IBM Professor of Business and Government and the Master of Dunster House at Harvard University Roger B. Porter spoke to an audience at the Wheatley Forum on Jan. 26. about the anticipation of the 2016 election and the transition to a new presidency.
Porter began the forum by stating the 2016 election in some respects was among the “most usual” and “most unusual” of elections.
“It was a very unique election in that for the first time we had somebody elected who had never served in the executive, legislative or judicial branches of the federal, state or the local government,” Porter said. “We were doing something that we have never done before in our history.”
Porter suggested reasons why the American people might have anticipated a victory by the Democratic Party.
Porter said a “blue wall of state” consistently voted Democrat the last five elections which meant the Republican candidate had to change voting patterns in these states.
“The portions of the electorate that were growing in size tended to be the young women, African Americans and Hispanic Americans,” Porter said. “All of them who had tended disproportionally to vote democrat.”
It was also the first time in history the United States had a female candidate, Hilary Clinton, advance so far. Clinton reportedly had a solid “ground game” and 53 percent of the electorate were women.
“She spent twice as much money on her campaign as her Republican opponent,” Porter said. “Moreover, she was a candidate who had a great deal of experience in government and a great deal of experience in running the republic office.”
Porter explained the divided government theory. He said since the turn of the century, the U.S. had a unified government, in which the same party is in control of the White House and both houses of congress. However, it is now moving to a divided government, in which one party controls the White House and one party controls one or more branches of congress.
“The last 48 years, during this period of time, we have had a divided government for 35.5 years and a unified government for only 12.5 years,” Porter said. “The American electorate seemed to have move in the direction, in the last half century, to a divided government.”
There were promising signs for a president from the Democratic party, Porter said.
Porter also explained why the American people might have anticipated a victory by the Republican Party.
“I think the best piece of evidence is what I like to call the alternating party theory. We don’t seem to be very enamored in putting one party in control for very long,” Porter said. “In short, one could make the argument that it was the Republican’s turn.”
Porter said the Republican Party seems to be growing as the party of the future.
“During the previous eight years, republicans have picked up 63 seats in the house of representatives, 11 seats in the senate, 31 state legislatures, and 895 state legislators.” Porter said. “We had 79 percent of the electorate, which when surveyed, declared and thought the country was on the wrong track, therefore the change candidate will have a lot going for him.”
Porter spoke on some of the characteristics of the 2016 election.
“We had the two most unpopular and untrusted candidates we have had to run for presidency in U.S. history,” Porter said. “It was a campaign that was relentlessly negative and personal in both parts of the candidate.”
Porter mentioned both candidates were pursuing a populace agenda.
“It was a campaign strategy that was content free, in terms of substantive discussion of specific issue, rather a campaign built around the notion ‘do you want change or do you want more of the same?’” Porter said.
Porter ended the forum by speaking about the transition to a new presidency and the three things that transitions exist to do or should be doing:
The first is people or personnel. Porter talked about the turnover of people in federal government and the turnover of political appointees of the president. Porter said there are two things that distinguished the political appointees President Trump placed in his cabinet.
“Unlike any other cabinet in our history, they consist of people who have little or any government experience but they are very talented and they have succeeded in other forms…,” Porter said. “Never before have we had as many former generals appointed at the beginning of an administration.”
Porter mentioned how for the first time, there are two members of the President’s family, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who now both have offices in the White House.
The second part of transition Porter mentioned is policy or priorities.
Porter said it is important for the president to distinguish what matters most and focus on time, effort and energy on a few things rather than a large number of things.
The third is the issue of processes. He explained the benefits of regularized processes.
“Real power in our American political system rests on order not on chaos,” Porter said.
Regularized processes perform three indispensable tasks: help sift and sort through governmental decisions and presidential decisions, help produce informed decisions and help implement decisions or polices, according to Porter.
“Every administration faces these challenges,” Porter said. “What will be interesting for all of us to observe is how quickly the new administration moves down the learning curves, discovers these lessons and applies them successfully so that they could govern effectively,”