The polls and pundits were wrong: Donald Trump not only outpaced expectations, all the way to the White House, but early exit polls suggest he did better with Hispanics and other minorities than Mitt Romney did. The Obama coalition did not turn out for Hillary Clinton. And the media was blindsided by the results because it had spent over a year portraying Trump as an unelectable extremist. The one-sidedness of the prestige media—which featured as conservative and Republican voices on its op-ed pages and TV programs only anti-Trump figures such as Michael Gerson, David Brooks, Bill Kristol, and Stuart Stevens—deluded the elites themselves about the mood of the country.
The prospect of a Clinton-Bush race 18 months ago was revolting to the American public, so much so that Republicans humiliated Jeb Bush in the primaries and awarded their nomination instead to the most anti-establishment candidate, Donald Trump. The Democrats, with some skulduggery, gave their nomination to Hillary Clinton, a figure who embodied the political establishment of the last 25-odd years. She had voted for Republican wars as well as ginning up intervention in the Libyan conflict. She was as close to the big banks as any politician in America. And she was not only the inevitable nominee of the Democratic Party, she seemed inevitably to be the next president. But the American people disagreed, and so did Donald Trump.
Trump won on themes of overhauling our foreign policy—America doesn’t win any more, he rightly observed—and renegotiating trade deals that have failed to serve the American workforce. He wants to secure the border and ensure that immigration is lawful and limited. Trump’s words have sometimes been blunt, and his policy proposals have often been eclectic—that’s to be expected; he’s a businessman, not a professional politician or wonk. (That’s exactly what the public was not voting for.) But his broad themes have been themes that readers of The American Conservative have understood as central to the task of preserving our country and upholding the principles of a republic, not a world empire.
The hard work begins once President Trump is sworn in, of course. He’ll have to build a cabinet of other leaders with Trump-like qualities, and complementary traits, assembling a team of advisors and policy-makers who will faithfully implement his vision. Trump faces a challenge similar to the one Ronald Reagan confronted and had only partial success in overcoming: namely, that of finding enough good people to take the reins of government. Without the president discovering better new talent, the usual suspect will quickly return: the ones who gave us the Iraq War and whose economics led to the Great Recession.
As difficult as this task may be, the first step, ridding America of the political dynasties that have ruled it for the better part of two decades, has been accomplished, and now the next battles can be fought—and, if Trump sticks to the themes that got him elected, won. This is an historic hour, and America has possibilities anew—possibilities that would have been forever precluded by an endless succession of Bushes and Clintons.
Daniel McCarthy is the editor of The American Conservative.