clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

5 winners and 4 losers from the 2016 election

Donald Trump, seen in reflection, poses for a portrait at the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va. Andrew Harnik/AP Photo
Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

This is certainly not how I expected this to end.

In a genuinely shocking upset, overturning the results of even the most cautious polling models, Donald Trump won the presidency of the United States. He beat arguably the most experienced candidate ever put forward by a major party, the wife of a beloved former president who served our current quite popular president and would have made history as the first woman to ever lead America.

Most of us are still in shock — I know I am. But some of the victors and losers from the night are already clear. This feature is usually a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it’s worth being serious. Real, important movements and interests — like white nationalism and Russian foreign policy — won here, and real people, like anyone affected by Obamacare or global warming or Trump’s race-baiting rhetoric and policies, will lose out. The stakes of what just happened are immense. Here are just a few.

Winner: Donald Trump

The conventional wisdom was that he wouldn’t run.

Back in spring 2015, when Trump started to make rumblings about a presidential bid, very few in the media thought he was serious. I certainly didn’t. He’d flirted with bids in 2000 and 2012, and each time he ultimately wussed out. It’s what he does. He toes the line but doesn’t jump.

Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump Holds Election Night Event In New York City
Ecstatic supporters in New York.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Then he ran. And I still didn’t take him seriously. He was like a bigger-deal Steve Forbes or Herman Cain: a business executive vanity candidate with no roots in the party and no natural path to victory. The Republican Party was, most thought, fielding its strongest set of candidates in years. Marco Rubio, on paper, looked great. John Kasich was a popular swing state governor. Jeb Bush could soak up tons of establishment support. Ted Cruz had a grassroots evangelical base. Trump would be a flash in the pan, maybe leading for a while and then fizzling out like firebrands before him.

It took until the South Carolina primary, with Trump beating the field by double digits and forcing Jeb out of the race, that I really internalized that Trump was going to be the Republican nominee. It wasn’t until I started writing this article that I began internalizing that he was going to be the president.

So you win, Donald. You beat us. We were wrong. We underestimated you. I am truly terrified to see what you do now.

Winner: Paul Ryan

Spare me the talk about how Paul Ryan is profoundly ambivalent about Trump, and loathes his racism, and has only grudgingly supported him because it’s just too difficult to back Hillary Clinton.

Ryan endorsed Donald Trump. He endorsed him despite Trump making comments that Ryan himself described as the “textbook definition of a racist comment.” Ryan really could have led a substantial fraction of elite Republicans out of the Trump camp and into that of Evan McMullin or even Clinton, but he didn’t. He stayed with Trump.

Ryan’s election-night rally in Janesville, Wisconsin.
Ryan’s election night rally in Janesville, Wisconsin.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

There are a lot of theories as to why Ryan did this, but I actually think it’s very simple. Ryan views it as a matter of huge, even world-historical importance that the US shrink its government and cut taxes. This is a profoundly foreign concept to most left-of-center people, but it has its own, extremely debatable (and I think plainly incorrect) consequentialist logic to it. If cutting taxes and government boosts growth and encourages innovation, and growth and innovation are fundamental to every increase in human living standards over the past two centuries, it’s easy to talk yourself into a worldview where the only thing that matters is marginal tax rates and the degree of government crowd-out of private industry.

Whatever Ryan’s reasons for thinking this, they complicate the matter of Trump considerably. Trump isn’t just a hugely unstable man who is now going to have control of the nuclear arsenal. He’s the final puzzle piece that Ryan needs to pass his agenda. Both houses of Congress have been in Republican hands for two years now, making Barack Obama the last major barrier to passing the tax cuts and benefit cuts that Ryan has been proposing for the better part of the past decade.

If Hillary Clinton had won the election, that barrier would have remained. Now that Trump has won, it has gone.

Think about what this means. You can analyze Trump’s tax plan, sure — I definitely have — but get a load of Ryan’s, which distributes fully 99.6 percent of all benefits to the top 1 percent. You did not read that wrong. Ryan has put together a tax plan that, according to the Tax Policy Center, would concentrate almost literally all its benefit, by the year 2025, in the richest Americans.

Then think about what Ryan’s agenda for the safety net means. His plan to voucherize Medicare gets the most attention, but realistically that will be the last on the docket. He would move fast to block-grant food stamps and Medicaid, transforming them from guarantees of food and medical care for the nation’s poorest people into a slush fund for states. This approach was devastating during welfare reform, and it’s impossible to imagine a way this would happen that wouldn’t exacerbate extreme poverty and hunger. After the end of welfare, food stamps were the last cash-like benefit upon which people without earnings could rely. Ryan will put an end to that.

