More than 50 million Americans on Tuesday issued a scathing rebuke of President Barack Obama and his legacy, major parts of which will soon be erased by President-elect Donald Trump and a Republican-run Congress.
Once every vote is verified, over 62 million Americans will have sharply rejected the 44th president’s scholarly approach, years of his lengthy Ivy League-like lectures on policy issues, and his left-leaning policies and worldview. Though half of the voters wanted what many said would have been a third Obama term, more demanded what appears to be a 180-degree turn on style, decision-making and viewpoint.
Yet, in one of the election’s many paradoxes, the rebuke came as Obama is as popular as ever. Fifty-six percent of Americans surveyed Monday, the day before Election Day, approve of the job the president is doing.
Obama made no bones that a loss would sting personally, and two months ago, he told the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation dinner that if African-Americans failed to turn out for Hillary Clinton in the same numbers they did twice for him, he would “consider it a personal insult” and “an insult to my legacy.”
Asked Wednesday if the election is a direct rejection of his boss, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest noted that Clinton, who embraced most of Obama’s policies, appears to have won the popular vote. He also noted that election results show some Trump voters cast ballots for Obama not once but twice, complicating any analysis of the election’s meaning.
Just how much of Obama’s legacy will remain intact, however, is very much in doubt. Obama began his final stump speech as head of the Democratic Party by listing what he views as his presidency’s top achievements; he viewed the election as a way to lock in those things. But voters handed him a major, and stunning, defeat.
Trump campaigned hard on repealing the 2010 health care overhaul, though just what he might replace the health law with was unclear 71 days before he becomes president.
“Real change begins with immediately repealing and replacing the disaster known as Obamacare,” Trump told a crowd in Grand Rapids, Michigan, during his final campaign rally on Monday evening. “It has just been announced that the residents of Michigan are going to experience a massive, double-digit premium hike, like you wouldn’t believe. It’s not going to matter that much, honestly, because we’re going to terminate it. You’re not going to have to worry about it, OK? Don’t worry.”
In what became a GOP wave election, the party held onto more House seats than first projected and even maintained control of the Senate. Republican members are eager to get rid of the health law. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters Wednesday that both chambers would act hastily next year, once Trump is sworn in, to do just that.
Additionally, Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee to fill the vacant ninth Supreme Court seat, will never be confirmed. Instead, Trump will pick the justice who will fill out the court.
The same could be true of nixing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal Obama negotiated with Pacific Rim nations. Trump opposed it, and promised to rip it up on Day One. Congressional Republicans have been skeptical, and may view Trump’s victory as a sign that their base is in no mood for its approval.
Add to the list the climate pact Obama — with a big boost from Chinese leaders — negotiated with a list of countries. What’s more, Trump is expected to push through both chambers massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, something Obama has long opposed.
The outgoing president, after a spate of police-involved shootings, called for policing reforms. Trump, on the other hand, campaigned as the “law-and-order” candidate, prompting essays to appear online Wednesday morning predicting police officers will feel emboldened to treat blacks however they want to, without fear of punishment.
Upper-income Republicans and rural America heard the country’s first African-American president express empathy with “Black Lives Matter” protesters, warn about the effects of climate change, negotiate with longtime U.S. adversaries, and express repeated hesitations about using U.S. military force and they had enough. Throw in American’s tribal politics, the GOP’s collective hatred of the Clintons, and concerns about a political and economic system many agreed with Trump is “rigged” against them, and it was a perfect storm of repudiation of the outgoing president.
Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint said the election showed voters expressed “passion in opposition to massive unconstitutional government and in defense of a nation that values the prosperity of its citizens over the interests of foreign powers.”
“The Trump White House promises to be a place where pro-growth, pro-liberty, and pro-life ideas get a fair hearing,” DeMint wrote in a blog post Wednesday. “It is now the happy task of conservatives ... to ensure that those ideas lead the way.”