A Shock to the System
Final thoughts on Election 2016 from Currents political analysts T.J. Rooney and Alan Novak.
Rooney: I absolutely did not see this coming. I honestly felt in my heart and in my head that people would not overlook the way Donald Trump comported himself during the campaign. We have never seen anything like it and I grossly underestimated a lot of things, including people’s desire for change. I thought a more civil tone would have ruled the day, but clearly, I was mistaken.
Novak: I always thought the undercurrent of this election was the intense desire for change. Trump tapped into rural and Rust Belt America, especially in Pennsylvania, and found an unadulterated enthusiasm that outperformed voter-turnout programs. I have to admit the numbers even surprised me.
Counties in Pennsylvania saw historic turnout. We saw places in western, central, and northern Pennsylvania with 67, 74, 80, even 82 percent pluralities for Trump. That is rural, small-town Pennsylvania. Traditionally there are 12 out of the 67 counties that dictate elections in Pennsylvania. This time it was the small counties, sending a strong message to the more suburban and urban areas that they don’t have all the control.
Rural Pennsylvania connected to the Trump theme and it realigned Pennsylvania politics for at least one election.
Rooney: The way Trump put together his victory is very concerning for Democrats, but the inescapable truth is that it would be difficult for a Republican to replicate the incredible enthusiasm that Trump generated in those communities.
Going forward, Trump has to govern. He has everything going his way, including a Republican House and Senate. We have to take him at his word that he is going to follow through and do all the things that he said he would do. I’ll suggest that if he fulfills those promises it may cause those very same voters to look at him in a very different way – and it won’t necessarily be good.
Voters who have expressed an unmistakable desire to see change have embedded in that desire change defined by what is favorable to them. I am not convinced that the Republican agenda is going to pay immediate benefits to those disenfranchised voters who feel left out.
Novak: Trump’s victory speech and Clinton’s concession speech both set the right tone. To T.J.’s point about governing, the most important thing Trump can do right now is work with House Speaker Paul Ryan. The Affordable Care Act is front and center and the next thing is to reduce the burden of government regulations so the economy starts to free up and move forward.
What’s ahead is what’s important. Republican Washington has to move forward on an agenda that looks aggressive and bold.
Rooney: I don’t mean it to be cliché, but now the hard part begins. There are going to be a lot of things Trump is going to lead on that are going to require thoughtful intention.
If Trump follows through on the things he promised he would do in the first 100 days, it will be a troubling time for a lot of Americans. There are a lot of us still having a hard time believing we are even having this conversation. That’s on us. That’s not Trump’s problem. That’s my – and Democrats’ – problem, and we are going to have to get over it because that is what we do in America.
Novak: Governing is always harder than the election. If Trump is truly going to pivot to being presidential there is no time to come down hard or seek retribution against the agitators who were not sufficiently supportive. That’s history. Winning is an opportunity to build bridges and get things done.
If there are radio talk-show hosts out there saying “to heck with Paul Ryan,” it’s up to Trump to say, “Now wait a minute. I need Ryan to do what I need to do.” For me, that will be the measure of his leadership.
I’d also like to see him reach out to communities that feel like he is not sensitive to them. I’d love to see him follow through on going into the inner cities and see what they can do together. I am hoping that this is an opportunity to realign America’s thinking on how we solve problems and realigning the politics of the Republican Party.
This election clearly put the elites in their place. We need to bring rural and small-town America back into the center of the party again.
Rooney: Going forward, it’s still hard to foresee what Tuesday’s election meant for Pennsylvania politics. The realignment of the road map for Democrats is a first. Coming out of Philadelphia and its suburbs, Clinton had an incredible 600,000-vote margin. On virtually any other given day that’s enough to propel a Democrat to victory.
It should be troubling that the message Democrats communicated in this election is not registering with a great swath of people, including a vast majority who at one time in their life identified and voted as Democrat. We have to do a better job addressing that, but the onus now is on Trump’s ability to govern. If he doesn’t reach out to people and build bridges, if he treats his adversaries in both his party and the country the way he did during the campaign, then it will only make his problems worse and it will make the Democratic political road map clearer.
One hope and encouragement I do see in our politics going forward is that the dynamic of the gubernatorial race in 2018 brings with it a much different set of issues. In the face of what will be going on in Washington, what Gov. Wolf is doing in Harrisburg will bode well for his politics and Democratic politics in Pennsylvania.
Novak: It’s still going to be hard for Wolf because the legislature is even stronger Republican. Tuesday’s election included a western wave that brought three new Republicans to the state Senate. The House picked up seats, too. How does that play out with the overlay of Trump?
Just as Trump needs to work with Congress, Wolf has to get important stuff done with Republicans. If people don’t worry about who gets the credit, and just worry about getting the job done, then everyone can be successful because they’ve tackled what’s important to Pennsylvania. That’s entrepreneurial leadership. I believe we have a chance to do it in Harrisburg and Washington.
T.J. Rooney and Alan Novak are principals of RooneyNovak Group Bipartisan Solutions and appear together regularly to discuss political issues and debate policy. Contact them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: This column first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer Currents section on November 13, 2016.