And then he’d cut all these programs for good measure. Sixty-nine percent of the cuts in his last budget came from programs for people with low or moderate incomes, including $137 billion over 10 years from food stamps (now the block grant), up to $125 billion from Pell Grants, and another $150 billion or more from other low-income programs like Supplemental Security Income and the earned income tax credit. Medicaid would be cut by more than a quarter through the block grant. Ryan has sometimes trolled journalists by claiming to support boosting the EITC, only to propose paying for it by cutting other programs for the poor.

Ryan is going to get his fiscal policy dream. Maybe not all of it, but a lot of it. Income tax rates for the rich and corporations will fall. Food stamps and Medicaid will end as we know it. The American safety net will be torn asunder. For people who believe government plays an important role in reducing inequality and protecting America’s poorest citizens, it will be a disaster.

Winner: John Roberts

John Roberts was on the verge of becoming a chief justice in name only.

If Hillary Clinton won the presidency and got a Democratic Senate along with it, a liberal jurist would have taken Antonin Scalia’s seat. Liberals would have had, for the first time in decades, a 5-4 majority on the Court. They would not need to rely on Anthony Kennedy’s swing vote any longer. They would have been able to rule on their own, and transform jurisprudence on everything from redistricting to solitary confinement to campaign finance to abortion.

John Roberts
The Court is yours.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Back in June, Yale law professor Heather Gerken told me she suspected Elena Kagan would emerge as the “shadow chief justice,” organizing the Court’s dominant liberal faction as John Roberts languished in the minority.

Roberts will not languish now. Trump has pledged to appoint a conservative in Scalia’s mold to the seat, and there’s no reason to doubt him; this isn’t something he appears to particularly care about, and it’s easy enough to defer to the more doctrinaire Republicans in his orbit, like Newt Gingrich.

And then Trump will quite possibly get one or two more appointments. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83 years old and a two-time cancer survivor. Anthony Kennedy is 80 years old. Stephen Breyer is 78 years old. At the very least, Trump will restore the Court to its four liberals to one moderate to four conservatives balance as of before Scalia’s death. At most, he will transform it to a split of seven conservatives to two liberals.

Take a second to think about what that means. It means a Court that’s very willing to uphold voting restrictions and very willing to strike down any or all campaign finance regulation. It means a Court that is inclined to side with police on issues of search and seizure, on the death penalty, on prison conditions — this after the Court appeared on the verge of historic reconsiderations of the latter two issues.

It also means a Court that will probably overturn one or more important liberal precedents outright. It’s hard to imagine a world where Donald Trump replaces Ginsburg and Roe v. Wade survives.

And Roberts will be leading the charge. Trump could transformed him from a leader who pushed the Court solidly but not uniformly to the right — somewhat like his predecessor William Rehnquist — to someone more like a conservative Earl Warren, an epochal figure who fundamentally remakes the Court’s jurisprudence. Conservatives should be thrilled. Liberals should be absolutely terrified.

Winner: White nationalism

I could try to explain to you why this time is different, why even though race-baiting candidates like Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush have won the presidency before, it’s not the same as Trump, and this is genuinely a first in the post–Civil Rights Act era.

But I won’t try. I’ll let white supremacists explain it to you.

David Duke, former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard during the debate with Joe Hicks at Cal State University.
David Duke lost his Senate race but won the night overall.
Brian Vander Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Here’s David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard and America’s most famous white supremacist: “He’s made it ok to talk about these incredible concerns of European Americans today, because I think European Americans know they are the only group that can’t defend their own essential interests and their point of view. He’s meant a lot for the human rights of European Americans”

Here’s Don Black, founder of Stormfront, the leading online community for white supremacists: “Demoralization has been the biggest enemy and Trump is changing all that.”

Here's Andrew Anglin, founder of the neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer: "If The Donald gets the nomination, he will almost certainly beat Hillary, as White men such as you and I go out and vote for the first time in our lives for the one man who actually represents our interests.”

Here’s Jared Taylor, a self-described “race realist” who publishes the magazine American Renaissance: “I’m sure he would repudiate any association with people like me, but his support comes from people who are more like me than he might like to admit.”

Here's James Kirkpatrick writing at VDARE, a white nationalist site named after the first white person born in North America: "Trump is important because he represents the first figure with the financial, cultural, and economic resources to openly defy elite consensus. If he can mobilize Republicans behind him and make a credible run for the Presidency, he can create a whole new media environment for patriots to openly speak their mind without fear of losing their jobs."

They all think this time is different, that they’ve won in a way they’ve never seen before. They’re wrong about almost everything, but they are right about this.

Winner: Russia

What Russia tried to do with this election was a fairly risky gambit. It’s not like its relationship with the US was great before the election, strained as it was from Syria and Russia’s irredentist tendencies in Ukraine. But the relationship was workable. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry could sit in a room and cut deals — not always successfully, but with a minimum degree of cordiality.

