Ron Elving

With the defeat of Hillary Clinton and the election of Donald Trump, Democrats may feel they have hit bottom.

The new power structure in Washington will combine a Republican president and a Republican Congress for the first time since 2006. Throw in pending and prospective vacancies on the Supreme Court, and you can see why many progressives consider this the worst-case scenario.

But it is not.

When American voters must choose a new president, reaction tends to rule. Given a choice between continuity and contrast, we favor contrast — even when the retiring incumbent leaves office with relatively high public approval.

This sometimes is called the pendulum effect: The farther the pendulum swings in one direction, the farther it is likely to swing back. In physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction; in politics, the pushback sometimes can be disproportionate.

When Donald Trump came down the escalator in June of 2015 in the tower he named for himself in Manhattan, few of us who do politics for a living took his off-the-cuff announcement for president seriously.

But the past 17 months have been a lesson to all of us who flattered ourselves — as campaign pros, polling pros and media pros — that we knew more about politics than he did.

What have we learned? That Trump was being taken very seriously, indeed, by the people who ultimately mattered: voters.

Polls are not the only place people look to for guidance to Election Day outcomes. Lots of people believe in bellwethers.

The first two things to know about bellwethers is that there's no letter "a" in the word, and bellwethers don't have anything to do with predicting the weather. The name refers to the neutered rams that shepherds use to guide flocks in the right direction. The wether trots along when the shepherd calls, the bell at his neck jangles, and the other sheep come ambling after him.

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