According to the President-elect, the election was a landslide. That’s how Donald Trump characterized his victory when someone had the temerity to ask him if he had any concerns about his loss of the popular vote. He called his election a landslide after saying he would have won the popular vote too, if that was how the election were to have been decided. He said he would have focused on the big population states like California and New York, which gave Hillary Clinton her largest majorities.
And despite the way those states have tilted electorally and demographically for the last quarter of a century, who’s to say the charlatan candidate couldn’t have pulled it off. To be sure, he’d have had an uphill battle. With votes still being counted in a few states (where mail-in ballots are allowed as long as they are postmarked the day of the election), Ms. Clinton has in excess of a 2.6 million vote margin in the popular vote total. In percentage terms, she leads Trump 48.2 to 46.2 with the remaining votes split between Gary Johnson (the Libertarian Party candidate) and Jill Stein (the Green Party candidate).
But whether the Trump victory was a landslide or an electoral anomaly (in the country’s history you can count on one hand the number of times a president was elected without having more popular votes than his opponent), the reality is that Trump won the election and will become the country’s forty-fifth president next month. With that reality in mind, here are four other take-aways from the election:
o Candidates will never again have to submit their tax returns or provide legitimate medical reports. Trump has set the new standard for these two previously well-honored, if un-written, rules. He claimed his taxes were being audited and that he couldn’t release the returns until the audit was completed. It was clearly a ruse, as everyone knew, but he got away with it. In fact, he was never even pressed to release his tax returns from prior years, when, presumably, no audit was in effect.
And as for those ridiculous medical “records” in the form of the comical letter that his personal physician prepared on short notice, the less said the better. “Trump-meds,” as they may come to be called in future campaigns will be the euphemism for saying “I’m in good health; just accept it,” which is essentially what Trump was saying with that letter.
o Candidates will never again be required to have held office or done any public service. Trump is the first elected president of the United States who had never held any elective office or served in the armed forces or performed in any public service position before being elected the nation’s president. He has thereby opened the door for anyone with similar non-credentials to run for the presidency.
Past presidential candidates have always had some claim to fitness for the office by virtue of their past governmental or military experience, but Trump was just a businessman/entertainer who decided that he had the stuff to be president. He was viewed as a joke at first by many in mainstream media and professional political circles, but the voters increasingly found his candidacy appealing, ignoring his lack of experience in the traditional “training grounds” for presidents. And even if his presidency turns out to be only minimally successful (or even not successful at all), the great likelihood is that those traditional credentials will no longer be required or even expected of serious presidential candidates.
o Candidates will never again be bound to their campaign promises. Okay, so maybe this one had already been an accepted reality, but some of Trump’s promises (like building the wall and deporting all eleven million undocumented aliens) were so outlandish that they were even acknowledged by Trump’s supporters to be “just campaign talk” while he was spouting the lines. He has already reneged on the promise to prosecute Hillary Clinton (much to the disappointment of many of his “lock her up!” fans) and other promises will also soon be disavowed by the president-elect (or just ignored when he takes office).
So even if the “tradition” has been to accept that campaign promises are often forgotten by the candidate once elected, this time that tradition will be set in stone. Trump has now started to refer to some of those promises he made as “euphemisms,” which Webster defines as “the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt.” Calling radical campaign promises “euphemisms” will require amending our dictionaries, but my guess is that future candidates will feel far less restricted about the promises they make in their campaigns and they’ll cite the Trump “euphemisms” as their justification.
o Candidates will never again be required to tell the truth. This one could be considered a corollary of the previous one, but Trump made lying an art form in his campaign. He told so many lies so often that those attempting to provide straight reporting of his candidacy didn’t know how to handle it. On the one hand, the statements he made were newsworthy and so they had to be reported. But they were also untrue, and that little detail also had to be reported, except that reporting that a candidate had lied required some kind of verification, and that kind of work wasn’t usually the task of a beat reporter.
And so many, if not most, of Trump’s bald-faced lies were never reported when they were made and were only noted in broad summaries that appeared on page A-16 of the following week’s paper or at the end of a news broadcast under the heading of a “Correction.” The result was that Trump got away with his lies and then doubled down on them by including them in his countless Tweets (like the recent one in which he claims he won the election by a “landslide”). In the process he converted social media into a campaign tool, one that has no means of checking for accuracy.
The bet here is that future presidential candidates will never again feel constrained to tell the truth.