Putin, Hollande, Merkel And Poroshenko Meet Over Ukraine Peace Plan
No puppet. No puppet.
Adam Berry/Getty Images

So it was kind of extreme to try to actively intervene in an American election on behalf of one candidate and try to sink the other, especially when the polls had Russia’s favored candidate down. It was even more extreme to do it by hacking the disfavored candidate’s aides’ emails and leaking the results. This wouldn’t have ruined Russia’s relationship with a hypothetical President Clinton. But it would have damaged it greatly, just as it’s provoked strong rebukes from the Obama administration already.

How wonderful for the Kremlin, then, to see that its high-risk, high-reward strategy had beaten the odds and worked out. For the first time since the Red Army entered Berlin, America has elected a president whose commitment to the trans-Atlantic alliance is shaky, who does not appear to really believe in NATO, and who is extremely sympathetic to Russian claims to dominance in neighboring countries. It’s like if Henry A. Wallace’s third-party run in 1948 had somehow worked out.

The inherent instability of Donald Trump the man limits the upside for Russia somewhat. A reliable pro-Russian president is better than one known for emotional swings and mercurial opinions. But a pro-Russian president at all is a coup.

And beyond just Putin, it is a coup for Bashar al-Assad, Putin’s closest ally in the Middle East. Assad's military has killed tens of thousands of Syrian civilians and used chemical weapons against them, in the service of preserving a repressive dictatorial regime. And what does Trump have to say about this? "I don't like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS."

For what it’s worth — and judging from election returns, it’s worth extremely little — this is factually wrong. Assad and Putin are focusing their assaults on non-ISIS rebels in Syria. But it should definitely encourage Assad. Reasonable people can disagree about Hillary Clinton’s proposed no-fly zone to protect civilians from Assad, but she at the very least believes that civilians should be protected from Assad. Do not expect Trump to lift a finger on behalf of Assad’s victims.

Loser: Hillary Clinton

There will be tens of millions more cracks in the glass ceiling when the votes are all counted. And that’s about the only solace to be had for Hillary Clinton.

She was supposed to win. She had more money. She had a better field operation. She was leading in the polls — narrowly in some averages, comfortably in others. She was wildly more qualified. Every major industry, save maybe fossil fuels, was behind her. She could run on the track record of the incumbent president, who is quite popular and whom she served capably as secretary of state.

Hillary Clinton at a campaign stop in Rochester, NH.
Hillary Clinton at a campaign stop in Rochester, New Hampshire.
Matt Rourke/AP Photo

And she still lost. There is going to be a lot of bitter recriminating among Democrats about why that is. The left flank of the party will point to polls that showed Bernie Sanders doing better. Clinton loyalists will point out that a democratic socialist who’d never run a national campaign before might see his polls drop a bit after he got attacked. Populists will say she should have reached out to the white working class more.

There will be time for all that. But the fact remains that this was a total shock, a 2008 financial crisis–like black swan event that only handful of people saw coming — or, rather, only a handful of credible people operating on good information saw coming.

Over time, Clinton will, one hopes, see her career as one of long public service, and remain proud of what she accomplished. I don’t mean that in a partisan way; we all deserve to reach the end of our careers thinking we accomplished something good. And personally I think she has a lot to point to: the SCHIP health care program, the START treaty with Russia, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

But this is a profoundly nasty way for that career to end. It features America not just rejecting her but rejecting her whole vision of what America should be. That burns.

Loser: Nonwhite Americans

This election has already taken an enormous toll on American communities of color, one that is arguably without precedent for Latinos and Muslim Americans. As my colleague Jenée Desmond-Harris has detailed, there are already numerous reports of bullying directed at students of color in elementary, middle, and high schools, sparked by Trump’s race-baiting rhetoric.

Hillary Clinton supporters react after Donald Trump was projected to win the state of Florida in Times Square on November 8, 2016 in New York City.
Clinton supporters in Times Square, New York.
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Students are turning to their teachers to express fear. Melissa Hill, a black mother in Brooklyn, shared this anecdote with Desmond-Harris:

Melissia Hill was eating crepes with her 5-year-old son, Phoenix, at a Brooklyn cafe this summer when he asked her, “Is Donald Trump a bad person? Because I heard that if he becomes president, all the black and brown people have to leave and we’re going to become slaves.”

Next he wanted to know, “What is a slave?” and, “Where are we gonna go?”

Hill was taken aback, and well aware of the wide-eyed interest Phoenix’s questions attracted from neighboring tables. She asked him where he’d heard these things. His answer: from another child at his local YMCA day camp.

Trump has affected our discourse for the worse already in ways that victimize people of color in America.

But as president, he can do more. Far, far more. His Muslim travel ban, if enacted, could win up barring Americans now abroad from returning to their home country. Muslims here now would live in fear of it ensnaring them. Undocumented immigrants will see protections that President Obama put in place stripped, and be subject to deportations, which Trump has a lot of unilateral power to ramp up.

