How Donald Trump Surfed Public Anger to the Presidency; Trump Has Become the Champion of Americans Fed Up with the "Connected Class."

By Powell, Bill | Newsweek, November 18, 2016 | Go to article overview

How Donald Trump Surfed Public Anger to the Presidency; Trump Has Become the Champion of Americans Fed Up with the "Connected Class."


Powell, Bill, Newsweek


Byline: Bill Powell

As evening fell on November 6, just two days before what is arguably the most stunning political upset in American history, construction worker Jonathan Langford patiently waited in a line that stretched for more than half a mile. The 32-year-old and nearly 10,000 other Pennsylvanians would wait in that line for four hours before they filed into a huge airline hanger in suburban Pittsburgh for a Donald Trump rally. Langford--and the rest of the crowd--would wait for nearly two more hours before Trump finally arrived, and would do so without complaint. "I've never been to a rally for someone who is going to be president. This is a little bit of history here. He's going to win."

The polls didn't say so (though they were getting tighter). Most of the pundits didn't believe it. And, truth be told, even some of the top people in the Trump campaign, just a few days before the election, doubted it would happen. "We may run out of time," a senior adviser said just days before the election. But polls don't necessarily capture commitment, they don't capture intensity, and they surely didn't capture the simmering anger in large swathes of the American electorate.

From the moment he descended the escalator at Trump Tower in the summer of 2015 to announce his improbable candidacy, Donald J. Trump surfed that anger. The 70-year-old political neophyte--a blunt, sometimes coarse New York real estate developer turned reality TV star--became the champion of those Americans fed up with what construction worker Langford called the "connected class. The Washington types, Republican or Democrat, who don't seem to give a damn about people like me. It's like we had no voice before Donald ran. No one heard us."

Now they have--loud and clear. Trump's narrow victory on November 8, and the Republican Party's retention of both houses of Congress, gives the GOP full control of the U.S government. But at this extraordinary moment in American political history, that doesn't necessarily mean what it did in previous years. Trump's victory was a defeat of the Washington establishment, both Democrat and Republican. The speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, had tepidly endorsed the candidate, condemned Trump's criticism of a Mexican-American judge as "the very definition of racism" and seemed pained at times to even speak the candidate's name. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell focused on Senate races and rarely commented on the GOP's nominee.

The reason for that is clear. As that rarest of species, a Republican who's a senior executive in Hollywood, put it late Tuesday night, "Trump's win means the GOP now stands for 'Gone Old Party.'" Indeed, Ryan, waking up Wednesday morning, might well be asking himself a vexing question: What the hell do I do now?

Ryan was Mitt Romney's running mate four years ago--that's the Romney who refused to endorse Trump. Ryan is not only speaker of the House but also one of the GOP's foremost policy wonks, having pushed an agenda centered on tax and entitlement reform. Like most establishment Republicans, he also favors free trade and robust American engagement abroad, and he has never been a hawk on immigration.

Until November 7, 2016, Ryan's positions on issues were broadly representative of what had been mainstream GOP thinking. Had been, that is, until the Trump takeover of the party and the White House on November 8. The political fracture within the GOP is already obvious. According to the last New York Times/CBS News poll before the election, only 39 percent of Republican respondents said Trump has been good for the party, while 41 percent said he's been bad. (The remaining 16 percent, evidently vacationing on the planet Pluto, said Trump's 2016 run "hasn't had much of an effect" on the GOP.)

When Trump, in his victory speech just before 3 a.m. on November 9, said to those who didn't support him, "I'm reaching out to you for your guidance and help so we can work together and unify our great country," he was presumably talking to the 54 million Americans, most of them Democrats, who voted for Hillary Clinton. …

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