WASHINGTON– Donald Trump’s election victory proved — once and for all — that 2016 was the year that everything the political class thought it knew was wrong.
Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton turned on its head years of wisdom about how campaigns operate, how America’s demographics are changing and how a controversial nominee can affect down-ballot candidates.
Here are the five biggest surprises of Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning:
1) Trump won
The polls were wrong. Projection models were wrong. Veterans of previous presidential campaigns were wrong.
Trump’s victory is one of the most stunning upsets in American political history.
American voters swept Republicans into power, handing the GOP the White House, the Senate and the House in a wave that no one saw coming.
Political professionals will now spend the coming weeks and months studying just how and why everyone missed it.
2) There is a Trump coalition
Overwhelming support from white, working-class voters swept Trump to victory.
Most important: Democrats’ so-called “Blue Wall” of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin crumbled, with Trump winning two of the three outright, and leading in Michigan in the early Wednesday hours.
Democrats won urban areas, as usual. But Clinton ran far behind President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 numbers in exurban America. And in rural regions, white voters supported Trump by margins that often topped 40 percentage points.
In some places, it was the “hidden” Trump supporters the campaign had touted but polls never found. Elsewhere, it was Democratic turnout falling off from 2012 levels.
The difference was particularly evident in states where Clinton had struggled in the Democratic primary against Bernie Sanders, whose protectionist message on trade largely matched Trump’s.
3) There wasn’t a Clinton coalition
Or, at least, strong turnout from new Latino voters and support from college-educated women was nowhere near enough to match Trump’s strength with white voters.
Clinton was hurt by a downtick in African American turnout, which had helped Obama.
But her loss also reflected the reality for a Democratic Party that has drifted leftward and relied more heavily on an urban base in the Obama years. “Blue dogs” — conservative Democrats — are gone. And the working-class voters who used to support politicians like Bill Clinton were nowhere to be found for Hillary Clinton.
4) Campaign tools are limited
Clinton’s campaign infrastructure was as impressive as any ever assembled. It had targeted, identified and reached crucial voters in battleground states.
She’d also outspent Trump on TV ads, set up many more field offices, and dispatched more staff to swing states, much earlier.
Trump, meanwhile, ran a scattershot organization, entirely reliant on the Republican National Committee for all get-out-the-vote operations.
None of it mattered.
Or, perhaps, it did — Clinton, after all, won Nevada, a testament to the left’s organizing prowess, and she came close in Florida after racking up huge leads in the heavily populated, heavily Latino southeastern portion of the state.
But it was not enough. Clinton’s operation didn’t catch problem areas in the Rust Belt. By the time Clinton and Obama made last-minute visits to Michigan this week and closed the campaign in Philadelphia on Monday night, it was too late.
5) No down-ballot damage
Republicans everywhere assumed Trump would be a drag on the party’s hopes of keeping Senate control.
He wasn’t. At all. And in some states, Trump appears to have helped Republicans.
He had coattails, outperforming the GOP Senate candidates in Indiana and Missouri, and ran roughly even with those in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Wisconsin.
The results suggested there just weren’t many split-ticket voters — a reality that would have terrified Republican senators prior to the election, but that turned out to work in the party’s advantage.
“Democrats believed they had the golden ticket when Donald Trump officially earned the nomination,” Ward Baker, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a memo early Wednesday morning. “They worked to nationalize every race — and when the bottom fell out of Clinton’s candidacy, they had no message, no strategy, and no ability to pivot to local issues.”
By Eric Bradner