Tag Archives: Republican
A populist wave that began with Brexit in June reached the United States in stunning fashion on Tuesday night. In one of the biggest upsets in American political history, Donald Trump won a truly historic victory in the U.S. presidential election.
Trump’s remarkably decisive win stunned most political pundits, myself included. Throughout the campaign, Trump seemed to have a polling ceiling of about 44 percent and he consistently had the highest unfavorability rating of any major party nominee in history. Accordingly, months ago I predicted that Clinton would easily beat Trump.
Then, at the beginning of October, the uproar over Trump’s lewd and offensive remarks on the “Access Hollywood” videotape, combined with the escalating number of women who accused Trump of sexual assault, seemed to finish off his campaign. Right up until Tuesday afternoon, therefore, a comfortable victory for Clinton seemed like a foregone conclusion.
But I was dead wrong. Trump won a sweeping victory in the presidential race. His night began with critical victories in Florida, North Carolina and Ohio, three states essential to his path to 270 electoral votes. As the night wore on, Clinton’s “blue wall” collapsed amid a red tide that swept across the country from the Atlantic coast to the Rocky Mountains. The blue states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa fell to Trump like dominoes. The election returns made clear that Trump would carry over 300 electoral votes, more than enough to win the presidency.
It’s extremely early to draw conclusions about the 2016 election results, but here are five factors that at least partially explain what happened.
1. Silent Trump vote
There really was a silent Trump vote that the polls failed to pick up on. The nationwide polling average gave Clinton about a 3-point lead overall, and the state-by-state polls indicated that she would win at least 300 electoral votes.
But the polls were as wrong as the pundits. Problems with the polls’ methodologies will undoubtedly be identified in the days and weeks ahead.
It seems equally reasonable to conclude that many Trump voters kept their intentions to themselves and refused to cooperate with the pollsters.
The extraordinary role of FBI Director James Comey in the presidential campaign cannot be underestimated either. Two weeks ago Clinton seemed on the verge of winning a double-digit victory. But Comey’s Oct. 28 letter to Congress, which announced that the FBI was reopening its investigation into Clinton’s State Department emails, changed the momentum of the race. Clinton retook the polling lead at the end of last week, but the final polls masked the lasting damage that the Comey letter had done to her campaign.
Whatever the ultimate explanation for the polls’ failure to predict the election’s outcome, the future of the polling industry is in question after Tuesday. Trump’s astounding victory demonstrated that the polls simply cannot be trusted.
2. Celebrity beat organization
A longstanding assumption of political campaigns is that a first-rate “Get out the Vote” organization is indispensable. The conventional wisdom in 2016 thus held that Trump’s lack of a grassroots organization was a huge liability for his campaign.
But as it turned out, he didn’t need an organization. Trump has been in the public eye for over 30 years, which meant that he entered the race with nearly 100 percent name recognition. Trump’s longstanding status as a celebrity enabled him to garner relentless media attention from the moment he entered the race. One study found that by May 2016 Trump had received the equivalent of US$3 billion in free advertising from the media coverage his campaign commanded. Trump seemed to intuitively understand that the controversial things he said on the campaign trail captured the voters’ attention in a way that serious policy speeches never could.
Most important of all, he had highly motivated voters. Trump’s populist rhetoric and open contempt for civility and basic standards of decency enabled him to connect with the Republican base like no candidate since Ronald Reagan. Trump didn’t play by the normal rules of politics, and his voters loved him for it.
Trump’s victory would seem to herald a new era of celebrity politicians. He showed that a charismatic media-savvy outsider has significant advantages over traditional politicians and conventional political organizations in the internet age. In the future, we may see many more unconventional politicians in the Trump mold.
3. Populist revolt against immigration and trade
It will take days to sort through the data to figure out what issues resonated mostly deeply with Trump’s base.
But immigration and trade seem virtually certain to be at the top of the list. Trump bet his whole campaign on the idea that popular hostility to liberal immigration and free trade policies would propel him to the White House.
From the beginning to the end of his campaign, he returned time and again to those two cornerstone issues. In his announcement speech, he promised to build a wall on the Mexican border and deport 11 million unauthorized immigrants. He also pledged to tear up free trade agreements and bring back manufacturing jobs. From day one, he made xenophobic and nationalistic policies the centerpiece of his campaign.
Critics rightfully condemned his vicious attacks on Mexicans and Muslims, but Trump clearly understood that hostility toward immigration and globalization ran deep among a critical mass of American voters.
His decision to focus on immigration and trade paid off in spades on Election Day. It’s no coincidence that Trump did exceptionally well in the traditionally blue states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, all of which have large populations of white working-class voters. Previous Republican nominees such as John McCain, who embraced generous immigration policies, and Mitt Romney, who advocated free trade, never managed to connect with blue-collar voters in the Great Lakes region.
But Trump’s anti-immigration and protectionist trade policies gave him a unique opening with white working-class voters, and he made the most of it.
