Caleb Brown: This is the Cato Daily Podcast for Wednesday, November 9, 2016. I am Caleb Brown. President-elect Donald Trump scored a stunning victory in the Electoral College to defeat his opponent, Hillary Clinton. But what does that mean for policy and the reckoning the Democratic and Republican parties need to have? David Boaz is executive vice president at the Cato Institute. He discusses the surprising end to this very strange election.
David Boaz: Well, I’m as surprised as everybody else. And in fact I’m kind of stunned and traumatized. I just never thought he was a serious presidential candidate. I was stunned that he stayed in, that he won the primaries, that he got the nomination, that the Republican Party stood by and let it happen, and all the polls said he couldn’t win, and so I am totally surprised and still processing.
Caleb Brown: A lot of this seems to have to do with lower income people in generally more rural states coming out.
David Boaz: Yes, I guess that’s true. There are statistics saying that the average Trump voter has a higher income than the average American, which I suppose is to be expected because: a) they’re voters, and b) they’re voting Republican. Still, it seems like he did better in rural areas where people are less likely to have a college education. In fact, I believe the county in Kentucky that had voted Democratic for the longest time in America, 136 years, went for Trump. It’s a county that is 99% white and 85% not college-educated. So that does seem to be the core and that’s where he scored points against Romney, McCain, and Bush.
Caleb Brown: And these were people who, at least demographically, who traditionally have been Democrats.
David Boaz: Well, that’s right. In Elliott County, Kentucky, they were. And I think across a lot of the industrial Midwest they were. They might have been union people. Now, one of the problems is, they are ex-union people because some of the jobs have disappeared and they perhaps have not responded as well to the loss of jobs in their local community as they should have, and they’re feeling lost. They are feeling unemployed. They are feeling that somebody’s making decisions that have affected them badly.
Caleb Brown: And this was an election in which Hillary Clinton actively, we now know, actively wanted someone like Donald Trump, or Ted Cruz, or Ben Carson to be the nominee.
David Boaz: Well, that’s right. And, you know, there were a lot of Republicans and some libertarians who said is this whole thing a stunt by the Clinton Campaign? You know, he was a Clinton donor, she went to his wedding. Maybe this whole thing is to block a serious candidate like a Scott Walker, a Jeb Bush, a Rand Paul, from getting the Republican nomination. Well, if that was a Clinton plot, then it’s like the least successful political gambit ever. But, yeah, they thought that he would be a sure loser and so did I.
Caleb Brown: This has been a constant struggle on this podcast, and I assume in other public discussions of public policy when you have a candidate who doesn’t really talk very much about policy except in very broad, vague, often contradictory terms. And if you go to the campaign to try to understand more about their policies, you get maybe a sheet, a page, a page-and-a-half detailing something that in many cases doesn’t make a lot of sense.
David Boaz: Yeah, I think this is the least policy-transparent, the least wonkish person to enter the White House in memory. He had a few big ideas that he was really interested in and a lot of other policies can be found on his website, but he never showed much interest in them. He talked about school choice. He talked about some health care reform. He’s got a tax cut plan. But he never showed much interest in those. What he did show an interest in was blocking world trade, blocking immigration, deporting people. He did also repeatedly come back to the idea that our foreign policy is a failure, that regime change and nation-building have not been working, that why are we defending spending our money to defend the wealthy nations of Western Europe? So, in that latter area we may find some opportunity to work with his administration. Trade and immigration, I guess we’ll be working against them.
Caleb Brown: With respect to trade and immigration and crime, and to some extent foreign policy, a whole lot of his campaign seemed to be built on things that are just not true.
David Boaz: Well, most politicians build their plans on things that are not true. I mean, a whole lot of people believe that minimum wage laws will help the people who are currently making below the minimum wage. However, he does seem to have, has had, a real strong propensity for making claims that were simply widely at variance with the facts, and not seeming to care. He doesn’t change what he says. And his campaign doesn’t respond with evidence that might make it sort of a defensible claim. They just ignored it. I think we have to wonder why did people vote for this guy? Certainly everybody I know wonders why people voted for this guy. And there’s a theme on the left, they voted for him because they’re racist, misogynist, homophobic and so on. There are some people who clearly had to respond to those elements in his campaign, but I do think a lot of people were fed up with eight years of Obama. They were fed up with dynasties. They didn’t like the Bush dynasty. It turns out they didn’t like the Clinton dynasty. They wanted to drain the swamp. He ran TV ads, not that many, Hillary ran three times as many, but he ran TV ads that talked about big issues. We’ll bring the jobs back, we’ll cut taxes, we’ll get government under control, we’ll make the streets safe. Now, whether or not there were any real facts to back up things like I can bring the jobs back, he was talking about big issues, and maybe Hillary spent too much time talking about what a bad guy he was and too little time talking about things people were actually worried about.
Caleb Brown: Gary Johnson was a libertarian candidate for president who had some stumbles, essentially, on par with both Clinton and Trump when it comes to issues of policy. But he failed to gain traction in a substantial way. That’s not to diminish the fact that his vote totals are huge for a libertarian candidate for president. But, you know, he struck me as somebody who was serious and who was attempting to present himself as a sane, rational alternative, but the way debates are structured, the way polling is structured, it seemed like it was never going to happen.
