Understanding Clinton's loss through the eyes of the millennials who won Ohio for Trump

Understanding Clinton's loss through the eyes of the millennials who won Ohio for Trump
Source: AP
Source: AP

COLUMBUS, Ohio — One week after the election, groups across the United States are still reeling from Donald Trump's unexpected victory. Democratic protesters have taken to the streets, burning effigies of the president-elect. Thousands have posted personal stories and cried "not my president" on social media. Others have begun signing a petition to abolish the Electoral College.

The questions are many; the answers are few. But if you want to understand why Hillary Clinton lost, meet the millennials who won Ohio for Trump.

A competitive state with 18 electoral votes, Ohio was crucial to Trump's win: No Republican has ever won the presidency without the Buckeye State. While much of Ohio is rural (areas typically populated by more conservative individuals), its cities also contain a handful of Trump voters. Columbus, the capital, voted 61% for Clinton, but its main college, Ohio State University, bore witness to a large Trump movement. 

Why young Ohio Republicans love Trump

Zen, an 18-year-old OSU student from Ohio, was initially drawn to Trump for his attacks on the media and ability to be "unapologetic for offending people."

"I really hate it when people tell me what I cannot say or think, especially in terms of politics," Zen said. (Last names have been omitted to let subjects speak freely.) "You're not going to reach a solution to a problem if one side is always going to be shouted down as racist, homophobic or xenophobic. ... I wanted a sort of a cultural change in the way we handled free speech, and I thought Trump would be able to herald that."

Jaime, a 21-year-old Republican, was also attracted to Trump's rhetoric, but pinpointed his financial policies as game changers in the election. "The main thing is that Trump cares about money, since he's a billionaire," Jaime said.

Election Day at Woody's Tavern in the Ohio Union
Source: Kirby Kelly

At OSU, beers, cheers and tears as Trump takes the election

On Nov. 8, as classes let out for the day at Ohio State, Zen, Jaime and their fellow Republicans flocked to viewing parties to await the results of the election. One such party, held in Woody's Tavern in the Ohio Union, was especially crowded. Munching on snacks and chugging down beer, students soon filled every empty seat in the house. As they watched CNN on a big screen with intense fascination, some began coloring in U.S. maps with their political predictions; others huddled with friends, awaiting "key race alerts."

At 7:30 p.m., the countdown officially kicked off. "Ten, nine, eight, seven," the students shouted, clapping. Let the games begin.

The results began trickling in: West Virginia for Trump, Kentucky for Trump, Indiana for Trump, Vermont for Clinton. Republicans at the Ohio Union clapped; Democrats wrung their hands. The crowd was mostly Democrat, but the table of Trump supporters did not give up their dreams of seeing Trump reach the White House.

Zen spent the night holding out for a Trump presidency, but he was skeptical votes would steer in his favor. "A lot of Trump people say the polls are rigged and that [votes] may not be represented, but I'm not sure ... I haven't lost hope," he said.

Why young Republicans voted Trump: "I really hate it when people tell me what I cannot say or think, especially in terms of politics," Zen told Mic.
Source: Mic/Wikimedia Commmons

Trump began inching ahead of Clinton, state by state, as the night progressed. Reactions in the crowd varied from the Democrats' "I feel sick" and "I need a shot" to the Republicans' "It's pretty exciting." 

Whenever Trump won a state, Clinton supporters shouted and Trump supporters felt re-energized. "I think everybody is kind of trashing on us and not really expecting a huge Republican turnout," said Emily, a 20-year-old Republican from Indiana. "We're holding our breaths."

As Trump began stacking up small states, the majority-Democrat crowd grew quieter. "There's no hostility, though," said Ben, a 20-year-old Republican from Ohio. "Everyone's very civil."

Although Ben did not describe himself as "an ardent Trump supporter," he did vote for Trump and was positive that Trump had the power to win the presidency. "What we've seen so far has been pretty encouraging," he said in the later half of the evening, confident Ohio would go red. "It's pretty nice to see this for the first time in 12 years."

The rest is history. Trump continued to gain traction in Ohio, finally winning the state 52% to Clinton's 43.5%. Democrats in the crowd were deflated. "I would say that we are disappointed but not surprised," said Emily, a 19-year-old Democrat from Illinois. 

Clinton won a slew of Western states, along with Virginia (the constituent state of her vice presidential candidate, Sen. Tim Kaine). But in the next couple hours, Trump edged ahead in Michigan and Pennsylvania, both states that had voted for President Barack Obama in 2012. Democrats could not believe their eyes.

"As of right now I'm mostly shocked," said Miranda, a 20-year-old Democrat from Ohio. "I'm a little blindsided by the results. [We] were so sure of the fact that Hillary would win and now with the results coming in, I am finding it hard to believe that so many people I know live in a bubble where we were oblivious to what would happen."

By the night's end, Trump had earned 290 electoral votes, enough to become president of the United States. The small table of Trump supporters in the room went wild, reacting to an outcome the polls did not predict.

"I was pretty happy, especially after being told for almost a year that it could never even possibly be fathomed," Zen said. "I believed it too, that he wouldn't be able to win the presidency. It's nice to have a victory."

The celebrations begin — and racist messages start spreading around campus

After Trump's win, about 50 supporters took to the streets of OSU with flags, cheering and chanting "USA, USA." A number of Republicans gave the group high-fives, but other students protested the parade.

"A lot of people would stick their heads out of windows and shout, 'KKKs and Nazis,'" Zen said. "We would just brush it off and sing 'America the Beautiful' or something like that."

Zen was frustrated with the protesters, he said, but "not surprised."

"That's the kind of reason why I support Trump in the first place," he said. "People are tired of being told they're saying horrible things because they have different opinions. I think that's the type of thing that I really want to see change. I think it's not helpful to discussion. You know, I'm not a Nazi, I'm Jewish."

In the days following the election and parade, signs with white-nationalist messages began to spread at OSU. One says, "Are you sick of anti-white propaganda in college? You are not alone" — with a link to the hate site that first coined the anti-Semitic (((echoes))) symbol. Another says, "Love who you are. White people exist. White people have the right to exist. White people have the right to exist as white people. Be white."

"Hagerty Hall, OSU, Columbus, Ohio. ... This is on every bulletin board on the first floor. I took down all that I saw. So should you."
Source: Gabriel P./Facebook

Pro-Trump voters would not comment on those posters. Instead, many said simply that this election has been one for the history books.

"I don't think I'll live to see another election quite like this," said Ben, who voted for the first time this election. "It's been a ride for both parties. Whatever happens [after this], I hope our country can come together and find a way to continue our great tradition of a peaceful transfer of power."

He did remark, however, that as students in the viewing party began to push in their chairs and make the long trek toward their dorms, "some were sad and some were happy, but everyone was anxious about the future."

Additional reporting by Kirby Kelly.