Lessons Learned From 2016
Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges lie ahead.
Donald Trump beat the odds and pulled off perhaps the biggest upset in presidential history, especially when one considers the forces arrayed against him. Celebration is all well and good, but it’s also time to take an honest look at what we’ve learned. Basic common sense suggests we need to evaluate our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges.
The biggest strength is that supporters of constitutionally limited government, individual liberty, and lower taxes and spending have a very deep bench with bright young stars. Marco Rubio, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, John Thune, Trey Gowdy, Scott Walker, Susana Martinez, Tom Cotton and Paul Ryan are just the beginning. Others will certainly emerge in the next four to eight years.
The Republican National Committee, led by Reince Priebus, appears to have improved its get-out-the-vote machine. Combined with Donald Trump’s mailing list, this will help the GOP going forward.
Republicans also allow for a more free and open debate during primary season. One of the reasons the “Never Trump” movement fizzled was because everyone had their chance to make their case. The RNC did not put their thumb on the scale for any candidate in the primary. Thus, when the bitterness of the primary abated, most Republicans came home.
Contrast this to the actions of the Left over the last eight years: The harassment of Prop 8 supporters, the IRS scandal, the “John Doe” investigations in Wisconsin, the FEC’s efforts to ban conservative media and talk radio, the threats of RICO charges for disputing their claims about climate change, and the compelled advocacy of abortion in California.
If Republicans can embrace the big tent and work together, it will help.
First of all, the GOP is still very badly out-gunned in narrative construction. Hillary Clinton herself was a bad salesman, but she still edged out Trump in the popular vote. Narrative is always a potent weapon — and the Left still has Hollywood and the mainstream media to help out.
Next, outreach to minority groups is a problem. Yes, Trump out-performed Mitt Romney, but not by much. The GOP will have to be able to sell its message. It must do better at listening to the concerns of blacks, Hispanics and recent immigrants — not for ways to compromise their principles, but to apply those principles to make a positive difference. Frankly, Republicans (and conservatives) must improve at communicating with and listening to blue-collar voters, too. Which brings us to…
The shift of blue-collar workers to Trump from Obama was a game-changer. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin brought in a total of 52 electoral votes — three fewer than California. If Trump’s successful outreach can be duplicated, it could wreck the foundation of the Democrats’ vaunted “Blue Wall.”
Trump also has given the GOP a playbook on how to deal with a hopelessly biased media. Trump’s rallies got lots of local coverage, and those reporters tend to be more fair than those based out of New York City, inside the DC Beltway, or Los Angeles. The key is to stand up to the PC bullies. Maybe you don’t always win, but not trying has a 100% failure rate.
The big one is the increasing confluence between Big Government, Big Media and Big Business: Money. While Citizens United — a case centering on whether the Federal Election Commission could prohibit the release of a 2008 film criticizing Hillary Clinton — was the right call on First Amendment grounds, the Left will happily use free speech (or the curtailment of it) to get into power. While this election showed that there are ways to beat the “mainstream” media (for all intents and purposes, a propaganda arm of the Left), this confluence will be vicious.
Another challenge is the likelihood that the Left will merely increase the volume of their usual cries — you know, the ones you’ve heard since Wednesday. In the wake of Trump’s win, we’ll be forced to “prove” we’re not racist, sexist, xenophobic, bigoted, yada yada yada — even if our vote was based on the issues or Hillary Clinton’s utter lack of character. Usually, said proof would require surrender on policies we wish to advance and/or values we hold dear. Here, we must take a page from Trump and not back down from their unwarranted attacks. We may need to adjust tactics or strategy to win, or limit damage, but we cannot back down.
Finally, there will be threats from some of the Left in public office. Whether it’s rogue DAs like those responsible for the “John Doe” witch-hunt in Wisconsin or the politically motivated indictments of Tom Delay and Rick Perry by Travis County DAs, the Left’s goal is not to secure convictions (although they’d see that as a welcome bonus); the goal is to intimidate conservatives.
This is not to say that celebration hasn’t been well and truly earned. On Nov. 8, supporters of constitutionally limited government, individual liberty, and lower taxes and spending overcame a very stacked deck to elect Donald Trump and Mike Pence. But this is a long, long road. The 2018 mid-terms and 2020 presidential race will be here before we know it. So learning the lessons of 2016 will be vital.