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"I - and most pundits - got it wrong about Trump v Clinton"

Now that the first shock has abated, TheJournal.ie columnist Larry Donnelly ponders on a world post-Trump victory.

Larry Donnelly Law Lecturer, NUI Galway

“LARRY, YOU LOOK like you’re in shock.”

These were the final words RTÉ anchor Bryan Dobson said to me on air as we concluded our lengthy special coverage of the US presidential election at 3.30am on Wednesday. This was after rolling early results from a series of battleground states, all of which were too close to call and some of which appeared to be leaning Donald Trump’s way.

In those moments, it was dawning on me and the other panellists that – notwithstanding our initial shared confidence that Hillary Clinton would prevail – we might be talking about President-elect Trump later in the morning.

It didn’t begin that way. Early exit polls showed very high unfavourable numbers for Trump and were otherwise suggestive of a Clinton win. Moreover, there were reports of a big surge of Latino voters in Florida. CBS political correspondent Major Garrett stated that there was “anxiety” in the Trump camp. His top strategist Kellyanne Conway gave an interview in which her tone was defeatist.

2016 Election Trump Kellyanne Conway, Trump's campaign manager pictured here after the victory rally, had earlier appeared downcast on a TV interview. Source: John Locher via PA Images

I formed the belief that things were headed in Clinton’s direction. But shortly thereafter, as the votes were counted, it emerged that the two candidates were neck and neck in Florida with only 9% remaining to be tallied. The heavy Latino vote was real, yet was more than offset by the votes of white men and women.

I’ve written and said on multiple occasions that it would all have to go very well for Donald Trump and it would all have to go very wrong for Hillary Clinton in order for the Republican nominee to win the election. That’s exactly what occurred. I – and just about every other political pundit – called it wrong.

While the dust is still settling, it’s worth looking back briefly at what was an extraordinary campaign and looking ahead to what shape a Trump presidency might take.

In looking back, the concession speech Hillary Clinton delivered on Wednesday, surrounded by family, friends and supporters, is a good starting point. In short, it may have been the finest speech she has ever made.

She was articulate. She was passionate. She was emotional. She was compelling.

She was herself.

With manifest conviction, near the close of her address, she said:

I am so grateful for our country and for all it has given to me. I count my blessings every single day that I am an American, and I still believe as deeply as I ever have that if we stand together and work together with respect for our differences, strength in our convictions, and love for this nation, our best days are still ahead of us.

Anyone who voted for her and watched her coming to grips with defeat so eloquently and gracefully would instinctively ask why she hadn’t spoken like that before 8 November.

But it’s likely that she simply couldn’t do so while a candidate for her country’s highest office. Being a political candidate does not suit Hillary Clinton.

That doesn’t make her a bad person. It actually reveals that she is what so many of her vicious detractors deny: human. Historians and her supporters will ponder for some time the Clinton presidency that never was.

Meanwhile, the extent to which Donald Trump’s message appealed to the electorate warrants consideration. His simplistic mantras – “Make America Great Again”; “Build a Wall”; “America First”; “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” – not only resonated with the so-called “angry white males” that they were most obviously directed at, but seemingly also with substantial numbers of women, highly educated and, surprisingly, Latino voters.

GOP 2016 Trump Simple slogans such as 'Make America Great Again' hit home with a huge part of the electorate. Source: Ted S. Warren via PA Images

There is no other accounting for the percentage of votes he got and the states he won, as well as the ones he lost by smaller than expected margins.

Even his most ardent critics have to admit that, in the face of entrenched, powerful opposition at virtually every step, Trump built a movement and won over tens of millions of Americans with his controversial persona and unconventional platform. At one level, he deserves a tremendous amount of credit.

On Friday, 20 January 2017, he will be sworn in and become the 45th President of the United States. As the shock of his election triumph slowly wears off, people around the world are asking what will happen then.

There is a key follow-up question: How will the campaign rhetoric be reflected in the reality of governing? And with Trump, there is another, equally pressing question: Does he actually believe the things he has said over the past 18 months?

People everywhere are concerned about his utterances with respect to his country’s future role in the world, climate change, Russia, China, and more. Only half-jokingly, some wonder out loud about Trump having access to the nuclear codes. Here in Ireland, there is understandable worry about foreign direct investment, US tax policy and the 50,000 undocumented Irish men and women living in the shadows of American.

In truth, though, he will be constrained in much of what he can do, as is every president, by the robust legislative and judicial branches of government. His advisers will also caution vociferously against rash actions that might make for bad politics. And crucially, if his conciliatory words and manner on the night of the election are anything to go by, Trump the president may have a quite different temperament than Trump the candidate.

Finally, Donald Trump’s victory is likely to have alerted previously oblivious or indifferent leaders and ordinary men and women – not just in the political sphere and not just in the US – to the extremely difficult and complicated crises facing the western world on myriad fronts. Hopefully, action will follow. That’s not a bad thing.

Less vitally, Donald Trump’s victory might give pollsters and pundits (this one included) pause to think a little more carefully before confidently asserting that they know what the citizenry will or will not do on election day. And that’s not a bad thing either.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with TheJournal.ie and IrishCentral.com.

This is what a Trump presidency could look like>

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About the author:

Larry Donnelly  / Law Lecturer, NUI Galway

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