Donald Trump has taken 2016 by storm, leaving a lot of us asking what actually happened in the primary. How did Trump become the Republican presidential nominee? Was it a mathematical accident because too many candidates were running, or did he resonate with voters in a way the party has not been able to in recent years? More broadly, how did the 2012 GOP autopsy on Mitt Romney’s campaign get things so very, very wrong?
Compare the Vote Totals First
The following calculations include data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. I am leaving in all of the data to dismiss any issues of miscalculating for a certain outcome. The numbers are the total amount of votes the candidates received in each state.
|Someone other than Trump, 2016||16,653,048|
|Someone other than Romney, 2012||8,575,604|
|Republican primary voters, 2016||29,986,972|
|Republican primary voters, 2012||18,013,355|
While there is some data missing, such as some of the territories and the incomplete Colorado data, the main takeaway of the comparison between 2016 and 2012 is that 3 million more voters chose to have someone other than Trump as the Republican nominee, whereas in 2012 Romney voters outnumbered non-Romney voters by around 1 million.
What does this mean? Well, for one it justifies the NeverTrump movement’s claim that the majority of the voters did not choose Trump, because a majority of 3 million voters did in fact choose a different candidate. In 2012 with less candidates running, Romney did win a majority of the votes when he secured the nomination. This data suggests that if the Republican Party had better communication and unity during the primary the nominee would have most likely been someone besides Trump.
Would fewer candidates have changed the delegate outcome? Yes. It could have changed the outcomes in Arizona and Florida, at least, which are considered “winner take all” states.
The other discovery is that the 2016 election saw a 60 percent increase in number of Republican primary voters. Whether this was due to Trump or to recent legislation making it easier to vote in some states remains unknown. This supports Trump’s claims that his entry into the race increased voter participation in the primaries.
But why? Why did so many people turn out to vote in this election? For the Democrats, it was understandable: Bernie Sanders seduced hearts over minds. Is it possible Trump did the same?
Trump Filled a Hole Republicans Didn’t Know They Had
Republican policy wonks like myself see the data and words over the emotion. So just as the Democrats underestimated Sanders’ appeal with youth voters, Republicans underestimated how a flawed and extreme candidate could connect on a personal level with a PC-fatigued base.
In the 2012 general election, Romney was seen as robotic and out of touch. Trump has been able to connect to voters more personally, fulfilling one of the main threads of the 2012 Republican autopsy report: “One of the contributors to this problem is that while Democrats tend to talk about people, Republicans tend to talk about policy. Our ideas can sound distant and removed from people’s lives.”
Trump’s fiery rhetoric gives an aura of truth to voters fatigued from a politically correct culture. While he has yet to give actual detail to many of his policies, he has an ability to connect emotionally with voters in ways most Republicans have been unable to. In this election Hillary Clinton is seen as the robotic and out-of-touch candidate, and Trump is seen as the “people’s candidate.”
Trump has also succeeded in connecting to the middle class, another autopsy priority: “But if we are going to grow as a Party, our policies and actions must take into account that the middle class has struggled mightily and that far too many of our citizens live in poverty. To people who are flat on their back, unemployed or disabled and in need of help, they do not care if the help comes from the private sector or the government — they just want help.”
Trump has done a great job of giving people hope for the future of the economy. He has promised to bring back manufacturing, make “better trade deals.” To the typical American voter with a minimal understanding of the economy, his ideas sound like good ways to get America back on track.
He’s Not Pitch-Perfect, However
Yet Trump also has Wall Street ties and multiple bankruptcies, facts are directly at odds with this policy goal of the Republican Party: “We have to blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare. We should speak out when a company liquidates itself and its executives receive bonuses but rank-and-file workers are left unemployed. We should speak out when CEOs receive tens of millions of dollars in retirement packages but middle-class workers have not had a meaningful raise in years.” Trump is a CEO who has benefitted from failed companies. He claims he is a billionaire, while the average middle-class citizen is barely a one hundred thousandnaire.
This isn’t the only area in which Trump runs counter to the GOP autopsy. While he may claim minority voters “love” him, it is no secret he is at odds with the main goal of the 2012 autopsy report: “If we believe our policies are the best ones to improve the lives of the American people ,all the American people, our candidates and office holders need to do a better job talking in normal, people-oriented terms and we need to go to communities where Republicans do not normally go to listen and make our case. We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate that we care about them, too.”
While Trump has been better able to connect with the average American through emotion and rhetoric, he also has singled out for ridicule veterans, women, Hispanics, immigrants, Muslims, and African Americans. He could destroy the party’s credibility on identity politics for years to come. In the course of a year, Trump has managed to do all of the following:
- Refused to disavow former Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke.
- Retweeted multiple neo-Nazi accounts.
- Childishly attacked opponents’ wives.
- Spread unfounded conspiracies theories about his primary opponents.
- Insinuated that a female moderator was only aggressive due to “Blood coming out her wherever.”
- Mocked a disabled reporter.
- Call for banning immigrants based on their religious beliefs.
- Continues to call for building a wall and deporting 12 million people.
- Has described himself the “King of Debt.”
- Praised dictator Saddam Hussein.
- Praised dictator Vladimir Putin.
- Promoted violence against protestors.
- Mocked American veterans and prisoners of war.
- Stated multiple times that a judge could not do his job due to his ethnicity.
- Stated the president “founded ISIS.”
- Repeatedly attacked a Gold Star family.
A Preliminary Autopsy on the 2016 Primary
Throughout this election Trump has been able to tap into the outrage and political fatigue of voters as the Republican Party has not in recent years. This primary saw a 60 percent increase in Republican primary voters from 2012, possibly due to Trump’s entry.
However, Trump fails to fulfill several specific goals of the 2012 autopsy report. He has isolated many minority groups that the Republican Party was looking to reach out towards. He has uprooted many core values and policies of the Republican Party.
There have been many takes on what Trump’s nomination means for the future of the party. Some call for purging of a racist and intolerant base, but it is unfathomable to imagine that 13 million voters all voted for Trump due to their views on minorities. Most of my fellow college students in Boulder voted for Bernie because he was genuine.
This means the substance of Trump’s outrageous rhetoric may not be what makes him likeable to voters, but that he comes off as more genuine than the normal calculated stale lines. When Sen. Marco Rubio repeated rehearsed lines during a primary debate, his poll numbers dropped—it didn’t matter what he was saying, but how he said it.
This does not mean all Republican candidates going forward must create shocking sound bites. They can still represent Republican values and say the “right” things without hiding their personality or apologizing for being a human. This election has taught the Republican Party they need to win hearts before they win minds. To compete with Democrats and win over Hispanics, the middle class, LBGTQ people, and the rest of the American electorate, Republicans have to first connect with them as people rather than electoral numbers on a map.