The Good News: Trump May Have Lied Through His Teeth in the Campaign

The president-elect’s reneging on previous promises won’t bother voters who supported him as much as GOP lawmakers who didn’t.

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U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican President-elect Donald Trump shake hands during a transition planning meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on November 10, 2016 in Washington, DC.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican President-elect Donald Trump shake hands during a transition planning meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on November 10, 2016 in Washington, DC.Credit: Jim Watson/AFP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Nate Cohn at the New York Times estimates that when all the votes are counted, Hillary Clinton will have a million and a half to two million votes more than Donald Trump. This is not a mistake: two million votes more. That’s not only more than what Al Gore got when he lost in 2000, it’s more than Jimmy Carter in 1976, Richard Nixon in 1968 and John Kennedy in 1960 - when they won. In a normal democracy, Clinton would be the one celebrating her victory.

The irony is that the least accurate polls of this election season were those that predicted that Trump would win. The last poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times that included all four candidates gave Trump a 5 percent majority, which means it was off by a whopping 6.5 percent. Rasmussen Reports, on the other hand, said Clinton would win by two so it was right on the money. But to the victor go the spoils: the Times will bask in its glory while Rasmussen will be listed with the losers.

The fault, of course, lies with the Electoral College, that anachronistic voting system set up in a completely different reality at the end of the 18th century, when the new republic was being born, the 13 colonies saw themselves as independent entities and conflict over slavery was already rife. A proposal to have the president elected by the general population of the new United States was raised at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, but the smaller states were afraid this would give the bigger colonies an unfair advantage. Others believed that a president chosen by popular acclaim would ignore the states and turn into a tyrant, like the hated English monarch. And the South was afraid the North would allow anyone to vote, including blacks, and tilt the vote in its favor.

The compromise reached was that each state would appoint or vote for electors. The number of electors was determined as the sum of the state’s two permanent senators and its members of congress, whose number was determined by the size of the state’s population. In the debate over the size of each state’s Congressional delegation, the South was worried by the free blacks of the North and determined to lever its own slave population: that’s how the infamous Three Fifths Compromise was born, by which, for the purposes of calculating, slaves would be considered three fifths of a normal human being.

There is a claim now that complaining about the distortion of the Electoral College at this juncture is emulating Trump’s threat not to recognize the results of the election if he loses. That’s poppycock, of course: Trump was elected fair and square according to the rules of the game. That doesn’t mean that people can’t express amazement at the fact that just over 100,000 votes that clinched the presidency for Trump in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin are infinitely more important than millions of votes cast for Clinton in states such as California or New York.

On the other hand, there is no denying that the disparity between the popular vote and the Electoral College result is fueling the protests against him: the youth and students demonstrating against Trump in cities across America are less concerned with “playing by the rules” and more in propaganda tools to degrade his election. This challenge to Trump’s legitimacy has caused him to commit his first post-election error: The president-elect’s tweet that the protests were “unfair,” organized by professionals and the result of media incitement was decidedly un-presidential. Within a few hours Trump corrected himself by tweeting that he appreciates the protesters’ love for their country.

This new duality in Trump’s zigzagging ways since his election is earning him some cautious praise from media critics. First and foremost, Trump has dramatically changed his tone toward Clinton and Barack Obama, whom he has warmly praised since the elections were called. It is a signal of Trump’s wish to cool tempers after the inflammatory incitement that was the hallmark of his own campaign, and might also possibly reflect his gratitude for Clinton and Obama’s own graciousness in accepting his victory and urging their fans to support a calm transfer of power.

But the indications from Trump since the election Tuesday point to a possibility that his pivot is more than cosmetic. Less than five days have gone by and some of Trump’s main campaign pledges already seem to be on their way to the dustbin of history. Trump himself is now saying he wants to keep some provisions of the Affordable Care Act that he has promised to repeal and replace, though experts claim he can’t have his cake and eat it too. Trump has also distanced himself from his pledge to appoint a special prosecutor who will investigate Clinton’s private email server: I’ve got other things to do, he’s said.

Trump confidante Newt Gingrich has meanwhile poured cold water over the border wall that Mexico will pay for. The main thing is to tighten border control, he says. As for the Mexican funding thing, well, that was “a great campaign device,” Gingrich noted, without batting an eyelid.

Even on Israel Trump has already shifted his focus in a way that should bring the right wing’s premature celebration of his victory to an end. Trump’s adviser Walid Phares said the promised move the embassy to Jerusalem would eventually happen, of course, but in "consensus," whatever that means. And the Iran nuclear deal would be “reviewed and amended” rather than torn up on Trump’s first day in office. Trump himself abandoned the line pushed by his two Jewish advisers, David Friedman and Jason Greenblatt, which garnered headlines mainly in Israel, by which Trump has very little interest in pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal Trump reassumed the position he took at the start of the campaign, which had the Jewish right worried then, by which achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace is one of his top ambitions. As a deal maker, he said, I’d like to do the deal that can’t be made “For the sake of humanity.”

The American media seems divided on the change in Trump’s tone. Some have taken heart and seem willing to give Trump a new look and fresh start. Others maintain it’s just a wolf in sheep’s clothing maneuver and that President Trump will be no different from candidate Trump: racist, misogynist, ignorant and inciting. They point to Trump’s decision to include his own family in the transition team now headed by running mate Mike Pence: It shows his imperial attitude and his disdain for proper codes of conduct and potential conflicts of interest. Others have focused on Trump’s campaign pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington and his seemingly contradictory inclusion of D.C. insiders, Wall Street brokers and K Street lobbyists in his transition team.

Some analysts believe that Trump’s supporters will turn on him quickly if it turns out that he has no intention of keeping his campaign promises - but Trump’s main problem may not be with the voters who supported him but with the GOP lawmakers who didn’t. Just as Barack Obama’s voters let him get away with not closing down Guantanamo, the widespread use of drones in targeted assassinations and the mass deportation of illegal immigrants, even though these policies ran contrary to their beliefs, some of Trump’s voters may not get too fussed if he doesn’t build a wall or doesn’t try to make dramatic changes in abortion laws or gay marriage. It’s like the well-known cliché in Israel that only the Likud can make peace and only the left can wage war. The middle class white voters who gave Trump the presidency in Rust Belt states voted for him because they want jobs and economic recovery; as long as they don’t give up on him keeping his promises, they won’t turn their backs on Trump so quickly.

It could be different however, with ideologically committed voters such as Evangelicals and with GOP leaders in both houses of Congress. They are looking for nothing less than conservative revolution in the first 100 days after Trump is sworn into office on January 20. They will undoubtedly seek indications of his intentions in the cabinet appointments that will be gradually rolled out over the next few weeks. One analyst predicted the cabinet will be relatively mainstream but the White House staff will be more like “the bar in Star Wars.” And while it’s too early to tell which way Trump will go, one can already detect that alongside the rage and frustration among Democrats, early signs of concern and anxiety are already cropping up among Republicans as well.

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