Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 may have surprised a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean it was a fluke.

Journalists, pundits, professors and political strategists have spent over a year analyzing how Trump won. In their new book The Great Revolt, columnist Salena Zito and Republican strategist Brad Todd look at who Trump won. Who are the voters who put them over the top?

Are they angry rural racists? Are they, as one study suggests, afraid of losing their status in a diversifying nation with an increasingly high-tech economy?

To find the answer, Zito and Todd talked with the people who helped put President Trump in the White House. We’ll talk with the authors about their book, the forces that elected the president, and how this revolt might fare in future elections.


  • Salena Zito Pittsburgh-based reporter for the Washington Examiner; columnist, the New York Post; co-author, "The Great Revolt"; @SalenaZito
  • Brad Todd Founding partner of OnMessage Inc., a Republican advertising and opinion firm; co-author of "The Great Revolt"; @BradOnMessage

Read an excerpt of 'The Great Revolt'

Reprinted from The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics. Copyright © 2018 by Salena Zito and Brad Todd. Published by Crown Forum, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

America’s political experts, from party leaders to political science professors to journalists to pundits, did not expect the Smiths, or enough people like them, to vote for Donald Trump. Virtually every political and media expert missed the potential of Donald Trump because they based their electoral calculus on assumptions that they hadn’t bothered to check since the last presidential election.  To recognize the potential of the Trump coalition, analysts would have had to visit places they had stopped visiting and listen to people they had stopped listening to.

“I am kind of that voter that was hiding in plain sight that no one saw coming. I was right here all along. I’ve seen the job losses here, the rise in crime, the meth and heroin problem, society essentially losing hope; something just gave in with me,” Bonnie Smith says.

The political experts called the 2016 election wrong— not be-cause they took too few polls or studied too many census trends, but because they assumed American elections were immune to the same changes wreaking havoc in every other part of American society.

Amazon is in the process of destroying Walmart and what is left of Main Street at the same time. Streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube are fragmenting and democratizing the creation and delivery of video entertainment. Person-t o- person payment systems like PayPal and Venmo, and crowd- sourced funding communities like GoFundMe and Kickstarter, are reshaping the movement of private capital. In virtually every sphere of American society, institutional loyalty and expert filtering are being discarded in favor of direct communication and deliberate silo-i ng. Similarly, Donald Trump’s electoral coalition is smashing both American political parties and the previously impenetrable political news media, often in spite of Trump himself.

In the wake of the 2016 election surprise, the political experts have continued to blow it—looking to predict the coming demise of the president without pausing to consider the durability of the trends and winds that swept him into office. Even if Netflix disappears, traditional cable providers will never have the monopolistic hold on viewers they did twenty years ago. Similarly, after Trump, traditional political parties will not have the same sway with voters they’ve had for past election cycles.

The history of the American electorate is not a litany of flukes; instead it is a cycle of tectonic plate– grinding, punctuated by a landscape- altering earthquake every generation or so. This movement is not dissimilar to that of any other American consumer category; it should come as no surprise that electoral choices float and change in the same manner as other voluntary behaviors in the most open and dynamic market in the world.

Analysts of consumer- product marketing make a distinction be-tween category killers and category builders. Disruptive brands that merely reorient a single category are category killers: think Miller Lite beer, or diet soda. Meanwhile, products that are category builders do more, starting an entirely new marketplace: think Federal Ex-press or Apple’s iPad.

Political analysts across the spectrum have given Trump credit for being a category killer, reshaping Republican politics in his image. But the characteristics of his rise and the unique new coalition he fused in the Rust Belt argue that he should be viewed as a category builder, the first success of a coalition that is not likely to soon separate.

Employing direct marketing to the consumer instead of relying on referrals is a hallmark of category builders. Trump’s favored message delivery mechanisms—Twitter, dominance of cable news even when it required self- stoked controversy, and television-friendly rallies—not only cut against the normal practices of the professional campaign industry, they enabled him to outflank, and simultaneously own, his critics in the news media as well. Trump used the red- hot scrutiny of journalists to polarize and galvanize a plurality of voters in primary after primary, and then in the general election’s key battle grounds.

Attacking all existing brands with equal ease and success is another trait of category builders. Trump drove a wedge between voters and the existing brands simultaneously, making the case that both parties were incapable of delivering his attributes. Trump’s campaign was arguably the least partisan in recent memory, be-cause from the start he aimed his fire at both political trenches. By Election Day, Trump had vanquished not only the stale institutional hierarchy of the Democratic and Republican parties, exemplified perfectly by the gasping legacy brands of Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, but the entire national press corps as well.

In his first campaign announcement speech in the lobby of Trump Tower in June 2016, Trump said: “I’ve watched the politicians. . . . They will never make America great again. They don’t even have a chance. They’re controlled fully—they’re controlled fully by the lobbyists, by the donors, and by the special interests, fully.” Trump, previewing his stamina for a slashing campaign that would leave him with few elected allies, said, “This is going to be an election that’s based on competence, because people are tired of these nice people. And they’re tired of being ripped off by everybody in the world.”

Trump bore out his differentiation on the primary campaign trail for a year through Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and sub-sequent primaries, even creating a months- long melodrama around the prospect that he might mount a third- party bid if his effort at the GOP nomination was thwarted. Trump deftly used Republican elites, exemplified by the well- off and well- connected backers of Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, as foils, even daring to attack the donor- heavy, in- person audiences sitting just feet from him at the GOP’s primary debates. What struck many as thin-skinned rants turned out to be brand- building, proving to Trump’s most loyal followers that he was a different kind of Republican, one that wasn’t much of a Republican at all.

For nearly a century, American politics has put the New Deal coalition of government takers on one side, opposed by the fusion of affluence and evangelicalism of the modern Republican Party. The coalition that elected Donald Trump— and the one that opposed him— fit neither of those blueprints.

James Carville, the architect of the first Clinton campaign in 1992, famously said that after five Republican victories in the prior six presidential elections, he and the Clinton team engineering what was then a novel Democratic victory “didn’t find the key to the electoral lock here. We just picked it.”

The question of whether Trump’s unconventional bid merely picked the lock of a different era of Republican politics or whether his new fusion of populism with conservatism is a remaking of the American political axis entirely, is a central question of this book.

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