Trump’s Supreme Court could look skeptically at voter suppression claims, and could end affirmative action in public institutions for good. His Department of Justice could trump up bogus “voter fraud” scandals and encourage states to do more to restrict the vote. His Department of Education could move to restrict funding for English language–learning programs and school programming for Spanish speakers.

And his mere presence will embolden white supremacist groups to be more audacious, to push further, to try more and more extreme actions. Mosques will be vandalized, likely synagogues as well. Mexican Americans could be targeted to a degree not seen in decades. Police departments could become more brazen with black suspects, knowing that unlike Attorney General Loretta Lynch, her successor Rudy Giuliani will do nothing to stop them.

I hope the worst of these predictions don’t come true. I really, truly hope so. But Trump has promised to do what he’s promised to do, and we now live in an America where the president-elect sends the message that racial discrimination is good and prudent to the entire citizenry. We have started down a path that will end in darkness and pain.

Loser: Planet Earth

Barack Obama did not do everything he ideally would have to stop climate change. He had a skeptical Congress to deal with, even in his first two years. But Obama did do a lot. He instituted a Clean Power Plan, which set emissions reduction goals, state by state, for power plants in the US. He's put in place tough new emissions standards for cars and trucks. He included funding for renewable technologies in the stimulus.

A view of Earth's city lights as a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite.
You only get one.
NASA/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

You can expect Trump to reverse much or all of that. He’s promised to end the Clean Power Plan, to repeal all federal spending on clean energy, to pull out of the Paris climate deal, and to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency altogether. The effect of that on emissions will be enormous. Here’s how Lux Research models the impact:

Lux Research

I’ll let my colleague Brad Plumer explain what this means:

If a President Trump were to yank the United States out of the Paris agreement, the deal wouldn’t die, but the momentum could easily wane. It’s not hard to imagine China and India deciding they don’t need to push nearly as hard on clean energy if the world’s richest and most powerful country doesn’t care. At best, momentum would slow. At worst, the entire arrangement could collapse, and we set out on a path for 4°C warming or more.

These are decisions that will reverberate for thousands of years and affect hundreds of millions of people. We can’t easily undo the effects of all that extra carbon dioxide we keep putting into the air. Without drastic reductions in emissions (or possibly risky geoengineering), global temperatures will continue to increase. The ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica will keep melting. Once that process gets underway, we don’t really have any easy tools to stop it. The seas will rise. Florida will start to vanish beneath the oceans. Megadroughts will become more likely in the Southwest. For generations and generations.

Florida, of course, has narrowly voted for Donald Trump.

Loser: The newly insured

Health insurance rates, 2010 to present Vox / Sarah Frostenson

With Donald Trump in the presidency, Vox’s Sarah Kliff explains, there is now a governing majority capable of repealing Obamacare. All of it.

Republicans will almost certainly control the Senate, and definitely control the House, and while the law took a filibuster-proof majority to pass, House Budget Committee Chair Tom Price has designed a bill that would repeal it but work through the budget reconciliation process, which requires a simple majority in the Senate. Price's bill would end the Medicaid expansion and repeal tax credits for low-income Americans. It would repeal the taxes used to finance the law and its mandate. This plan would, according to the Congressional Budget Office, cost 22 million people health insurance.

There’s some reason to suspect the Republicans in Congress wouldn’t go full steam ahead. It’s hard to deny 22 million people health insurance without paying an electoral price for it. They could do the transition gradually, or phase out Medicaid expansion first, since Medicaid recipients are poor enough that they rarely vote for Republicans anyway. But after six years of Republican pledges to repeal and replace, it’s hard to imagine the first part of that equation not happening.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump arrives at PS 59 to casts his vote on Election Day November 8, 2016 in New York City. Trump's marathon final two days of campaigning marched through 10 cities in two days, stretching into Election Day.
Donald Trump casts his ballot on election day in New York.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

As for replace, Trump’s plan is to make health insurance costs tax-deductible. This proposal is well to the right of the kind of thing Paul Ryan, John McCain, and Mitt Romney have championed in the past. Generally the alternative has been to create a uniform tax credit, most likely a refundable one. That way, some benefit goes to poor people who don’t have a positive income tax burden. Trump doesn’t do that. Instead he limits the benefit to people rich enough to pay taxes.

Any way you slice it, Trump’s agenda, and that of congressional Republicans, will probably increase the ranks of the uninsured by millions, probably tens of millions. At this point, everything else is likely a fight over the magnitude of the reversal.

Correction: This article originally stated that the bottom 60 percent of taxpayers would see tax hikes on average from Paul Ryan’s tax plan; this is false, the hikes are concentrated in the 80th to 95th percentile. We regret the error.