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Voters Focused On Change Elect Donald Trump Over Hillary Clinton

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It wasn't so long ago that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared on this program that the Republican Party was at an all-time high. Some people guffawed. But it was true that Republicans dominated everything but the White House.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now President Trump will soon be able to send Supreme Court nominees to a Senate where McConnell's Republicans still hold a majority. Although we're still waiting on Hillary Clinton's concession speech, Trump spoke earlier this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: We will embark upon a project of national growth and renewal. I will harness the creative talents of our people. And we will call upon the best and brightest to leverage their tremendous talent for the benefit of all. It's going to happen.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: We have a great economic plan. We will double our growth and have the strongest economy anywhere in the world. At the same time, we will get along with all other nations willing to get along with us.

GREENE: OK, Donald Trump earlier this morning. As we said, we are waiting for Hillary Clinton to give a concession speech. We're expecting that any time now. And we will bring that to you live when it happens. For the moment, let's talk all of this through - this campaign, this moment with reporters who have really seen it all. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here in Washington, D.C. NPR's Scott Detrow is in New York. And NPR's Sarah McCammon has been covering the Trump campaign. Hello to all three of you.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good to be here.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey there.

INSKEEP: Hey, Mara, I was just thinking of something you said some months ago on a story on this program. You described Hillary Clinton as a historically-weak candidate trying to do something historically hard. What did you mean by that?

LIASSON: Well, the thing that she was trying to do that was historically hard was to get a third term in office. In other words, to follow a two-term president of her own party.

INSKEEP: Right.

LIASSON: That's historically very hard to do. Only George H.W. Bush has managed to do it in the modern era following Ronald Reagan. Usually after eight years voters want a change. And Hillary Clinton was the status quo candidate. And not only was she the status quo candidate, but she had a tremendous amount of baggage. She'd been around for a very long time.

I think what last night marked - it marked many things, but one of the things that marked - is the Clinton era is now over. And she had collected a series - a lot of baggage, a lot of scars. She was beset by scandals, many of which were of her own making in her penchant for secrecy and defensiveness. And - but because of the hollowing out of the Democratic Party, which Mitch McConnell was talking about because the Democratic bench had been decimated over the past couple...

INSKEEP: Didn't have a lot of governors. Didn't have a lot of new senators.

LIASSON: ...After, yeah, over the past couple of mid-term elections mid-term elections they didn't have a lot of young, fresh talent to run for president. So you had - in a party that has this tremendous strength with millennials, young people, minorities, all the rising, growing groups in the electorate - look what you had. You had two fairly elderly candidates - Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton running in the primary and Martin O'Malley, who was pretty much of an asterisk.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

LIASSON: I mean, it shows - you know, we're all - we've all been writing stories - I was - about the coming Republican circular firing squad if Trump lost. Now we have to switch gears and talk about the Democratic circular firing squad when they try to pick through the pieces and figure out what happened to them.

GREENE: Well, Mara Liasson, let me ask you this. I mean, it is clear from your describing it that there were some negatives that Hillary Clinton dealt with. And that was borne out in surveys of voters. A lot of voters who supported Donald Trump yesterday had very negative perceptions of him but they voted for him anyway. What do you make of that?

LIASSON: Yes. That's because it was a change election. In other words, after eight years, voters wanted change. There was a tremendous anger at elites which, comes from a whole set of factors - globalization, deindustrialization, also a kind of media drumbeat about the establishment and elite, rich Republicans.

GREENE: The desire for change just overwhelmed any doubts they had about a single candidate?

LIASSON: About Trump, yes. Well, look, just some statistics - 63 percent of voters said Donald Trump didn't have the temperament to be president. Twenty percent of those people voted for him anyway. They were willing to take a risk on someone they didn't think was qualified or temperamentally fit to be president because they were so angry at the system.

Now, you know, part of that - there are a lot of parts of this. But Donald - what Donald Trump did was so extraordinary because he rode white identity politics, kind of resentment at changes in demography, globalization immigration. He - you know, he really rode that. And he got those - that vote up higher than anyone thought that he could. He won white working-class voters by 39 points. Romney had only won them by 25.

INSKEEP: Although I do want to mention a couple of things that don't change the election result but are going to be politically significant, or at least potentially so. One is that turnout was not all that high, and the other, Scott Detrow, is that Hillary Clinton appears to be ahead, may even have won the popular vote even while losing the electoral vote. Is that right?

DETROW: That's right. And this will, of course, be the second time in the last few elections that this happened. At the moment, Hillary Clinton has a narrow lead over Donald Trump in the national electoral vote. And the votes that are remaining out there to count are by and large in West Coast states that Democrats do very well in. So I think it's safe to say that that's likely going to be the final result here.