David Boaz: The Libertarian party nominated two two-term governors. That’s the most serious third party ticket I think there’s ever been. And so you have the two most unpopular candidates in polling history, you have the two most accomplished third party candidates in history, and you only got about 4% of the vote. I think you really have to think about whether third parties work. I mean, which many people have already thought about and decided they didn’t, but even for those of us who were sympathetic to what Gary Johnson was trying to do, I think you have to think if you couldn’t do better than that in this campaign. Now, he didn’t have very much money. When we sit down and compare votes per dollar spent, he’s going to be way better than Hillary or Trump. But the fact is, if you can’t raise 50 million, a hundred million, much less a billion dollars, then you can’t be competitive. Plus, we saw in the polls he was touching 12, 13%. He was averaging 9% in a bunch of polls, and he fell, in the end, to probably 4%. It’s tough to hold onto your vote if you don’t look like you’re actually competing to win.
Caleb Brown: Republicans held onto Congress narrowly, in the Senate at least, and presumably a lot of these people who are in Congress who are Republicans owe some of their success at the ballot because Donald Trump was at the top of the ticket.
David Boaz: Some of them may. On the other hand, there were a number of Republicans who ran ahead of Trump in their districts. So, I mean, Mark Kirk lost, but he still ran ahead of Trump in his district. Rob Portman in Ohio ran ahead of Trump. So, I don’t know to what extent they can attribute it to coattails. Now, it’s certainly true if Trump had lost by ten points like a lot of people thought, then a lot more of these Republicans would have lost. So he didn’t drag them down.
Caleb Brown: It seems unfair and confusing to suggest that polarization has increased in this election. It certainly, among Democrats and Republicans in this election, there was a lot of bitterness about Hillary and Trump, but the overlap between what Trump wanted to do with regard to policy and Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in many ways wasn’t that huge.
David Boaz: Well, there’s a lot of cultural issues. You know, we Washington wonks tend to think a lot about economic policy, and in economic policy Trump doesn’t want to cut entitlements and he wants to interfere with trade, and that’s kind of Hillary’s position, and it’s Bernie’s position. On cultural issues, though, Hillary drapes herself in multicultural America, in Hollywood. Trump has, despite being a thrice-married, adulterous, rich New Yorker, draped himself in the trappings of traditional small-town America and that cultural divide was very significant and polarizing.
Caleb Brown: Where does the Republican Party go from here?
David Boaz: Well, that’s a very good question. If Trump had lost, then there would be a lot of people today saying the people who did this to us, they nominated the only candidate who could lose to Hillary Clinton. They need to be driven out. Well, Trump won. So it’s going to be pretty had to drive out the Trumpsters. But what do we know now? We apparently know that the base of the Republican Party is not nearly as Reaganite as we thought it was. And it’s not clear that a majority of the party could be considered Trumpist, he never got a majority in the primaries, and a lot of people voted for him in the general election just because hey, he’s better than Hillary. The Republican team is better than the Democratic team. But there’s going to be a fight within the Republican Party over what the party stands for and from my point of view, unfortunately, the President of the United States is going to be on the side of not standing for limited government.
Caleb Brown: On the flip side, the Democratic Party, you had Bernie Sanders making, I think, a surprising showing for president in the primaries. But at the same time the structure within the Democratic Party delivered Hillary Clinton.
David Boaz: Well, that’s right. Hillary Clinton could barely defeat a 74-year-old socialist. And yet that didn’t warn the Democratic Party leadership that she wasn’t a strong candidate. So first she can’t beat a 74-year-old socialist, and then she can’t beat a 70-year-old guy who says all sorts of horrible things about everybody from disabled people to Mexicans to John McCain. So, she’s clearly a really weak candidate for someone who is obviously smart, well-prepared, all of that. The left wing of the Democratic Party will say that the problem was she wasn’t left wing enough. Bernie would not have won this election I don’t think. But what she did was block a new generation of Democrats from running for president, and they probably will be to the left of the current Democratic Party, but she didn’t lose because she wasn’t left wing enough. She lost because she’s old, she’s tired, she’s a dynasty, she’s untrustworthy, and she’s big government. Obamacare, rising premiums, regulations, obsessing over everything people do. Going to the left is not the solution for the Democrats but it may be their initial reaction.
Caleb Brown: And I’m to think of the two people who typify a previous generation of both members of those parties and the names that come to mind are Jim Webb and John Kasich, as people who do not seem to have a really strong place after this election.
David Boaz: Well, Jim Webb clearly doesn’t. I mean, there’s not much room for people like Jim Webb in the Democratic Party. And even somebody who is not as flakey as Jim Webb would be Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. And he was already saying this like, election night, yeah, I could switch parties. So, I think things like that might happen. John Kasich is in a little different category. John Kasich was a mainstream fiscal conservative when he was in Washington, he had a religious experience, and he had the experience of actually governing a large, diverse state, and that made him come across as less ideological, less slash the budget, but I think he is still a mainstream Republican on the fiscal side of Reaganite. And the question is where are the Reaganites now? Do the Reaganites have to tuck their heads and go along with the Trump leadership? But, we don’t know what the Trump leadership is actually going to be. There is a report that Trump offered John Kasich the vice presidency and said he could run domestic policy and foreign policy, which might suggest that President-elect Trump doesn’t care that much about policy.
Caleb Brown: David Boaz is executive vice president of the Cato Institute. Subscribe to this podcast at iTunes, Google Play and with Cato’s iOS app. And follow us on Twitter, @CatoPodcast.