesterday that there would be a political realignment, but it wouldn’t be led by Hillary Clinton. Instead it will be led by Donald J. Trump. The headline in the early morning hours on the website of the New York Times was this,
“Trump is closing in on a stunning upset.”
The Washington Post put it this way,
“Trump seizes clear advantage with series of battleground wins.”
The Wall Street Journal simply said,
“Trump nears upset.”
A political upset is always a big story. This one is a particularly big story, because we are looking at what amounts to a major political realignment. What it means at least in part is a resurgence in populism in the United States, a resurgence to the extent that Donald J. Trump was able to defy all of the political wisdom and virtually all of the major polling agencies and cruise to a victory in terms of election night. That was not only clear on the electoral college map, but also in a margin as of 2 o’clock this morning of over 1 million votes in the popular vote.
The realization that Donald Trump was going to be elected President of the United States sent shockwaves to the American political system and, furthermore, shockwaves throughout foreign capitals as well. There are two major developments that are very clear in terms of the news early this morning. There are two great political facts. The first of these is that there is declared a revolution that is now going to be led by Donald Trump as President of the United States. And the second was a repudiation of the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton.
It will take some time for the actual political situation to become more clarified, and there is likely to be an enduring debate over which of those two great political facts was more important. But it is clear even in the early morning hours today that one cannot discount the political force of the revolution that was announced in the vote. It is also clear that what happened yesterday was a repudiation of political elites, and especially a repudiation of Hillary Clinton.
It is impossible this morning and it may continue to be impossible to untangle the motivations of American voters. Did a majority of voters vote for Donald Trump or against Hillary Clinton? It may be impossible to come up with an answer to that question, even when it comes down to the self-knowledge and the self-analysis undertaken by individual American voters. But this much is clear: not only was Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party repudiated in the vote yesterday, so also were the elites of both political parties, and that means the Republicans as well as the Democrats.
Trump’s electoral streaks last night were nothing less than stunning. We’re talking about Trump flipping several states that had previously voted for Barack Obama. And within other states it was also clear that Donald Trump was winning in constituencies that had traditionally voted for the Democratic nominee. During the course of the campaign Donald Trump, who had never previously been elected to any political office, stated that his path to victory would include reversing recent Democratic gains in presidential election cycles, especially in the so-called Rust Belt states in the upper Midwest. Therefore, it was no irony that as the votes were being counted this morning, the crucial votes were likely to appear in the states of Michigan and Wisconsin.
As of 2 o’clock this morning, the Wall Street Journal had called the state of Pennsylvania for Trump, and that’s indicative of the kind of reversal that we are seeing in this election. We are looking at the fact that Pennsylvania had been predictably Democratic for years now going back at least to 1992. But Trump won it. And in so doing he made the point that there is something happening in American politics that goes beyond the traditional Republican and Democratic rivalry.
As we’re looking at historical context here, it’s also clear that the victory for Donald Trump has to be explained in part by a lack of enthusiasm amongst historical Democratic voters for Hillary Clinton. The turnout among African-American voters was significantly less than in recent cycles, in particular in 2008 and 2012 when the nominee was President Barack Obama. The immediate analysis as the hours were unfolding last night and this morning involved a discussion as to whether or not what was taking place was a sign of undetected enthusiasm for Donald Trump or an undetected lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton. In any event, it was probably a mixture of both factors.
As we have said, this election was also, it now turns out, a repudiation of the elites in both political parties. It is easy to understand the repudiation of the Democratic Party elites. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could better represent that party’s historic leadership in recent years than Hillary Clinton. But when it comes to the repudiation of the Republican political elites, simply keep in mind that those elites oppose Donald Trump’s bid to become the nominee of the party. The elites did almost everything they could to deny the nomination of Donald Trump, but he won it anyway. And then he insisted on running the campaign on his own terms. There’s something else that this has revealed, and that is that Donald Trump ran the campaign unlike what almost any conventional political strategist would have advised. Instead, he seems to have incited a populist movement that dared to vote for him regardless of political expectation on the parts of political leaders.
There is something here that we need to note very carefully. This populism is very powerful; it can also be very, very dangerous. The bottom line in terms of what we know today is that the presidency will belong to Donald Trump for the next four years, and the huge question is, what will he now do with it? In one sense we could say that there is some predictability because we have known this man as he has run for the presidency now for more than a year. But in terms of a traditional political trajectory in a set of policies and positions, a track record and experience, Donald Trump has none of those. And instead what he has is a mercurial personality that is largely driven by his own personal style and, furthermore, one that has not been based upon policy decisions and policy proposals.
The rise of this populist surge explains why Donald Trump was able to flip those states that have been decidedly Democratic, especially in what has been described as the Rust Belt. Because the voters who came out with enthusiasm for Donald Trump were voters who very clearly feel that they have been left behind in the technological and economic revolutions of recent decades. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the loss of the manufacturing base in these historically industrialized regions of the United States. But that doesn’t explain why all of the sudden voters in a state like Florida, especially in a county like Hillsborough County, which is not and was never industrialized, where there was a similar populist uprising. So it’s not only an uprising against the industrial powers, it is also a certain kind of uprising over against political elites and policies that had been supported one way or another by the leadership of both political parties. Thus there’s a huge question, to what extent was the victory of Donald Trump a victory for the Republican Party?
