How Hillary Lost North Carolina: Most People Disliked Her

As the 7:30pm deadline in North Carolina approached, there was not a soul waiting on line at one Fayetteville, NC voting location. Earlier in the day I had been told by an election judge to expect a late rush, but it never seemed to come. As of 3:00pm, the judge said that turnout had decreased by around 6% in one heavily black precinct. Working that same site was Justin Shumpert, 21, a young black man and aspiring rapper. (Also the claimed cousin of Cleveland Cavaliers defensive monster Iman Shumpert.) He’d been paid $100 to hand out Democratic Party literature in front of the polling site, but when queried as to his own beliefs, he said he wouldn’t vote. “She lied too many times,” he said, explaining why he couldn’t stand Hillary Clinton. Asked who he’d prefer between the two candidates if forced to choose, Shumpert said Trump. “At least he says what he’s going to do. She just hides it,” he said. (He added that he would’ve gladly voted for a third term of Barack Obama.)

Ultimately, Hillary received 70,523 votes in Democratic-leaning Cumberland County, home to Fayetteville. In 2012, Obama received 74,991 votes there — representing a decrease of 6% over four years.

There were signals that Trump’s much-discussed dearth of “ground game” — he didn’t have enough offices! He hadn’t hired enough operatives! — could sink him in North Carolina, but that never came to pass. I visited the Buncombe County GOP headquarters, in the far western portion of the state, on Sunday afternoon to find the office closed. No canvassing, no phone-banking, no nothing, two days before the election in one of the most crucial states in the country? It was ridiculous, but somehow Trump pulled off the win anyway. He won North Carolina overall by 3.8%, a relatively comfortable margin; Mitt Romney won it four years ago by only 2.2%. (Obama won it by just .3% in 2008.)

For months, there had been signs of a pro-Trump “enthusiasm gap” that might not have been immediately discernible in the prevailing polling data, which the punditocracy obsesses about to the exclusion of much else. On Sunday afternoon in Hickory, NC, vice president-elect Mike Pence — not exactly a main attraction — drew thousands of people to the local regional airport, filling it beyond capacity and forcing many onlookers to watch from an “overflow” area from a hillside. People were intensely fired up. For Mike Pence. Trump ended up turning out 8.3% more Republican voters in the Hickory area (Catawba County) than Romney did.

Clinton loyalists made the fundamental error of presupposing that the unprecedented electoral coalition Obama assembled in both 2008 and 2012 would seamlessly transfer over to Hillary. That proved dead wrong. Black voter turnout plummeted all over the country — in Flint, MI and Detroit, the black vote plunged compared to four years ago, paving the way for Trump to eke out a narrow 1% victory. The same trend held in Wisconsin, where Trump scored the stunner of the night, winning a state that hadn’t gone GOP since 1984. On top of that, Trump actually outperformed Romney among blacks and Hispanics, which should completely explode the conventional wisdom engine that malfunctioned so fatally for this entire election cycle.

As for the Trump voters of Fayetteville, not all of them were exactly brimming with glee as they went to cast their ballots. At one Republican-heavy precinct, I spoke to Terry and Brenda, both of whom voted for Trump. Terry was all in for the Donald, but Brenda was a little more skeptical. She said she’d have preferred to vote for Mike Pence, and hoped he’d take over the lion’s share of governing responsibilities in a forthcoming administration. “Trump will just be a figurehead,” she speculated. Pence successfully lessened the concerns of Christian conservative voters who were skeptical of Trump — as for what Tim Kaine added to the Hillary ticket, that’s still a mystery.

On the penultimate night of the campaign, Monday evening in Raleigh, the Clintons held their final event at North Carolina State University. Headliners included Lady Gaga and Bon Jovi (and Bill). A cop onsite told me that 5,500 people were inside the venue, while another 1,500 or so milled around outside. Not a bad crowd, but for the climactic concluding event of such a dramatic election cycle? It wasn’t exactly indicative of bristling pro-Clinton enthusiasm. (Also, the sound on the perimeter “overflow area” was busted — no one could hear Gaga perform her songs.)

In Raleigh, Hillary concluded her final address of the campaign by proclaiming the slogan, “Love trumps hate.” Hence, her closing argument was essentially, “the other guy is bad.” She might have been right about that, but it wasn’t enough to motivate a critical mass of voters. Evidently, they needed something to vote for.

From the beginning, we were told by the pollsters and the pundits to ignore the experiential data before us: that there was an enthusiastic core of voters for Trump that could carry him to victory, while Hillary lagged desperately in this category. This was apparent in a host metrics — in the online enthusiasm for Trump, the vigor of his core supporters, and yes — even yard signs. But we were lectured not to believe our lying lies, and instead trust the “experts.”

The experts were near-universally wrong. Again.

Hillary Clinton will go down in history as a candidate who had all the advantages in the world — financially, from the media uniformly deadset against her opponent, from the dodgy polling industry which gave her a false appearance of inevitability, from a more robust “ground game” that was supposed to be leaps and bounds better than Trump’s — but none of this ultimately mattered. She still couldn’t advance an argument about why people should actually go and cast a vote affirmatively in her favor. The people of North Carolina didn’t buy what she was selling. They couldn’t even figure out what she was selling.

Democrats, in their arrogance, widely assumed that “demographics” would allow them to coast to victory in presidential years. But it doesn’t work that way. They ignored the populist tenor of the moment, and they have no one but themselves to blame. Their punishment? Say hello to President Trump.