Trump Makes His First Choices. Democrats Ponder Their Last One

In the week since America’s presidential election, Donald Trump’s party appears to be mending the tattered fabric that had held it together for decades, setting the party up to play all of the cards it holds now that it will have control of the White House and both Congressional chambers.

Trump has selected as his chief-of-staff GOP Chairman Reince Preibus, thereby installing a bridge to the party’s lawmakers right from the Oval Office. Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan are now aligned on immigration among other issues. Whether the party will bring Trump back to the fold in terms of free trade and a deregulated finance sector remains to be seen.

After a season of endless rhetorical warfare, one of the greatest ironies will be how the Republicans, who seemed so damaged beyond repair by internal strife, now have the Democrats scrambling for a strategy.

The party might, for a start, recognise that Bernie Sanders would have been a better candidate than Hillary Clinton to address the problems that pushed so many people to vote for Trump.

A Clinton administration would certainly be less damaging than what we're going to get under a Trump administration, which will likely enable a backlash against visible minorities and women as well as an industrial assault against the natural environment.

But perhaps Hillary is too beholden to centrist economic interests to tackle the problems that made so many people ignore the worst of Trump's xenophobic and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Many Democrats went all-in for Hillary just because Trump has been so terrifying, and seems to have borrowed Adolph Hitler's playbook. Most of them saw through the barrage of accusations about Benghazi and the use of a private email server, and decided she's no more compromised than any man who's occupied high office for many years.

Democrats assumed Clinton was a better bet than Sanders, who has been calling for free post-secondary education and other policies appealing to the party’s left-wing.

Clinton was the most competent figure to continue the growth and stability the U.S. has seen since its quasi-recovery from the financial crisis of 2008. But this was the problem. Voters demanded more than a continuation of the policies of the past eight years. Indeed, the past half-century or more. More voters than anyone expected want drastic measures to create opportunities for people other than shareholders.

the populist rhetoric that Trump and Sanders delivered overlaps

Take as an example the state of Wisconsin, which most pre-election polls called a Democratic win. Bernie Sanders beat Clinton in that state’s primary back in April, while Trump came in a distant second behind Ted Cruz. Michigan provided the proverbial writing on the wall, which few Democrats read.

After Sanders’ Michigan win in the primary, FiveThirtyEight wrote:

"If Bernie Sanders were to defeat Hillary Clinton in Michigan’s Democratic primary, it would be “among the greatest polling errors in primary history,” our editor in chief, Nate Silver, wrote Tuesday evening when results started to come in. Sanders pulled it off, and now we’re left wondering how it happened. How did Sanders win by 1.5 percentage points when our polling average showed Clinton ahead by 21 points and our forecasts showed that Sanders had less than a 1 percent chance of winning?"

Some of the populist rhetoric that Trump and Sanders delivered overlaps, but the idea that Trump will deliver on what Sanders’ supporters are looking for is laughable.

While some choices, such as Reince Priebus, show a willingness to compromise with mainstream Republicans, other choices so far show Trump following his worst instincts. He has appointed Stephen Bannon - head of Brietbart News and a thorn in the side of moderate Republicans because of the media outlet’s embrace of racist ideology - as his “chief strategist and senior counselor”.

So, the rhetorical flogging of minorities and immigrants is likely to continue, which could only lead to real conflict in the streets.

The blood that spills as Trump and his taskmasters blow their dog whistles will make America's racists and misogynists satisfied enough to ignore the fact that their economic lot isn't improving.

Meanwhile, Democrats are left re-evaluating, through the clarity of hindsight, whether their party machine should have backed Hillary.

More about the author

About the author

Robert has been a journalist and editor in Beijing and Toronto for publications including The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News, and Financial Times. 

Follow Robert on Twitter.

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