ANALYSIS: 5 Lessons We Learned From the 2016 Presidential Primary Season

PHOTO: Presidential candidates Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton speak on the campaign trail in 2016.Getty Images
Presidential candidates Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton speak on the campaign trail in 2016.

Since gliding down an elevator in Trump Tower and announcing his run for president, Donald Trump has proceeded to triumph over 16 Republican candidates in the past year and, eventually, snagged the nomination weeks ago.

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Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, obtained enough delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination just last week.

As both presumptive nominees gear up for the next phase of the presidential election, here are the five lessons we learned from the primaries:

Democrats Still Like to Fall in Love

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, greets supporters before speaking at a rally at the Macomb Community College, March 5, 2016, in Warren, Mich. Carlos Osorio/AP Photo
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, greets supporters before speaking at a rally at the Macomb Community College, March 5, 2016, in Warren, Mich.

The cliché about Democratic primary voters proved true, even if the outcome ultimately favored the head over the heart. The improbable rise of Sen. Bernie Sanders powered him through to the very end of the primary season, giving front-runner Hillary Clinton no shortage of scares along the way.

It marked a genuine phenomenon with deep roots in Democratic Party politics, one with continuing implications for Clinton’s campaign as she seeks to consolidate her base for the general election. Liberal disaffection with the party’s direction seems to have only intensified under the Obama era, and Democrats may feel that “Bern” for some time to come.

Republicans No Longer Like to Fall in Line

Republicans have long been disciplined about nominating the next guy up, from George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole through John McCain and Mitt Romney. But the establishment lost in 2016, spectacularly and shockingly. Whether the anointed one was to be someone with a famous name (Jeb Bush), from among a talented crop of governors (Scott Walker, Chris Christie), or from a brash new generation (Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz), a blustery businessman/reality-show star bested them all. Donald Trump took over the Republican Party by sheer force of personality.

Ultimately, the GOP’s own voters, not established party leaders, are redefining the party along new lines.

The News Cycle Has Shortened

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is surrounded by media as he arrives for jury duty in New York, Aug. 17, 2015. Richard Drew/AP Photo
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is surrounded by media as he arrives for jury duty in New York, Aug. 17, 2015.

At the start of the primary season, it seemed like every word out of Donald Trump’s mouth, starting with his announcement speech, would “doom” the real estate mogul. Pundits, reporters, Democrats and Republicans all deemed him dead over and over again. But another truth to this cycle: nothing lasts. One jaw-dropping statement was quickly forgotten, replaced by an interview or even a tweet that would then dominate the news cycle.

Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” and how it destroyed his campaign seem almost quaint now compared to Trump, who has seemed like “Teflon Don” the entire primary cycle. Of course, now we are in the general election and both Hillary Clinton and the super PAC backing her campaign, Priorities USA, will make sure battleground state voters remember every one of those eye-popping statements, past and present.

Big Money Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Right to Rise, the super PAC that backed Jeb Bush, raised over $100 million. It started raising money before he was even officially in the race, possibly scaring any would-be contenders from entering the race up against such huge numbers.

Of course, that didn’t stop 16 other candidates and even Trump, who beat every one of those opponents while spending nowhere near the money Bush and many of his other opponents spent. Yes, Donald Trump is rich and he used mostly his own money to win the primary, but he won only spending a fraction of what others spent: $56 million through April 30, the last reporting period.

That may sound like a lot for you and me, but consider this number: Hillary Clinton, by contrast, has spent $179 million through April 30. Now we will see whether big money can make a difference in the next stage of the campaign and not just candidate big money, but super PAC-type cash. While super PACS that back Trump are still getting set up and trying to differentiate themselves, Priorities USA has $147 million in ad reservations already booked for Clinton.

Retail Campaigning Is Dead

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton reacts to supporters during a presidential primary election night rally, Tuesday, June 7, 2016, in Brooklyn, New York. Julie Jacobson/AP Photo
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton reacts to supporters during a presidential primary election night rally, Tuesday, June 7, 2016, in Brooklyn, New York.

The quaint ideal of the personal touch, of campaigning for president like you would for county sheriff, just on a bigger scale, has been proven irrelevant this year. Donald Trump didn’t put himself on the road to the Republican nomination by bouncing a pickup truck through farms and pizza shops in Iowa and New Hampshire.

For all the folksy touches Bernie Sanders brought to the trail, he was defined by huge, movement-style rallies, not coffee-shop and diner conversations. In any event, Hillary Clinton defeated Sanders with a campaign that was careful to limit unscripted moments.

Future candidates will covet the images that come with personal connections and interactions. But few studies of 2016 will suggest that shaking hands and holding babies made a difference, even if you count all the selfies candidates suffered through.

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