DEAR AMERICA: Is President Trump Our First Independent?

What do you guys think? Is Trump our first independent president? We aren’t so sure about it but give us your thoughts.

By Dan Balz

Viewed through any conventional lens, President-elect Donald Trump’s candidacy was improbable from start to finish. Today, two things about his victory seem to be in sharper focus: one, that Trump’s victory might best be understood as the success of the country’s first independent president, and second, that the Trump coalition may be even more uniquely his than President Obama’s has turned out to be.

Think again about how he prevailed. There are a handful of major events during a general election that give the nominees a chance to showcase themselves, their judgment and their vision. One is the selection of a running mate. Another is the staging of the conventions. A third is performance in the debates. Hillary Clinton did better than Trump on all three tests, though Trump’s team believes the debates did not fall so decisively in her favor.

Then there are the other factors that go into producing a successful candidacy. These include resources, the operations and mechanics of campaigning, and the skill with which candidates avoid mistakes and deal with the unexpected setbacks.

Clinton raised more money than Trump. She had a larger number of paid staffers on the ground in the battleground states. She ran more television ads by far. He created needless controversies throughout the general election, while her problems were far fewer. Only in the final days did he seem surer of himself.

In other words, Trump came out the loser on virtually every aspect of how campaigns are usually evaluated. Yet today he is staffing his administration and Clinton is still absorbing the brutal shock of having lost a race she believed was hers.

Trump owes his success in part to the fact that he ran for president in an environment that favored change over the status quo. But his luck or genius goes beyond that. It has long been noted that the conditions have existed for an independent candidate to run a serious campaign for president. The level of dissatisfaction with Washington, the anxiety over the economy and the generally sour mood about the future provided the foundation for a campaign by someone from outside the system, who is tied to neither political party and with a promise to shake things up.

What has stood in the way of people running as an independent is that winning the presidency in a system that so clearly favors the two major parties is something of a hopeless cause. That’s a big reason former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg decided not to run several times when he seriously explored the idea.

Trump took the elements of an independent candidacy — the lack of clear ideology, the name recognition of a national celebrity and the personal fortune needed to fund a presidential campaign — and then did what no one seemed to have thought of before. He staged a hostile takeover of an existing major party. He had the best of both worlds, an outsider candidacy with crosscutting ideological appeal and the platform of a major party to wage the general election. By the time he had finished, he had taken down two political dynasties: the Bush dynasty in the primaries and the Clinton dynasty in the general election.

All through the campaign, one big question was whether 2016 would produce a new electoral map. Mostly this was an outgrowth of the idea that demography is destiny. This was shorthand for the hope among Democrats that changing demographics — rising numbers of Hispanics in particular — along with a growing proportion of the population with college degrees would move some states from red to purple and others from purple to blue.

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