Winners and losers in US election upset

12:39 am on 10 November 2016

Opinion - Renegade Republican candidate Donald Trump has pulled off one of the biggest upsets in US political history. Who wins, and who loses?

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Donald Trump gives his election night victory speech Photo: AFP

At 2am New York time, Democratic campaign chairman John Podesta finally fronted Hillary Clinton's slightly bedraggled Manhattan victory party.

Beneath the large, unbroken, glass ceiling of the Javits Centre, he told the crowd to go home and get some sleep, "We'll have more to say tomorrow."

By that time, the Canadian government's immigration and refugee website had crashed under the load.

Look back on RNZ's live coverage of the election here.

After a vote with so many razor-thin margins, the lack of an immediate concession speech was by no means unprecedented. There were still many provisional and absentee ballots to count. But also there were too many hills to climb. So by 3am, Mrs Clinton had reportedly personally conceded, and Mr Trump gave a rambling victory speech, calling for unity.

It is not the result anyone was expecting, including Mr Trump.

Until nine days ago when FBI Director James Comey directed a well-aimed boot at the Clinton campaign, Mr Trump appeared listless and resigned to defeat. He tested excuses while the resolve of his followers waned palpably.

If Mrs Clinton's team even wrote a concession speech for tonight, it was only to avoid jinxing it. So what lessons do we learn from this extraordinary victory?


  • Even in a modern liberal democracy, you can gain power with a message of hate, fear and resentment. Having harnessing those emotions, you can tell almost any lie, promise almost any outcome and act, all with seeming impunity.
  • In a quickly changing society, where the advance of human rights and equality has left some bewilderedly wondering where the 1950s went, misogyny, racism and bigotry can work in your favour.
  • Political polling is officially broken. In a world with few landlines and even fewer people that will answer questions on them, getting a fix on opinion in a scientific way is now beyond us. "Bugger the polls," as Jim Bolger famously declared.
  • More money, more staff, more adverts, and an overwhelming ground war does not assure victory. Also, fighting negativity with negativity gives little for voters to latch on to.

Who wins?

  • Donald Trump does. If his tax plan becomes law, so do other billionaires.
  • The Republican Party, who ironically benefit from a working class rage against politicians that has been significantly amplified by their own refusal to compromise with a Democratic president.
  • The moral conservatives of the religious right will be excited at the prospect of stamping out gay marriage and abortion, for starters; if Mr Trump sticks to his stated intentions regarding the Supreme Court.
  • China will be excited at Mr Trump's apparent lack of interest in its sphere of influence, and will look for opportunities where it once would have felt push-back from the US. They will certainly plan to move to expand their territory in the South China Sea. Beijing has been developing a more significant navy and may see this as its chance to become a real super-power.
  • Russia. The Duma reportedly applauded the result. Vladimir Putin will be tentatively making plans for the return of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, Georgia and the rest of greater mother Russia back 'into the fold'. That's much more possible with an isolationist US president.

Who loses?

  • World stock markets in the initial shock of the unexpected. But that should be temporary.
  • The aforementioned Former Soviet Socialist Republics must be feeling genuinely nervous.
  • Civil society. Whether Mr Trump actually acts as president in a way that matches the swagger of his 'lock her up' denial of legal and societal norms doesn't matter. He has presented a role model for behaviour that can only be detrimental. Which parent can now say to their child 'don't be sexist, bigoted or racist because it leads to unhappiness and unpopularity'. It apparently can also lead to fame, glory and power.
  • The 'coalition of the ascendant' who helped elect Barack Obama and who, in daring to dally with equality, have helped make the white working class feel so threatened. Women, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, the LGBTQ community, Hispanics, African Americans, the disabled … basically, the majority of the population that is 'the other'. They are now proven successful political targets, and will feel every inch of their 'otherness'.

Phil Smith is an award-winning journalist who has reported for RNZ from China, India and Australia. For the past nine months he has been RNZ's guru and guide on the byzantine minutiae of American politics.

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