Trump’s Victory: Five Things You Should Know

One week after the US election result, Chatham House experts summarize some of the prominent matters arising from Donald Trump’s victory.

Explainer Updated 30 September 2020 Published 16 November 2016 2 minute READ

Thomas Farrar

Former Senior Social Media Manager, Communications and Publishing

1. How Trump won.

The single biggest factor in Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US presidential elections was his ability to tap into the anxieties of his voters in a way that was impressive – or as Chatham House Associate Fellow Peter Trubowitz, puts it, the anger and resentment in the American body politic that others missed.

While a large proportion of the world’s media took Trump’s unfamiliar tactics as evidence that he was not suitable for the presidency, his controversial approach and provocative statements had fuelled belief in his supporters that he really was capable of breaking the status quo and therefore able to offer real change to those left behind by an increasingly globalized America.

On top of this, his opponent was vulnerable the FBI’s decision to reopen the criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails just 11 days before the election dealt a serious blow to the momentum of her campaign.

2. The enormous challenge ahead.

As Xenia Wickett points out, Trump has a huge task ahead in meeting the expectations of voters who may have felt let down by the political system in the past.

A week later, we’ve seen a markedly different tone from Trump: he’s dismissed the importance of prosecuting Hillary Clinton and softened his view on Obamacare saying he is keen to keep its ‘strongest assets’.

On the other hand, he has maintained his position on abortion, climate change and trade deals and one of his closest advisers, Rudy Giuliani, has reaffirmed that the building of a wall on the border with Mexico will go ahead.

Living up to his promises will involve spending significant resources time, energy, political capital and money, says Xenia Wickett and furthermore will require cross-party support.

3. Trump’s White House will be split into two.

During a Facebook Live broadcast for Chatham House last Thursday, Steve Erlanger, head of the New York Times London Bureau, said of Trump:

I don’t think he thought he was going to win so I don’t think they had done a lot of preparation for a transition. He has a very small team around him which mostly includes his family.

Steve Erlanger

In part, this small team is down to the nature of his nomination. From the start, Trump was seen as an outsider by the Republican Party establishment which Jacob Parakilas explains led to a divide in the party between Trump and his people (‘the insurgents’) and the existing establishment figures.

His first appointments of RNC chairman Reince Priebus as chief of staff and Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon as senior counsellor suggests that he will try to balance the old Republican Party and his own ‘insurgents’, says Jacob Parakilas.

4. For the UK it compounds existing uncertainty.

In a letter for The Times last Thursday, Chatham House Director Robin Niblett said of Trump’s victory that one thing is certain: it will mark an abrupt halt to the expansion of open markets.

Trump’s pledges to impose unilateral tariffs on Chinese imports, renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and block the Trans-Pacific Partnership indicate that protectionism is central to his ‘America first’ policy. As Robin suggests, in the wake of Brexit, the UK is depending on strong trade deals with the rest of the world and to this end Trump’s stance on free-trade couldn’t be more ill-timed for Theresa May.

In terms of foreign policy, Chatham House Research Fellow Tom Raines says the UK’s strategic purpose has been to build rules based on deepening the liberal international order, and with Trump’s views on Russia, trade and climate unclear, we don’t know what this means for EU sanctions over Russia, Britain’s trade agreement with the EU and the Paris agreement.

5. For some parts of the world Trump was the desired outcome.

Russia — Associate Fellow, Keir Giles, says:

The situation is similar to a change of regime in the Soviet Union in 1985 that led Margaret Thatcher to say: ‘This is a person I can do business with’, about Gorbachev.

Keir Giles


‘In other words, finding a way of achieving a real rather than fictitious reset of the relationship based on striking a grand bargain with Russia is now a realistic prospect.’

‘It also gives Russia the opportunity to tone down the rabid anti-American war rhetoric and instead seek a more cooperative relationship. The unfortunate irony is that all of this may make the world a safer place, but quite possibly at the expense of Europe.’

The Middle East — Senior Research Fellow, Jane Kinninmont, says:

‘Authoritarian governments see him as a strongman figure who will make deals with other strongmen like themselves.’

‘Some of the Gulf elites hope that, as a tough-talking Republican, he will be harder on Iran than Barack Obama. Trump called the deal struck by Obama on Iran’s nuclear programme a ‘disaster’ and ‘the worst deal ever negotiated’.’

Conversely, the revolutionary establishment in Tehran welcomes Trump’s election because it thinks this will accelerate what it sees as inevitable US decline.

Jane Kinninmont

Turkey — Associate Fellow, Fadi Hakura, says:

‘Turkey rejoiced cautiously at the unexpected victory of US President-elect Donald Trump. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim welcomed his election as a ‘new era’ in bilateral relations. Whether this positive sentiment will persist once Trump officially assumes office remains to be seen.’

‘Ankara will support Trump’s soft approach to post-coup domestic political developments. Also, the apparent readiness expressed by Trump military adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, to extradite the Pennsylvania-based reclusive Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey alleges masterminded the botched putsch, was music to government ears.’

This article was written by Thomas Farrar and based on the views of Chatham House experts Peter Trubowitz, Xenia Wickett, Jacob Parakilas, Robin Niblett, Tom Raines, Keir Giles, Jane Kinninmont and Fadi Hakura.