As the dust from the 2016 election settles, there has been a rush in the media and among the political prognosticators — who all got the story so wrong — to explain how and why Donald Trump was able to win.
Four years ago, after Mitt Romney lost to President Obama, I wrote a column saying that Republicans needed a laser-like focus on the concerns and needs of working people. Communicating our values more effectively to them was an absolute necessity to move forward. It was hard for conservatives like me, who know how destructive Obamacare, higher taxes and crushing government regulations on employers are for working families to realize that those voters had viewed President Obama more favorably than Romney, but they had.
Very clearly, Donald Trump accomplished that feat. A specific example of the difference between 2012 and 2016 can be encapsulated in Mahoning County in the Rust Belt state of Ohio. The home of dozens of major manufacturing operations in the past, it has been hollowed out economically but it is still the home to tens of thousands of working-class, largely union voters. In 2012, Barack Obama won Mahoning by 28 percent. This year, Hillary Clinton won it by 3 percent. Donald Trump won Ohio by 10 percent and surprised the prognosticators by winning Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and likely Michigan, though it's still not been officially called. So what happened?
For starters, it is clear that the media and a lot of the D.C. establishment party people got overly caught up in the idea that Trump wasn't being specific about how to accomplish the things that he promised and the Clinton was the "safe and experienced" choice. The reality is, if you asked most any voter what the two candidates would actually do, they could quickly tell you what Trump wanted to do — build a wall, repeal and replace Obamacare, and re-examine and renegotiate trade deals for a better deal for the U.S. Hillary Clinton listed 200 policy proposals on her website, but no one knew what she would really do once in office. She had opposite public and private positions on things like trade, banking and immigration.
Voters are completely fed up with this kind of behavior. The frustrations and problems I was hearing and talking about while knocking on doors in 2010 and 2014 as a candidate and have been fighting to change in Annapolis are not isolated, like some in Maryland's liberal establishment say. Voters throughout America have come to the realization that big government and the D.C. swamp have failed to tackle the real challenges facing our economy and society. All discussion of the need to stop the flood of illegal immigration by securing our borders was painted by the Democratic Party and the media as racist or close-minded, rather than a legitimate concern for the security and sovereignty of our country.
When new Obamacare health insurance premium increases of more than 30 percent were announced in states across America in September, you didn't hear so much as a yawn from the president. All we heard from Hillary Clinton was a promise of more of the same warmed-over, bigger-government-is-the-answer policies.
It's true that Rust Belt manufacturing jobs may not come back at the levels they were before. There are a lot of complex economic reasons for their decline. However, there was no forthcoming Clinton plan to help workers in places like Mahoning County. The party that used to be known as pro-blue collar jobs did nothing for them for eight years. Donald Trump made a strong commitment to remove tax and regulatory barriers to economic growth and work to bring investment back from offshore.
Americans hate being told what to think. The fact is, the media and assorted hand-wringing pundits on both sides never took Trump or the people supporting him seriously. Voters on the other hand, desperate for real, fundamental change, took Trump very seriously. And voters knew he wasn't for more of the same.
I wish President-elect Trump and Vice President-elect Pence the very best as they move forward. I'm excited for the opportunity to make real progress on tackling the challenges our country faces.