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First Read: How Rural America Fueled Trump’s Win

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

What drove Trump wins in NC, Florida? 8:22

How Rural America fueled Trump’s win

One of the biggest reasons Donald Trump shocked the world last night was that he overperformed -- big league -- in Rural America, especially in the previously blue Midwest states he flipped to surge above 270 electoral votes. Just look at these numbers:

  • Michigan: Per the exit polls, Trump won rural and small towns by a 57%-38% margin -- up from Mitt Romney’s 53%-46%.
  • Pennsylvania: He won rural and small towns by a whopping 71%-26% -- versus Romney’s 59%-40%.
  • Wisconsin: He won rural and small towns by 63%-34% -- up from Romney’s 53%-46%.

By contrast, Hillary Clinton slightly underperformed in these states’ urban areas. Still, she carried Philadelphia by about 450,000 votes, which was the same margin Obama won in 2012. In the waning days of the 2016 election, so much of the talk was about Latinos in Florida and Nevada, or college-educated white voters in the suburbs. But the story of last night was white voters coming out in droves for Donald Trump.

Obama’s coalition didn’t turn out as much when he wasn’t on the ballot

On Tuesday, we wrote how Election Night 2016 was going to be the final Obama battle. And guess what, his coalition didn’t come out in the numbers it previously did:

  • African Americans broke for Clinton, 88%-8% -- down from Obama’s 93%-6% in ‘12
  • Latinos broke 65%-29% -- down from 71%-27% in ‘12
  • Millennials went 55%-37% for Clinton -- down from 60%-37% in ‘12.

Those might seem like small changes, but they matter in a close race. Indeed, Trump’s popular vote total (59 million and counting) is going to similar to Mitt Romney’s in 2012 (61 million), but Clinton’s total (and equal 59 million -- she just over took Trump in the popular vote)is going to be far short of Obama’s 66 million in 2012. Those are 5-7 million Obama votes that didn’t go for Clinton. In the eight years of Obama, Democrats won big the two times he was on the ballot (2008, 2012), but they lost big the times he wasn’t on the ballot (2010, 2014, 2016).

Profound policy changes are coming

With Republicans going to be in charge of the White House and Congress in January, profound policy changes are likely coming. Obamacare. Immigration. Financial reform. Trade. And then there’s that vacant Supreme Court seat.

Donald Trump shocks establishment, excites supporters with huge political upset 2:54

How the polls, consultants, forecasts, and political scientists were all wrong:

NBC’s Benjy Sarlin: “The polls were wrong — all of them. So were the experts, the political consultants and the seasoned officials in both parties who predicted Donald Trump would lead his party to ruin. So were the markets, which had anticipated a Hillary Clinton victory and crashed overnight as her electoral firewall caught ablaze. So was every living president and past presidential nominee of both parties, save Bob Dole, all of whom opposed Trump. So was this reporter and so many like him — and Trump told me as much.” Even the GOP polling numbers and analytics we were privy to didn’t show Trump winning. The biggest mistake we made was viewing what SEEMED to be a very stable race in the polls (with Clinton holding a durable lead), as what ultimately turned into anything but.

Trump smashed all of the norms -- and won

In addition to the poll numbers and consultants being wrong, what should trouble political journalists and political practitioners is how Donald Trump smashed all of the norms and won. As we listed yesterday, per the Huffington Post’ Sam Stein.

  • Trump became the first major party candidate in 40 years not to release his tax returns during the election;
  • He was openly hostile to the media;
  • He called for the jailing of his opponent;
  • He made it more acceptable to single out and target minority groups;
  • He admonished veterans and current military leaders;
  • He attacked the spouses of his rivals;
  • And he openly delegitimized the election process by repeatedly suggesting the results would be rigged.

The coming Democratic bloodbath

We will end on this note: There’s a bloodbath coming for the Democratic Party, and it will start with the race to be DNC chair. Will the Bernie Sanders coalition flex its muscles? What happens to Nancy Pelosi? Does she retire? The Democratic Party is a mess -- without much of a bench.