Click here for part I, part II, part III, part IV and part V.

Back in July, I set out to envision a world where Donald Trump hadn’t run for president. The project wasn’t started out of distaste for Trump, but an interesting exercise in trying to think how a more normal presidential campaign cycle would have gone.

Trump, of course, is a unique phenomenon whose success few saw coming — few even thought he would run for president. Given his lack of a political career and his past flirtations with presidential runs, it’s not far-fetched to think some minor change in the world or his life would have caused him to opt against running.

The most recent edition of this series went right up until Election Day, where Hillary Clinton faces Marco Rubio in the general election. I could have concluded the series then, with an abrupt explanation of election results. Instead, I wanted to see what happened in the real-world election, in case something unexpected happened there that I should account for in this series.

I’m glad I waited.

Trump’s victory is a good reminder that all of our expectations should have an additional dollop of uncertainty. I want to go out of my way to note that this is by no means a definitive account of what would have happened had Trump decided against running. There are reasons for everything I describe, reasons that may not be obvious. But I have no idea what would have happened if Trump hadn’t run. It’s just a fun thing to wonder about.

I hope you enjoy the conclusion.

Nov. 8, 2016

Election night starts calm, as Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and West Virginia all go for Rubio before 8 p.m. Clinton picks up Vermont, but is looking surprisingly competitive in Indiana, Ohio and Virginia — white working-class states that were supposed to go for Rubio.

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11/14/16 9:11 AM

By 9 p.m., things start to get interesting. Clinton wins Indiana, where she was down by at least 4 percentage points in the polls. What started as a 5 point lead in Ohio narrows to 2 — the same is true in Virginia. The Rubio campaign hoped to expand the map in Pennsylvania, but Clinton wins it easily. What was looking like it should be an easy night for Rubio starts to look stressful.

Over the next couple hours, Rubio quickly wins Arizona and Colorado. Clinton takes Iowa and the deep-blue western states.

Nov. 9, 2016

By midnight, the map has closed to just four undecided states, with all the attention on Ohio and Virginia. Clinton, at 258 electoral votes, needs just one of the two to score her upset.

Rubio is running up the score in the popular vote, winning Florida and Texas by large margins and even closing California and New York to a respectable gap, thanks to unsually good margins from their Hispanic populations. But a surprise loss in Ohio or Virginia would make that meaningless.

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11/14/16 9:00 AM

Clinton’s attacks against free trade have proven surprisingly effective with white working-class voters, something pollsters weren’t catching. Her simple plans for government to make healthcare and college cheaper resonate with struggling families. In Virginia and Ohio, she wins urban areas while turning rural counties into swing areas.

At 2 a.m., Virginia is called for Rubio. He kept the race close enough in the deep-blue D.C. suburbs with help from Hispanics and Asian voters, and he ran up the score downstate to score a narrow win.

At 2:30 a.m., Clinton, then Rubio go out to give brief speeches at their victory parties and tell them to head home for the night. Clinton is beaming, excited about having turned an almost-certain loss into a historically-close race. “We are on the cusp of making history,” she says. “We’re just going to have to wait a little while longer.”

The count in Ohio drags on. Rubio’s lead is under 2 percentage points with ballots in many cities left to be counted. By mid-afternoon, his lead falls under 50,000 votes, but 98 percent of ballots are counted.

As more ballots are counted across the country, it’s clear turnout has surprisingly dropped to roughly half of the voting age population. Hispanic voters hadn’t turned out to vote at the same rates pollsters expected, skewing the polls a point or two in Rubio’s favor.

At 5 p.m., media outlets start to call Ohio:

Rubio wins, becoming president-elect with 280 electoral votes and a 2 point lead in the popular vote.

Dec. 14, 2016

The Rubio cabinet starts to come together. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., is picked as secretary of state. John McCain is offered secretary of defense, but politely declines. Donald Trump is considered as secretary of commerce but doesn’t make it through the vetting process. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., a former businessman, ultimately accepts the position. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wy., is chosen as secretary of the treasury.

Jan. 20, 2017

On a balmy Friday, about 1.3 million people gather on the National Mall to watch Rubio’s inauguration. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., look on, Rubio takes the oath of office. “… and defend the Constitution of the United States,” the oath concludes, and the audience roars.

In his inaugural address, Rubio strikes a forward-looking theme, imagining a world of muted terrorism, little to no cancer and incredible wage growth for all. “Maybe the Dolphins will even win a Super Bowl,” he jokes.

“I pledge to be a president for all the people, all of the time,” he concludes. “And together, we will build a new era of constitutional government that creates a new American century.”

Jason Russell is the contributors editor for the Washington Examiner.

Donald Trump could sideline a generation of rising GOP stars

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President-elect Trump with his unexpected victory has sidelined the White House prospects of an entire generation of Republican stars.

A bevy of Republicans in their 40s and 50s — governors and senators, some on the rise, others nearing or at the apex of their political careers, were expected to contend for the presidency in 2020.

Then along came Trump, the 70 year-old Baby Boomer who muscled other boomers and Generation X Republicans out of the 2016 nomination and with his win over Hillary Clinton put their presidential aspirations on ice indefinitely.

Their next opportunity to run for president is probably eight years away.

11/14/16 12:01 AM

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