How Donald Trump won Obama voters — and what he'll do now

Donald Trump shocked the world. Now he inherits a world of trouble.

No. 45.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Mike Segar)

For most of this campaign, the assumption was that Hillary Clinton was a sure winner. Donald Trump was not running a normal campaign. He had no ground game. His campaign was marked by constant turmoil. He was exposed describing himself in terms used by sexual predators. And, of course, there were the polls that kept settling into Clinton having a three- or four-point lead. We were also told that Trump was the candidate of white racial backlash, and that the only explanation of his candidacy's power was the malignant racial resentment of Republican voters.

Well, Donald Trump has proven all of us wrong. The contest turned for him in the Rust Belt and the Midwest, where he won many counties that Barack Obama won in 2012. The great problem for Republicans heading into 2016 was to find Obama states they could win. And the voters who really seemed to matter in 2016 were the white Midwesterners who voted for Obama, and who may approve of him now, but who broke for Trump. It leads one to suspect that voters have been persistently signaling their desire for populist economic change. Obama wore that mantle in 2008 and 2012. Trump wore it in 2016. Millions of American men have dropped out of the workforce in recent decades. All Clinton offered were more tweaks to health insurance and a maternity leave program. You may not believe Trump's policies will serve this class well — I don't — but they were articulated as if the problems were grave. Voters responded to him. Hillary Clinton lost Obama voters.

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Michael Brendan Dougherty

Michael Brendan Dougherty is senior correspondent at He is the founder and editor of The Slurve, a newsletter about baseball. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, ESPN Magazine, Slate and The American Conservative.