Well he has done it! Against all the odds, Donald Trump is President-elect of the United States after beating veteran Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College. Let me give you my thoughts on what this means for American conservatism and for Britain.
Let me start with election night. As readers of my previous article will know, I am neither a supporter of Trump’s policies nor an admirer of his personality, so I watched the Electoral College race ambivalently. We small ‘c’ conservatives, ‘never Trumpers’ if you like, lost this presidential election a long time ago.
Besides, early on, proceedings looked like a formality for Clinton. As the news networks focused on the presidential contest, I took far more interest in the battle for Congress and I soon found solace in the fact that the Republicans were holding strong in the House and even more importantly, in the Senate. At this stage in the evening, I was simply pleased that the next four years would not be a blank canvas for Hillary.
As the night turned Trump’s way, the Republican-controlled Congress remained the silver lining of the evening but for different reasons. The first being that come January, Republicans in the Congress will be able to pass conservative bills that will likely be signed off rather than vetoed by the President. The second is that congressional Republicans will be able to provide conservative opposition to Trump when needed. Had the Democrats taken the Senate, Trump would have an excuse for everything that did not go his way.
Furthermore, the public debate would be characterised in terms of the left versus Trump, with conservative voices drowned out of the conversation. Trump may not be an authentic conservative but he will certainly have to govern like one if he wants to get anything done.
When looking at the results, Trump’s unexpected outsider success can distract from a soberer analysis of the figures. Trump actually won less individual votes than Romney (and Hillary for that matter). His victory can be attributed to Clinton’s failure to turn out the minority votes in the kind of numbers that were so overwhelming for Barack Obama in 2008 and then in 2012: Black turnout dropped this time around while Latino turnout only slightly increased. Trump was the best loser in this race. Hillary’s terrible track record and her failure to inspire voters would have made this election an open goal for anybody except Donald Trump. In Florida, Marco Rubio, one of the challengers for the GOP’s nomination and my preferred candidate during the primaries, secured 52% of the vote in his Senate Race. This compared to Trump’s 49.1% share of the vote in the Sunshine State. It is regretful that a conservative like Rubio was not at the top of the ticket in this election.
To be fair to Trump, in a plurality system, a win is a win. But as Latinos become an ever-larger part of the US electorate, a Rubio or Cruz presidency would have had the long-term bonus of bringing Latinos into the Republican Party. Many Latinos have conservative instincts and I think Trump’s takeover of the GOP is something of a missed opportunity in this regard. Trump’s electoral success through a largely White vote is more a blast from the past than the beginnings of a coalition for the future. His alienation of Latinos is worrying for the future of the Republican Party.
Whilst writing this article, I occasionally take some time out to glance over the Facebook posts of some distraught left-wing friends. I share much of their dissatisfaction with the presidential race’s result although I had accepted I was not going to get who I wanted a long time ago so I can perhaps look upon current events a little more coolheadedly. I would suggest to them that they have cried wolf one too many times. When ultimately honourable men such as McCain and Romney stood, they were unjustly called racists and homophobes and all the other names that imply ineligibility. These labels have now been rendered worthless even if Trump does qualify for many of them. The way Trump powered on gaffe after gaffe is testament to this. The wolf is now on the steps of the White House. Whilst the left’s behaviour in current political debate does not make Trump right, they must take a large share of the blame for his ascension.
For Britain, a Trump presidency is a mixed bag. On the positive side, unlike Obama and Clinton, Trump fully backs Britain against Argentina’s claim to the Falkland Islands. He has also stated we would be front of the queue in terms of trade deal negotiations, a welcome signal for the UK post-Brexit. On the other hand, I think Britain and other European countries will start to experience what a more isolationist America feels like. Many Europeans love to deride United States’ foreign policy while sleeping safely under the security blanket it provides. Germany in particular has, for a long time, become richer and richer while letting American taxpayers pay for her defence. Germany only spends a pathetic 1.2% of its GDP on its military. Personally, I advocate a proactive US foreign policy, which is one of the many reasons I could not bring myself to support Trump, but you cannot blame him for looking at Europe and thinking it is necessary.
In summary, Trump’s victory does not make me any less sceptical of his policy positions and his character. Conservatives in Congress and more widely must be ready to hold Trump to account and ensure that he does not have a free reign to reshape the Republican party in his own image. Conservatives must also use this opportunity to turn the country around, as a series successful policies will start to win over minority voters who will be so essential to the party’s success in the future, long after Trump and his whims are a thing of the past.
Matthew Green is an Intern at the Bow Group