Well, in the immediate context it was a huge victory, because for the first time it appears since 1928, Republicans will occupy the White House, they will occupy leadership in both houses of Congress. That goes back to Calvin Coolidge in terms of American history. That’s unprecedented in terms of the lifetimes of anyone now involved in politics, and it puts a huge responsibility not only upon Republicans in general, but specifically now upon Donald Trump. He will have the opportunity to remake the Republican Party virtually in his image. Once again, the question is, now given this authority, given this mandate, what will Donald Trump do with it?
The editors of the Wall Street Journal going into the weekend spoke specifically about this open question related to Donald Trump. In an editorial entitled, “The Gamble of Trump,” the editors made very clear that they do not endorse candidates. But they spoke of the contrast between the known threat of Hillary Clinton and the unknown reality of Donald Trump. The editors put it this way,
“The choice comes down to the very high if relatively predictable costs of four more years of brute progressive government under Hillary Clinton versus a gamble on the political unknown of Donald Trump.”
Now keep this very much in mind. The American voter is traditionally a quite risk-averse voter. And yet, in electing Donald Trump, the American voter, at least a majority of those voters, a majority represented in the Electoral College, are taking a significant risk. That tells us something about pent up anxiety and frustration in the American electorate. Furthermore, we have to understand that this kind of populist surge is detestable now, not only undeniably in the United States of America, but in other Western democracies as well. There are populist parties running on similar platforms in nations that include both France and the United Kingdom, and of course the Brexit vote is another illustration of this. Also, as a footnote, we need to note that pollsters did not predict the Brexit victory any more than they had predicted the victory of Donald Trump. That tells us something about the limitations of polling; it also tells us something else. It turns out that voters aren’t all that honest or forthcoming in telling pollsters how they’re actually going to vote.
From a worldview analysis perspective there are two different questions to ask here. One of them is, to what extent was this an election about policy? In this sense there was clearly a repudiation of Hillary Clinton, and that was a mixture of her character and her policy, what we might say is her political persona and the platform on which she ran. Hillary Clinton by definition was a known quantity. That’s an issue of interest here. The voters did not come out with enthusiasm, even in the Democratic Party, to vote for Hillary Clinton, and it wasn’t because they didn’t know her, but we have to presume it was precisely because they did. When it comes to Hillary Clinton there were huge character issues and there were massive issues of policy. One of the things that becomes abundantly clear is that the future of the Democratic Party is now very much in question. There is going to be a battle for the soul of that party in the aftermath of this national presidential election.
Remember the fact that a great human enthusiasm in the party during the nomination process was actually devoted to Bernie Sanders who wasn’t even a registered Democrat at the time and isn’t even now. He is officially an Independent U.S. Senator from the State of Vermont. The kind of Democratic Socialism that Bernie Sanders made his platform obviously has a constituency in the Democratic Party, and it will be very interesting to see if analysis post-election demonstrates that those voters simply didn’t turn out for Hillary Clinton. We’re also told even this morning that the rate of voting for Clinton by millennials was much less than expected. So when it comes to ethnic and racial minorities in America, when it comes to those who are the millennials by age category and generation, when it comes to those who are enthusiastic supporters for Bernie Sanders, they weren’t so enthusiastic, it turns out, for Hillary Clinton. It is likely that to some extent there was an impact in terms of the fracas over the FBI in the discovery of new emails. But at the end of the day, even those in the Democratic Party last night were acknowledging that that can’t be the whole story. There’s something bigger going on here.
On the Republican side, there’s also something bigger going on here, and that bigger might be even bigger. There is also going to be a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. But it won’t be in the aftermath of the defeat, instead it will be in the aftermath of a victory. And there will be major constituencies in play here, the most important of which will be Donald J. Trump himself. But that raises a host of questions about the election. Was there enthusiasm for the policies of Donald Trump? It now appears that was not so much the case. Instead, it was a vote for his persona and a vote for a populist affirmation of the need for change.
It was a populist uprising that was based not so much upon platform decisions—though Trump did have policy positions—but rather on the fact that he was running as the agent of massive change, the repudiation of the political elites, and a redirection of the American experiment. But that then leads to another huge set of questions. How in the world did Donald Trump’s character issue show up in terms of this election? The risk-averse electorate, it turns out, was willing to take a risk even on Donald Trump.
Now from a worldview analysis, the most important thing for us to understand is that this tells us that the mandate, the urgency for change, was so profound that a majority of voters were willing to overlook the massive character flaws of Donald Trump, character issues that were made abundantly clear not only prior to when he announced his candidacy, but in virtually every point along the campaign trail.
