The Republican victory yesterday was above all a clear repudiation of Hillary Clinton and her brand of politics, and her loss marks both the end of her political career and the close of a quarter-century of a Democratic Party defined by the Clintons. It probably should not have surprised any of us that someone whose last general election victory was ten years ago would be an unusually weak national standard-bearer for her party. The Democrats’ party leaders set her up as a prohibitive favorite so far in advance that they never even seriously considered an alternative, and they tried to win their third consecutive presidential term with one of the most baggage-laden, distrusted people in American politics.
Whatever one thinks of Trump, it is a good thing for our politics that a second twenty-first century presidential dynasty was not established and that there was no chance of a Bush dynasty revival. Trump was the one to defeat both Bush and Clinton in an election that most people once assumed was certain to be between them. The humiliation of the leaders of both parties may not seem very important right now, but it is a healthy and overdue result after decades of failed and dangerous policies. I have no confidence in Trump’s foreign policy, but it was a good thing for the country and for the Democratic Party that Clinton won’t have the opportunity to put her reflexive hawkishness into action again. At the very least, the foreign policy establishment figures that were hoping for an expanded war in Syria will be disappointed for a while. The neoconservatives that threw in with her presumably won’t have any influence in the new administration, and that can only be a good thing. Unfortunately, Trump still has plenty of lousy foreign policy advisers without them.
However much support Obama appears to have right now, the result is a stinging rebuke to him. To the extent that Trump ran on issues, he ran on a comprehensive anti-Obama platform whether it was coherent or not, and he prevailed. Obama pleaded with Democratic voters to turn out to protect his legacy, and millions of them ignored his request. Trump won’t be able to reverse all of Obama’s major achievements, but he will probably be able to undo several of them starting with the nuclear deal and normalization with Cuba. In foreign policy, that just leaves Obama’s legacy of presiding over eight years of uninterrupted warfare, which so far Trump shows no sign of wanting to end.
Obama leaves his party far worse off than when he came in. That isn’t all his doing, and some losses were bound to happen after eight years in power, but it happened on his watch. Across most of the country, Democrats are shut out of power and come January will no longer control any branch of the federal government. They will be forced to rethink many things. Unfortunately for the country and the GOP, victory in 2016 will convince most Republicans that they don’t have to rethink much at all, and any chance for serious policy reform is now probably dead for another four years.