Two truths are apparent as Americans go to the polls today to select their 45th president. The first is that the race is the most unpredictable of modern times. The second is that political commentators – full of confusion today, inevitably full of fresh conviction tomorrow – will have an authoritative analysis of the results shortly after the voting booths are packed away until the next election.
So to save time – and perhaps to provide perspective on this unusually dramatic presidential campaign – here are analyses that are almost certain to appear Wednesday morning, one addressing the victory of Manhattan businessman Donald J. Trump and the other commenting on the victory of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Trump's win a triumph of audacity and authenticity
WASHINGTON – Down in the public-opinion surveys, underestimated by the experts, dismissed as crude if not vulgar, the real estate tycoon Donald John Trump this morning stands atop not only American business but also American politics and American culture.
Armed with unfailing confidence, with an unerring ear for American discontent and with a sometimes-unsettling rhetoric of strength, Mr. Trump emerged Tuesday night as the surprise comeback winner in his biggest competition yet – triumphing against the expectations and hopes of the very elites he once courted but more recently spurned, winning the ultimate contest in American life in a triumph of audacity and authenticity.
Mr. Trump's winning political coalition is a jury-rigged assortment of the discouraged, the discontented and the disenfranchised – a remarkable assemblage for a man best known for soaring urban buildings and sylvan golf resorts. But Mr. Trump's victory was more than a triumph of one man's determination. It is a signal moment in American history, the emergence of a powerful force of protest with few antecedents besides the victory of Andrew Jackson in 1828.
But like other sentinels of the poor and the striving – Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy come to mind – it was a plutocrat reared in comfort, educated in the Ivy-garlanded halls of elite educational institutions, and at ease in exclusive clubs and restaurants, who best heard, and who best expressed, the frustrations of those at the periphery of society.
The victory of Mr. Trump suggested a new identity for the Republican Party, once regarded as the exclusive province of the rich and established. Mr. Trump's GOP is an insurgency, just as his drive for the White House was more a movement than a campaign.
The Democratic Party he defeated may have had a demographic advantage – it was an amalgam of minorities, growing in their numbers, and working women, an increasingly visible and vocal factor in American politics – but its candidate was unable to broaden the Democrats' base and, in fact, watched its most reliable constituents abandon the party that emboldened and empowered them from the FDR years into the new century.
Clinton's stubborn determination pulls ahead of Trump's tactics
WASHINGTON – Hillary Rodham Clinton, first a First Lady and now the first female president, swept into the White House Tuesday in a pathfinding victory that allows her to reimagine Clintonism for a new era, recast the nature of the Democratic Party and reprise many of the progressive elements of the Barack Obama era.
An awkward, even reluctant candidate but a surefooted administrator, the woman who will be the 45th president is a master student of American government, possessing a masterly command of its potential and a battle-scarred sense of its limitations. She embarks on her presidency dogged by ethical claims and federal investigations, to be sure, but she also is fortified with determination to prevail against the foes who have tormented her for more than a quarter-century.
The Clinton victory was in part a repudiation of her foe, the Manhattan billionaire Donald J. Trump, whom she successfully characterized as an intolerant bully long on bravado but short on deep knowledge of politics and government. But it was also a triumph for Ms. Clinton's singular and signature attributes – stubborn determination and thorough preparation – and her victory establishes the Clintons, along with the Adamses, the Harrisons, the Roosevelts, the Kennedys and the Bushes, in the first ranks of American political families.
Indeed, it is the example of Eleanor Roosevelt, her predecessor as First Lady (1933-1945), that has powered her, in good times and bad. "You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face," Mrs. Roosevelt said, in words that Ms. Clinton has lived by. "You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' "
Now, having dispatched Mr. Trump, the president-elect still faces a hostile and newly united Republican Party plus intractable challenges in the economy, in foreign affairs and even within the Democratic Party itself, where the blue-collar voters who supported her husband in 1992 and 1996 found a comfortable home in the newly constituted GOP. Indeed, rebuilding the Democrats and rebranding the party for the third decade of the 21st century is an unusual, but undeniable, part of her remit.
Today, no one knows which of these two news analyses will be set in type once the votes are tallied. But it is clear that the United States has completed a presidential campaign for the ages, challenging all of the norms of American politics even as it remakes political alliances and alters the character of the two major parties. Both Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton have the potential to be major historical figures, but whoever wins, the forces this campaign has set in motion will shape American politics for the remainder of the decade and, very likely, far beyond.