4. Outsiders against insiders
Trump will be the first president without elective office experience since Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s. Eisenhower, however, served as supreme allied commander in Europe during World War II and had unrivaled expertise in foreign affairs.
So how did Trump make his lack of government experience an asset in the campaign?
The answer lay in the intense and widespread public hostility to the political, media and business establishments that lead the country. Trust in institutions is at an all-time low and a majority of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.. The angry and volatile public mood made 2016 the ultimate change election.
Amid such a potent anti-establishment spirit, Trump’s vulgar, intemperate and unorthodox style struck voters as far more genuine than the highly cautious and controlled Hillary Clinton. As the brash and unpredictable Trump positioned himself as an agent of change, Clinton seemed like the establishment’s candidate, an impression that proved fatal to her campaign. Indeed, Trump used Clinton’s deep experience in the White House, Senate and State Department against her by citing it as evidence that she represented the status quo.
Ironically, Bill Clinton won the White House 24 years ago using a similar anti-establishment strategy. In the 1992 election, he successfully depicted incumbent President George H. W. Bush as an out-of-touch elitist. Eight years later Bush’s son, George W. Bush, employed the same tactic to defeat Vice President Al Gore. And in 2008 Barack Obama successfully ran as an outsider against John McCain.
Trump is thus the fourth consecutive president to win the White House by running as an “outsider” candidate. That is a lesson that future presidential candidates forget at their peril.
5. America, the divided
Above all, the 2016 election made clear that America is a nation deeply divided along racial, cultural, gender and class lines.
Under normal circumstances, one would expect the new president to attempt to rally the nation behind a message of unity.
But Trump will not be a normal president. He won the White House by waging one of the most divisive and polarizing campaigns in American political history. It is entirely possible that he may choose to govern using the same strategy of divide and conquer.
In any case, Trump will soon be the most powerful person in the world. He will enter office on Jan. 20 with Republican majorities in the House and Senate, which means Republicans will dictate the nation’s policy agenda and control Supreme Court appointments for the next four years. It seems highly likely therefore that Nov. 8, 2016 will go down in the history books as a major turning point in American history.
The 2016 election defied the conventional wisdom from start to finish. It is probably a safe bet that the Trump presidency will be just as unpredictable.
As political earthquakes go, they don’t get much more seismic or unexpected. All of the pointy-heads who have been assuring us for weeks that Trump couldn’t possibly win have been proved spectacularly wrong once again – just as they were with Brexit.
That’s the problem with democracies: the punters don’t always do what they’re supposed to do. We may have to live with the consequences of this decision for the next four years – always supposing President Trump doesn’t start World War 3 or suspend the “corrupt” democratic process in the United States in the interest of stability and national security, of course.
That’s an attempt at gallows humour – I think. The reality is though, that nothing can actually be ruled out from a man who is entirely unpredictable, and a long way from the sort of “rational actor” we like to think make the decisions that shape international politics.
This might be a problem in any country. We have become accustomed to Western political pundits making condescending remarks about the rise of populist strong men leaders in places like Russia, Turkey, the Philippines and – most consequentially – China. But when the most powerful country in the world elects a racist, misogynist, bully with little understanding of or interest in complex domestic or foreign policies, we’re all affected.
Part of the complacency about Trump flows from the fact that so many believe that “we” are far too sophisticated and steeped in democratic traditions for a Putinesque demagogue to emerge in the heartlands of liberal democracy. But the tough guys are back with a vengeance, and America – and the world – may have to deal with their very own proto-fascist.
Interestingly, I’ve just done an informal poll of Russian students in Vladivostok, where I’m currently teaching, and the majority welcome a Trump win. They don’t trust Clinton and tend to judge outcomes from a narrowly instrumental nationalist perspective. Such attitudes may become increasingly prevalent.
Indeed, the idea that the United States will any longer provide the bedrock of a stable, rules based international order of a sort that policymakers in this country endlessly invoke is no longer feasible. On the contrary, Trump is likely – by intent or neglect – to unleash a diplomatic wrecking ball that could plunge us back into the sort of brutal great power politics that characterised earlier periods of history.
Critics of early incarnations of US foreign policy may have to eat their words, too, as we find out what a world without a comparatively benign form of American hegemony actually looks like. For all its undoubted problems, mistakes and self interest, the US has often been a force for stability – the nightmares of Iraq and the Middle East notwithstanding.
We may also be about to find out what a less cerebral, cautious American president than the much-criticised Barack Obama looks like. The promise to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS gives a clue. Acting in tandem with Putin – a figure he admires and clearly emulates – they might reduce the rest of Syria and much else to rubble.
Alarmist nonsense? I certainly hope so. But who is going to stand up for human rights, democracy, or international cooperation in pursuit of some progressive goal? In the sort of world we may be about to enter, the simple reality is that there is no country with either the military capability or – more importantly – the political will to constrain the unprincipled, reckless use of force on America’s part.
