This is not a defence of Trump, nor is it an attack; this is an attempt to try and rationalise the voting behaviour behind his victory and to make sense of the political scene in America and the West more widely. Trump was not necessarily elected popularly with conservatives often only reticently backing him, his opponent was a arguably poor one and he created a sense of a ‘better of two evils’ candidate and to some he likely spoke out as the anti-establishment voice who stood up for them. Only when we breakdown the demographic and look beyond media discourse and narrative do these things become clear.
There is no doubt that Trump was not ‘popular’ amongst conservatives in America; many Republicans withdrew their public support after the video of him bragging about kissing any woman he wanted leaked, Ted Cruz was very hesitant to back him at all and there has been a general sense of support from traditional educated conservative bases being somewhat lackluster or unenthusiastic. However, understanding why he got much of the traditional conservative vote in America is fairly simple to decipher. Clinton has been pro-gay marriage being decided on a Federal rather than State level, she has been a vocal supporter of Roe v Wade and abortion rights, the growth of the state and increased taxation and has been supportive of Obamacare. To a conservative American, this is an unacceptable alternative; religious motivation means some form of obligation to vote for the candidate who will oppose abortion and federal gay-marriage (whether we agree with this or not) and chances are they oppose an enlarged federal state as the vast majority of Republicans do. So, when at looking at the conservative American voter, no matter how much they dislike Trump, the reasons behind their voting for him are not necessarily all that surprising.
If one then takes it to a wider demographic, one can still see the element of ‘better of two evils’ but with a less conservative twist upon it. Many Americans will look at Hillary’s controversies over her emails which even in more positive interpretations do not make her a criminal necessarily but perhaps incompetent, her arguable negligence in Benghazi which caused deaths, accusations against her of silencing accusers against Bill Clinton and seemingly laughing about defending a rapist (at least this is how some of the media spun it) and accusations of conspiring to bomb Iraq to smother the Lewinsky story may make them begin to lean towards Trump. Trump has definitely done some abhorrent things; apparently bragging over sexual predation, fat shaming and a divisive rhetoric over Muslims and illegal immigration which could have serious repercussions if carried into office, and these make him a undoubtedly ‘bad candidate’. One may however see how people can be swung away from Clinton if the narrative of her misgivings, whether actually accurate or not (and arguably many are not), were perpetuated amongst the American population.
Finally, it is key to analyse the ‘anti-establishment’ appeal he had and how many voters felt like he spoke for them. For example, his going to the ‘Rust Belt’ in America and saying he will lower taxes on them and put up tariffs to stop their manufacturing going to China while saying “Make America Great Again” and fueling a nostalgic narrative would have held some sway. Particularly when you contrast it to Hillary who appeared as a continuation of the current elite trend, openly funded by the banks who had caused the 2008 financial crisis causing many average Americans to lose their home and part of an oligarchy who do not understand the average American person’s issues (not that Trump in truth necessarily does either). Trump’s strong narrative and ‘outsider’ status arguably gave him in edge in many communities, especially those disenfranchised with the current order of things.
Therefore, while to many of us Trump’s victory seems on the whole surprising, some analysis of his campaign, voting behaviour and priority in the US and the perception of Hillary in contrast to him begin to make a clearer picture of why he won the election. This is not to say he was actually a good candidate or that his time in office will be a successful one, but we should not necessarily be surprised he will be President.