And it's just remarkable on a few different reasons. You know, with all this conversation after Brexit especially, could Brexit happen here? Could there be an upset like this? One thing that Democrats said to kind of make themselves feel better and one thing that political analysts said - I think I might have made this point in broadcast several times - was that the Electoral College was something that was kind of built in place that would help Democrats even if Donald Trump caught fire in a populist movement because the thinking was that the states that go to Democrats year after year that Democrats by and large feel safe in and that Hillary Clinton didn't really campaign in many of them added up to something like 240 electoral votes. They got a Democrat almost all the way to the finish line of 270.

But we saw last night Donald Trump, you know, really connected and got the rural vote up in states like Michigan, like Wisconsin, like Pennsylvania, and that overcame average-if-slightly-below-average Democratic results in the big urban areas of those states.

INSKEEP: Let me put something else on the table here...

LIASSON: The rural white vote, the rural...

DETROW: Yes.

LIASSON: ...White vote.

LIASSON: Yes, that is very important.

INSKEEP: There you go - there you go, there's a rural black vote as well, particularly in the South, which of course went for Hillary Clinton. Now, let me just bring in NPR's Tamara Keith, just bringing in another voice into the conversation, and Sarah McCammon is standing by here. I want actually to put this question to both of you because you covered the two campaigns. And I want to raise something we haven't really talked about all that much this morning, which is that Hillary Clinton was seeking to become the first female president and fell short. I'm sure it's early, if we'll ever know, how big a factor gender might have been in this. But how big a part of the discussion has it been in these two campaigns?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It's been a big discussion. I mean, you know, for much of the campaign Hillary Clinton sort of downplayed her chance at making history. But certainly as it was getting close to the end and the campaign was sort of campaigning joyfully, you know, the event last night was scheduled to take place in a room with a big glass ceiling, the confetti that in theory was going to be shot out of cannons after her speech was meant to look like broken glass.

GREENE: Breaking the glass ceiling, very symbolic, very important there.

KEITH: Yes, very symbolic. Instead, now I am sitting in a pretty nondescript ballroom somewhere in Manhattan where Clinton will address staff and supporters and family who have come to gather for something that is very, very, very different than anything any of them expected.

GREENE: Well, Tam, what - describe this moment. I mean, here is Hillary Clinton, who was first lady. She was a U.S. senator. She was secretary of state. She ran an unsuccessful presidential campaign. She ran another presidential campaign where she seemed on the cusp of becoming president. What is this moment? What is this speech that we're about to hear?

KEITH: You know, leading up to the election, she had been talking a lot more about the need to repair America and to help people heal. I think that we can expect that that is the speech that she will give. It's - you know, in 2008, she gave a concession speech at the Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

GREENE: Yeah.

KEITH: And she talked about all the cracks they put in the glass ceiling. It's just not clear whether she's going to talk about all the cracks she put in this glass ceiling, though certainly her supporters take some minor consolation in the popular vote totals.

INSKEEP: And let me bring Sarah McCammon into this conversation, who has been covering the Trump campaign for a great deal of this year and put that same question on the table for you, Sarah McCammon. How intensely aware were the Trump campaign that they were running against a woman, and how big a topic was this for the voters you saw at - I don't know how many - rallies and other places across the country?

MCCAMMON: Well, Trump made it a topic. And especially as, you know, the news - you know, there were multiple news cycles about his struggles with some female voters in the polls and then more recently his - you know, his comments about women...

INSKEEP: The video.

MCCAMMON: ...Allegations of sexual assault - that's right - that he's denied from several women. All this was piling up and Trump again and again at rallies would say look at all the women, the women are going to come out for me. And there were big pink women for Trump signs at pretty much every rally the last several weeks.

You know, when I talked to Trump supporters, whether it's, you know, allegations of racism or sexism, they always say, no, he's not racist No, he's not sexist. This isn't about that. This is about, you know, speaking bluntly. But I think there were a lot of undertones of gender. I mean, it was just less than a week ago that Trump was giving a speech in North Carolina and said that generals don't want, quote, "her" as their boss, you know, a line that a lot of people took to be about Hillary Clinton's gender. You know, having covered Trump and the many times he's made statements that are, you know, criticized in this way, as racist or sexist...

GREENE: Just a couple seconds left here, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: ...He always sort of comes back and says, you know, that's not what I meant. But that certainly was interpreted that way.

GREENE: OK. NPR's Sarah McCammon, also Scott Detrow, Tamara Keith and NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you all very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.