All of this only touches the surface of the horrors a Trump presidency could unleash. It is not only Mexicans, Muslims, and minorities of one sort or another that will be anxious. The perennially skittish financial markets will no doubt have a collective seizure, revealing problems that a relatively orderly approach to economic management in the US have managed to conceal, if not correct, since the global financial crisis.
Let’s not forget that the global financial crisis was made in America, and Obama did a pretty good job of staving off the next Great Depression. Not only would Trump blame foreigners generally and China in particular for American problems, but he would also probably unleash an old-fashioned 1930s style self destructive trade war in the process.
Speaking of the 1930s, that generation of strong men didn’t work out too well either, if I recall. At least the American president of the time didn’t actually contribute to the literal and metaphorical carnage. Trump is no FDR. On the contrary, his rise, rhetoric and rationale look more reminiscent of Europe’s interwar fascists.
Admirers of the US, among whose number I count myself, may hope that political institutions and culture will have an ameliorative impact on President Trump. Perhaps they would on a normal politician, even in these highly partisan, politically poisonous times. But not Trump, I fear.
He is clearly impervious to criticism and – more worryingly – incapable of accepting advice. We know little about his advisers except that they are little known. Perhaps the Republican establishment will rein him in. But given that they, too, have also been rejected by millions of Americans and actually allowed Trump to emerge in the first place, don’t hold you breath.
What does all this mean for Australia? Nothing good, I suspect. At the very least we need to have a long overdue debate about our relationship with our most important security partner. But don’t hold your breath about that either.
Whatever happens over the next four years it won’t be boring. Let’s just hope we get through it in one piece.
Is it time to think the unthinkable? Could Donald Trump actually become the next president of the United States? He already looks a certainty to become the Republican nominee – something not many pundits were willing to concede until recently. Unfortunately, as Trump might say, he is “winning, winning, winning”.
Nevertheless, the conventional wisdom is still that he’ll ultimately lose badly to Hillary Clinton when Americans come to their senses and recognise the danger a Trump presidency presents to America and the world.
But will they? Are there sufficient numbers of Americans who feel angry, alienated, disenfranchised and unhappy about America’s declining fortunes to actually make Trump the most powerful man in the world?
It would be unwise to bet against such an outcome in the febrile political atmosphere that has affected polities across much of the world. One might have thought the times were made for thoughtful political leaders recognised the complexity of the current international order and who were doing their best to come up with politically feasible practical responses to difficult challenges.
One might be wrong. The diminished political stocks of Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and Malcolm Turnbull are painful reminders of what happens to political leaders who cannot articulate a persuasive case for complex, potentially difficult policy. “Cutting through” is more important than policy credibility. Only connect, as E.M. Foster might have put it.
Whatever qualities Trump may lack in experience, judgement and knowledge of the world, he clearly does have an ability to connect with large numbers of “ordinary” Americans. As he points out himself, much of his support comes from the poorly educated and marginalised, who are the tragically ironic product of the very system he disowns.
Yet Trump is also a product of the increasingly polarised, poisonous and partisan politics that has come to define the US of late. It is not simply that the American political system has become synonymous with gridlock and dysfunction, but that there is no room for the sort of compromise and negotiation that is – or ought to be – the very essence of politics, especially in a democracy.
The fight over the nomination of the next Supreme Court justice is a telling indicator of just how politicised key elements of the American political system have become.
In this regard, the Republicans only have themselves to blame. As the conservative commentator Robert Kagan points out, Trump is a direct product of the vicious, uncompromising approach to politics that has characterised the Republican Party over the last few years.
Belittling and politicising the key institutions of American government, to say nothing of their political opponents, has had a predictably corrosive impact on public confidence in the existing political system.
Those Americans who have become so enraged with the behaviour of “Washington insiders” have a point. The political system really has become dominated by powerful lobby groups, and it really is possible to buy influence and shape public policy to suit private corporate interests. The rise of Bernie Sanders is a refection of the widespread disenchantment with the status quo and the desire to do things differently.
Trump’s even more rapid rise is a reminder that political dissatisfaction and alienation will not necessarily result in the adoption of “progressive” values and causes, much less reform of the very institutions that caused so many problems in the first place.
This is one of the reasons that a Clinton triumph is not assured. She is the consummate political insider and partly responsible for the increasing divisions of wealth and opportunity that have created an opportunity for Trump. She is plainly closer to Wall Street than Main Street, to say nothing of the millions with a stake in neither. Demagogues, at least, can prosper in such circumstances.
Trump is an odious popinjay with astoundingly abhorrent and dangerous views he makes little effort to conceal. In this regard, at least, he is authentic: what you see is, regrettably, what we may all get. Will Americans rediscover their self-declared historical mission as a bastion of liberty and enlightenment? Don’t bet on it.
The crowds of Trump supporters shouting “USA, USA” at his rallies probably don’t read the Federalist Papers in their spare time. True, it’s not “Sieg Heil” and the Nuremburg rallies. But as the Americans might say, it’s in the ballpark.
Condescending? Alarmist? Let’s hope so. The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.