A week after Republican Donald J. Trump was elected president in a historic race, students and community members filled the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics to hear analysis about the 2016 Presidential Election outcome, reflect on how Trump was elected, why Hillary Clinton lost and where the nation goes from here.
At the final of four paneled events, speakers discussed the media’s role in the election and the use of the Electoral College but agreed the election was unlike any before it.
Overby Fellow Curtis Wilkie, Chairman Charles Overby and political science professor Marvin King spoke on the panel.
Wilkie covered eight presidential campaigns as a journalist and served as a White House Correspondent from 1977 to 1982. Overby also covered presidential campaigns as a journalist and is a former state chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. King once served as delegate to the Democratic National Convention.
“I’ve never seen the press go after any candidate more than they went after Trump,” Overby said.
Wilkie said Trump was very open and readily available to the media, whereas Clinton was more guarded and reserved when it came to media attention.
“The press enjoyed covering Trump because they could get to him, and Hillary is behind this wall of protective aides that think they will keep her quiet,” Wilkie said.
Wilkie said in the end, the media aided in Trump’s ability to garner the Republican presidential nomination.
Wilkie said the only election he can remotely compare this year to is Ronald Reagan’s “Reagan Revolution” in the 1980s.
“Political reporters thought the Reagan election was going to be close, but it wasn’t,” Wilkie said. “At least Reagan was experienced and was surrounded by a lot of good people, and I’m not sure Trump has that, and I think that might be the most troubling aspect of Trump’s election.”
Wilkie said the media ended up helping Trump become more popular and get serious political recognition. Additionally, Trump helped the media in return by increasing their ratings.
“The election would have been different if Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush had gotten the same amount of free media coverage as Trump,” King said.
King compared 2016 to the 1990 election. It was not a presidential election year, but the Republicans took over both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
King said that similar to after that election year, Congress will never be the same, and no one knows what to expect with Trump.
“Even Republicans in Congress don’t know what they’re getting with Trump,” King said.
The panel also discussed the idea of the Electoral College and the impact it had on the presidential race.
“I’ve got problems with the electoral college,” Wilkie said. “If you win the popular vote, you should be elected period.”
Trump is the fifth president in American history to win the presidential election without winning the popular vote.
John Quincy Adams lost the popular vote in 1824, as did Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888 and George W. Bush in 2000.
As of now, Trump lost by 770,000 votes in the popular vote, which is the largest margin a person has lost the popular vote, according to King.
The Electoral College was developed because the United States’ founding fathers did not agree on how to elect the president. Additionally, the small states didn’t want the large states to dictate who becomes president, according to King,
“The Electoral College is antiquated,” King said.
Ultimately, the three panelists agree that the pollsters were the major losers in this election.
“They got it wrong in a handful of crucial Midwestern states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and a few others, and even if you get it right on the national level, it comes down to the states,” King said. “They overestimated Democratic turnout in these crucial states that flipped unexpectedly.”
King said the nation is seeing an even larger divide between rural and urban, red and blue and young and old, which is evident in this election turnout.
“We have never seen an election like this before,” Overby said.