Another factor of important worldview analysis was the overwhelming support for Donald Trump amongst voters who identified as evangelical Christians. In the immediate aftermath of the voting last night, it was estimated that 86% of American evangelicals who voted, voted for Donald Trump. The answer to the “why” question in terms of that vote cannot be in terms merely of Trump’s persona, nor even in terms of the populist mandate for change. Instead, I would argue that what is revealed in that statistic is the overwhelming urgency of the issue of the sanctity of human life in the faith of the unborn. I believe that it was the issue of abortion and the future of the United States Supreme Court that probably meant more than anything else to evangelicals in making this decision. Faced with the choice between the two major party candidates, it was clear that a majority of evangelicals decided to vote for the candidate who was well known to be crude and egotistical and even perverse over the candidate who was also known to be sinister, conspiratorial, and avidly pro-abortion.
Furthermore, viewed another way, what happened last night was the repudiation once again of a political dynasty. We could say it was the second, at least the second political dynasty to be repudiated in this election cycle. The first was the Bush political dynasty that was defeated by Donald Trump fairly early on in the Republican primary process. And then of course in the general election, it was the Clinton dynasty. If you go back in terms of the history of American politics, you have to go back to the year 1980 when George H. W. Bush was elected Vice President of the United States on the ticket with Ronald Reagan. Ever since then, there have been more elections with a Bush on the ticket than without. On the other side of the partisan divide, it was clear that the election of Hillary Clinton would be a resumption, even a restoration of something like a Clinton dynasty. It turned out that a majority of American voters weren’t buying that project.
On both sides of the divide over the last several months, American voters, starting with Republicans and then in terms of the general election, repudiated candidates who had undeniably vast political experience electing as President of the United States—at least we believe in the early hours this morning—a man with virtually no previous political experience. That risk-averse electorate decided that it would prefer a candidate of no experience to a candidate of bad experience.
Of course, at the time of the deadline for this recording for today’s Briefing it wasn’t clear that we had a definitive winner. It was clear that it was going to be extremely difficult for Hillary Clinton to find any way to victory in terms of the Electoral College. It was also clear that as of early this morning, Democratic supporters had basically come to terms with that reality, and the reality is actually quite huge. As of this morning, it was clear that Republicans would maintain control of the United States House of Representatives and would be very likely to maintain control in leadership in the United States Senate. This represents not only an historic turning point, but the investment of a great deal of responsibility, a massive incalculable amount of responsibility, in the Republican Party and, in particular, in the man who will be President-elect of the United States, Donald Trump.
One of the strange vagaries of the American constitutional system is that even though millions and millions of Americans will have voted for Donald Trump, there will be millions who did not. And the responsibility of Donald Trump is to become President of the United States representing all Americans. That is not to diminish the force of his own agenda and his own platform, but it is to state very clearly that what is necessary now is Donald Trump to emerge as a statesman, not merely as the President-elect.
Similarly, it now falls to the American people, all of us, to hope for and to pray for Donald Trump as he assumes this responsibility. We must pray as Christians that God will guide him to be an even better President of the United States than he might even intend to be, and we should say that of anyone who was elected to this high office. We should understand the awesome responsibilities that are invested in this constitutional office, and we should understand that there will be enormous tests that will come to Donald Trump not only as President of the United States, but even in the time that he is President-elect.
As we went into Election Day, I reminded us of our responsibility as Christians to pray for the election and for our nation and also without hesitation for one another as we went into the voting place in order to cast our vote. But now we need to pray without hesitation for Donald Trump as the President-elect of the United States and for Mike Pence as the Vice President-elect of this nation. We need to pray that God will guide them. We need to pray that they will make judicious appointments and that as they present themselves to the American people, they will do so in a way that not only before this nation, but before a watching world, adds to the credibility of American democracy and adds to the stability of the American constitutional system of government, and also holds the righteousness that is the impulse behind so many evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump precisely out of concern for the sanctity of human life, and any number of other major moral issues.
Even as we now bring the recording of today’s edition of The Briefing to a close, it is clear that Hillary Clinton has called Donald Trump in order to concede the election and that Donald Trump is announcing his victory as President of the United States and accepting the decision of the voters. Let us all be reminded of the biblical principle that “to whom much is given, much will be expected.” Also now clear is that there will be plenty for us to think about and to talk about in terms of the unfolding events of coming hours and days. History is taking shape right before our eyes. But we also understand that on the ballot yesterday were any number of issues, especially in states where we know that voters in Colorado overwhelmingly affirmed the legalization of physician-assisted suicide. The vote was not even close, it amounted to something of a landslide victory for the culture of death. That serves as a warning, lest we believe that we can read the moral impulse of the American people merely by looking at one set of election results. The picture yesterday indicates that we are a troubled people, especially when it comes to many of the initiatives that were on the state ballots. It was not only physician-assisted suicide, but marijuana and other issues as well. All of these will deserve and demand our attention in coming days.
And finally, in conclusion, we have to go back to the main issue of worldview analysis, and that is the great gamble undertaken yesterday by a majority of American voters in electing Donald Trump as President-elect of the United States. Now we must fervently, eagerly, and earnestly pray that God will guide him and that God will bless this nation. We are about to write a new chapter in the history of the United States of America. By God’s grace, let us pray that we will write this chapter well.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information about Boyce College, just go to BoyceCollege.com.
I’m speaking to you from Asheville, North Carolina, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.