For many of us who were wrongly convinced that Hillary Clinton would be elected president yesterday, there seemed to be a kind of upside to running against Donald Trump. Whereas the 2012 campaign centered on a big argument over government and the economy, Campaign 2016 presented the occasion for a grand argument between a vision of an evolving America that embraces pluralism, tolerance, inclusion, and cultural change — and one that is standing athwart those changes.

Trump crudely but shrewdly positioned himself as that latter vision’s champion, through an explicit embrace of intolerance, bigotry, ethno-nationalism, and white identity politics.

Simply put, our operating premise was that the inhabitants of that evolving America outnumbered those who are resisting it. Clinton could assemble large numbers of nonwhites, millennials, and just enough college educated whites — particularly women — who were horrified by Trump’s racism, misogyny, and hatred to constitute a winning coalition. Barack Obama had done something similar twice before, even without facing a monstrous bigot and hater like Trump, and the national majorities embracing culturally changing America would rally behind Clinton and continue to deliver Democrats the White House. Clinton — who came of political age in the south and rose to national prominence during an era when Democrats still winked at white grievance — was an imperfect vehicle for this argument. But she gamely took it on, and we cheered when she went all in on an effort to force a national debate over Trump’s overt mainstreaming of hate, as she put it.

Supporters of President-elect Donald Trump rejoiced across the nation on Election Night as their candidate defied the polls. (Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

I thought she had won this argument. It turned out she lost it. At least she lost it in the sense that it failed to win over enough white voters to build a winning coalition, and failed to sufficiently energize the core elements in the Democratic coalition that were supposed to enthusiastically march into this battle.

Ron Brownstein aptly describes the election as a “cultural civil war,” and explains why Democrats lost it this time. Trump ran up enormous margins among blue collar whites, in part because Clinton under-performed among them relative to Obama:

The Trump coalition was centered on white voters without a college education. Exit polls posted on showed him crushing Clinton among those voters by enormous margins almost everywhere….Trump beat Clinton among non-college whites by 18 percentage points in New Hampshire, 21 in Colorado, 22 in Arizona, 24 points in Wisconsin, 31 points in Michigan, and 35 points in Missouri….
In several cases, those showings represented significant declines for Clinton relative to Obama in 2012…her share of the vote among non-college whites, relative to Obama’s showing in 2012, fell 14 points in Maine, 13 points in Michigan, 12 points in New Hampshire, 11 points in Colorado, 10 points in Wisconsin, nine points in Pennsylvania, and six points in Florida.

In some states, Clinton not only failed to hold down Trump’s huge margin among noncollege whites; she also failed to supplant it with enough college educated whites:

In some traditionally Democratic states, Clinton was able to overcome this surge with strong performances among minority voters and college-educated whites. The exit polls gave her 55 percent of college whites in New Jersey and Wisconsin, 54 percent in New Hampshire, and 51 percent in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Washington. Compared to Obama, she improved the Democratic showing among college-educated whites in Arizona, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. But in other key battlegrounds like Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Ohio she only essentially matched his performance; in Florida she slipped slightly among the white-collar whites.

Meanwhile, all this was exacerbated by Clinton’s failure to run up quite enough of a margin among Latinos in states like Florida, though we need much more data to understand what the role of the Latino vote played here and why it fell short of having the impact Democrats expected.

Now, Clinton’s awful performance among non-college whites — and particularly her underperformance among them relative to Obama — will prompt a searing debate among Democrats over whether Clinton and the party failed to articulate a strong enough economic message. That’s a debate we can and should have. Meanwhile, surely there are countless Trump voters who supported him for reasons having nothing to do with his racism and displays of hate.

But what is undeniable for now is that in too many battleground states, enormous numbers of white voters either did embrace Trump’s bigotry and intolerance, or were not sufficiently alienated by those traits for it to make a difference, or simply found Clinton’s spirited rebuke of them to be insufficiently compelling or inspiring or relevant. I am not quite as despairing about this as are David Remnick and Brian Beutler and Paul Krugman, all of whom feel as if Trump’s win reveals America to no longer be the open and tolerant country they thought they inhabited, and threatens to drag us backward in dangerous ways. After all, Clinton does seem to be winning the national popular vote, suggesting there still is a popular majority aligned with our side of the argument. But it certainly was a horrible shock to discover that there are so many of our fellow Americans on the other side of it.


* HOW THE POLLS GOT IT WRONG: Nate Cohn tries to explain what might have happened:

The polls were wrong about one big thing: They missed Mrs. Clinton’s margin in the Midwestern states, like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania….Perhaps undecided voters broke for Mr. Trump; maybe there really were “silent” voters for him, people who were reluctant to tell pollsters that they backed him….Maybe Republican voters came home to the party over the last week in well-educated suburbs, while undecided white working-class voters broke for Mr. Trump.

All of the internal Democratic polling I was privy to also showed Clinton leading, though the margins were pretty tight. There will probably be a major reckoning in the polling industry now.

* CLINTON ADVISER SAW ‘RAGE’ OF TRUMP VOTERS: Dan Balz talks to a Clinton adviser about Trump’s appeal:

One Clinton adviser described it as “a quiet rage” that existed in the privacy of living rooms and around kitchen tables, frustration with the political system and the lack of tangible results from government’s actions for many hard-working Americans.

Well, Trump did essentially vow to break the system over his knee and get it working again, so maybe the details he offered — or lack of them — were beside the point entirely.

* TRUMP VOWS MAJOR INFRASTRUCTURE SPENDING: This nugget from Trump’s victory speech is noteworthy:

“We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.”

After so much resistance to infrastructure spending among many Republicans, it should be interesting to see if the GOP Congress is suddenly willing to spend this money.

Mr. Trump’s win foreshadowed an America more focused on its own affairs while leaving the world to take care of itself. Mr. Trump’s success could fuel the populist, nativist, nationalist, closed-border movements already so evident in Europe and spreading to other parts of the world. For Mexico, it seemed to presage a new era of confrontation with its northern neighbor. For Europe and Asia, it could rewrite the rules of modern alliances, trade deals, and foreign aid. For the Middle East, it foreshadowed a possible alignment with Russia and fresh conflict with Iran.

One immediate question will be whether Trump moves to scrap the Iran nuclear deal.

* OBAMA CONGRATULATES TRUMP: The President called Trump early this morning to congratulate him, and:

Obama invited Trump to meet with him at the White House on Thursday to discuss the transition.

That might get a bit awkward.

* CLINTON TO SPEAK ABOUT TODAY’S RESULTS: She is set to speak at 9:30 a.m. This should be one for the ages.

* AND EVANGELICALS BACKED TRUMP IN FORCE: The Wall Street Journal ferrets out an amazing number from the exit polls: More than 80 percent of evangelical and born-again Christians backed Trump. And despite Trump’s lewd boasts about groping women and multiple allegations of unwanted advances, more than 75 percent of evangelical women backed him.

Well, Trump did repeatedly vow to Make Christianity Great Again, so maybe that explains it. That’s not merely a joke: As one expert recently noted, evangelicals respond deeply to Trump’s appeals to nostalgia and vow to restore a mythical golden age.