Home National OPINION: What if Hillary Clinton won the presidential election in 2016?

OPINION: What if Hillary Clinton won the presidential election in 2016?

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Opinion writer Zach Richards, a sophomore studying education, argues that the last three years would not be drastically changed if Hillary Clinton was president, but the events leading up to the present still would have played out differently.

Please note that these views and opinions do not reflect those of The New Political.


On Oct. 28, 2016, Hillary Clinton enjoyed, on average, a five-point lead over President Donald Trump in the polls, and forecasters predicted a landslide win. However, that day then-FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to Congress announcing that the bureau was reopening an investigation into Clinton’s emails.

Nonetheless, the letter was the October surprise Trump needed to win the election, and this example shows that the election was entirely winnable for Clinton. 

In just nine days, Clinton’s lead almost halved to just a 2.8% lead over Trump. Even if the Comey letter accounted for just one point in Clinton’s decline and the rest was just a reversion to the mean, 1% — Less than 80,000 voters in three states and less than 0.06% of the total electorate — in the polls would have made the difference between a Trump and Clinton victory. Of course, the Comey letter isn’t the only reason Clinton lost, but it made a key difference. 

Let’s be generous and say that, in an alternate reality where the Comey letter was never released, Clinton wins by two points more than she actually did. This wins her Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida, getting her 307 electoral votes.

Clinton would assume office on Jan. 20, 2017 with a Republican majority in both chambers of Congress, but with the Republicans only holding a bare 51-seat majority in the Senate.

Clinton would probably reach some sort of compromise with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to get Merrick Garland confirmed by the Senate and onto the Supreme Court. This would give the Supreme Court a 5-4 liberal majority, although it would have probably required some hefty compromises on Clinton’s part — maybe appointing a number of Republicans to her cabinet.

With Republicans in control of Congress, however, the appointment of Garland to the Supreme Court would probably be Clinton’s only major legislative accomplishment. She could write some executive orders, but there’s not much she would have done that Obama didn’t do in his eight years in office. Any executive order can also just be unilaterally overturned by the next Republican president.

Clinton would be able to veto Republican legislation. In that case, Obamacare would never be under threat, the Republican tax plan would never pass and the corporate tax rate would still be 35%, and the United States never pulls out of the Paris climate accord or the Iran nuclear deal. She even might have flipped and kept the United States in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. She would probably also have taken a more hawkish stance towards Syria, though predictions of an all-out war in the Middle East probably wouldn’t have come to fruition.

Clinton probably wouldn’t use the term “fake news,” but throughout 2017, the Clinton administration might have criticized a perceived media bias against her for coverage of her email scandal and sparse coverage of the then-unfolding story of Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia, especially after the Trump Tower meeting became public knowledge.

Cultural differences because of a Clinton victory are harder to quantify but no less real. There probably wouldn’t have been the rise in hate crimes that occurred after Trump’s victory. Without an emboldened alt-right, the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville might not have happened, and at least some of the far-right terrorist attacks may not have happened either. 

The #MeToo movement was another cultural moment that might not have happened, or at least it wouldn’t have reached the same extent it did, without Trump’s victory. Without a White House riddled with 25 allegations of sexual assault, the #MeToo movement might not have turned into an outright cultural moment, though some of the celebrities who were exposed might still have been accused. Sen. Al Franken probably wouldn’t have had to resign because of the accusations against him.

Clinton’s favorability ratings during the 2016 election were never much better than Trump’s, so if she became president, her approval rating probably wouldn’t have ever been higher than the mid-forties.

A Clinton victory would mean that Tim Kaine would become the vice president, meaning that he would have had to vacate his Virginia senatorial seat. The Democratic governor of Virginia would have appointed a Democrat to replace him, but a special election for the seat probably would have happened in November of 2017.

2018 would have continued much as 2017 did. Clinton would have pushed for sweeping gun control measures after each mass shooting, but Republicans would block such bills. The most important question of 2018 is whether or not Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy still would have retired in 2018 if a Democrat was the president.

Even if Kennedy would not have retired, another aging justice like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Stephen Breyer might have done so instead. Instead of a spar over Brett Kavanaugh, McConnell might have decided just to block any nominee Clinton brought forward until after the midterms. 

The 2018 midterms would have been an absolute bloodbath for the Democratic Party because the party of the incumbent president usually suffers during midterms. The 2018 midterms would have been a repeat of 2010 when Republicans won the House popular vote by 6.8 points.

Assuming that, under a Clinton presidency, Republicans would have won by 6.8 points just as they did in 2010, doing the math and shifting the margins in each Senate race, Republicans would have come out of the midterms with 63 seats in the Senate, the largest majority since 1968.

Republicans also would have probably increased their majority in the House of Representatives, securing somewhere between 250 and 260 seats in the House. 

Emboldened by a massive midterm victory, Republicans would have spent 2019 with an ambitious agenda. Republicans probably would have pursued impeachment based on Clinton’s email scandal and would need only four Democrats to flip in the Senate to actually remove the president from office. The effort wouldn’t have worked, though, and many Republicans from purple and even blue states probably would have voted for acquittal.

Congressional Republicans probably would have shut down the government at least once in 2019 out of frustrated that they wouldn’t pass their agenda despite such large majorities. This didn’t work in 2013, and as the Republican agenda is broadly unpopular, it probably wouldn’t have worked in 2019.

The economy is this timeline would probably be just as good as it is in ours, and maybe even a bit better without Trump’s tariffs. The economic recovery didn’t accelerate after Trump took office, so there’s little reason to think that the current good state of the economy is to Trump’s credit.

The 2020 presidential election would be a very contentious one. The Republican field would be wide open for another dozen or so candidates to run in the primary. The most predictable thing about the primary would be that Trump would try to run again. He would probably still have a section of the Republican Party fiercely loyal to him leftover from 2016 — a section of the Republican Party still convinced that he only lost in 2016 because of voter fraud. Even in our timeline where he won, he still alleged fraud.

The Republican Party would be very angry about being locked out of power for 12 years and about having lost an election to Clinton — a Democrat they have an especially high amount of animosity toward. They would be terrified of the idea of losing again in 2020, so a majority of the party would probably emphasize electability in their candidate above all else. 

With many candidates in the primary and with a fiercely loyal base, Trump would at least start out as an early frontrunner, and the field would look a lot like the Republican primary field did in 2016.

The general consensus going into 2020 would probably be that if Trump gets the nomination, he’d probably lose to Clinton again, ensuring 16 straight years of Democratic control of the White House. 

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