As the smoke clears on the 2016 presidential election, the shock of Donald Trump’s come-from-behind victory over Hillary Clinton is wearing off and the statistics are beginning to be analyzed and studied. Two facts have already emerged that should chill Republicans to the bone.
First is the fact that the Electoral College system saved Donald Trump. At the time of this writing, Hillary Clinton leads the popular vote by 59.8 million to 59.6 million according to Google. Clinton won more than 200,000 more votes than Trump thanks to large victories in states like California and New York. In contrast, Trump’s margin in red states rich in electoral votes was slim. In Texas, Trump won by 10 percent compared to 16 percent for Mitt Romney in 2012 according to CNN records.
Trump’s victory turned on his ability to win swing states and flip Michigan and Wisconsin, historically Democratic states. His margin of victory in these states was razor thin. In both states, he won by less than one percent.
The fact that Trump lost the popular vote is even more problematic because it is the second time in 20 years that a Republican president has won the Electoral College, but lost the popular vote. Of the last five elections, Republicans have won three, but lost the popular vote twice. A political party that wins elections without a majority vote is in almost as much trouble as a party that loses outright.
Second, Trump received more than a million fewer votes than Mitt Romney did in 2012. Missing Republicans were a reality in 2016. In Trump’s favor was the fact that there were more missing Democrats than Republicans. Hillary Clinton received more than 5 million votes fewer than Barack Obama in 2012.
The fact that Democrats won more votes, even with 5 million missing voters, is a warning that Republicans need to expand their base and broaden their appeal. Donald Trump’s victory relied heavily on turnout from white men without a college degree. This is the only demographic that Trump won handily according to exit polls, although he did benefit from fewer minority voters voting for Clinton than for Barack Obama in 2012.
Not all future Democrat candidates will be as weak as Hillary Clinton, who was nominated by the party machinery even with a possible indictment hanging over her head. Republicans must do more to expand their outreach to minorities and the urban areas of the East and West Coasts.
Republicans can rightfully celebrate a hard-fought victory in the election. The joy, however, should be tempered with the knowledge that more people rejected their candidate than voted for him. Trump’s victory may be no more than a reprieve unless Republicans can win new voters.
Republicans have four years to persuade the voters that rejected Trump this year. The future of the party hinges on the bet that the Republican leadership made on Donald Trump and his ability to repair the mess of the Obama years. If Donald Trump doesn’t deliver the change that the people have asked for, it will be the already unpopular Republican Party that takes the blame.