People who know I am interested in politics often ask me things like “Can Trump really win the Presidency?” while at the same time shaking their heads in disbelief that such a thing might be possible. To those accustomed to European sensibilities, he seems more like a cross between Berlusconi and Le Pen, with none of the “charisma” or political experience of either. Are things really that bad in the USA that wanton ignorance, crass narcissism, racist demagoguery and an authoritarian complex are what turns people on?
Trump keeps breaking through the ceilings that the political commentariat seek to place over his head. His appeal was said to be limited to 30% of the most committed Republican Primary voters. Then that became 40%, then 50%+. It was said that the Republican establishment would never allow his nomination at their convention in Cleveland. Except that now they have effectively thrown in the towel and conceded he will be their nominee. Most have made their peace with him and now seek influence within his inner circle. House Speaker Ryan and the Bush family are some of the few remaining hold-outs.
It seems all he has to do is say a few soothing words, and they come crawling back to his eminence: previous insults brushed under the carpet. In fact it never seems to matter what he has said or done in the past. The only reality which matters is what he has said in the latest news cycle. The latest opinion polls have Hillary Clinton leading him by about 4% in national polls. But opinion polls have little credibility this far out from the actual election in November. Hillary still has to shake off her challenger, Bernie Sanders, to be confirmed as his opponent, and it is anyone’s guess how many of Sanders’ supporters will eventually turn out for Hillary.
Few pundits or political scientists predicted his success. A former top staffer maintains that he never expected to poll more than 12% either, and that his campaign started out as little more than a brand building exercise for his various businesses. Some research shows that an authoritarian personality trait is the best predictor of who will support him – better than gender, ethnicity, educational attainment or income. Arthur Gilroy, writing on Booman.com argues that he will win because he is a professional celebrity, and that in virtually every election since JFK vs. Nixon, it is the candidate who is better at doing what a celebrity does who wins: Looking good, being entertaining, saying witty or memorable things and acting natural on TV is what winning US elections is all about.
Whenever one sees vox pop interviews with Trump supporters at his rallies, a recurring theme is: “He says it as it is”, “he speaks the truth”, “he’s not afraid to make big decisions”, “he’s not beholden to big money donors”: Except he is. None of the messy complexity that politics often entails: the compromising, diplomacy, and lengthy negotiations. And the irony is that people who have never had much in their lives seem to identify with someone who was born with it all. Trump inherited about as much wealth as Warren Buffet, but it is Buffet who has expanded his inheritance into a much larger fortune. Indeed Trump would have made a much larger fortune had he simply invested his inheritance in Index linked funds. Instead Trump has stiffed many workers, suppliers, and investors when some of his ventures failed. He has never treated the little people with anything but contempt.
Of course even good entertainers can sometimes reach their sell-by date. People become bored with their shtick and move on – to the next big thing. But is Hillary ever likely to be that big thing, or even just slip in by default as enthusiasm for Trump fades after a long political season? Indeed will he become bored with it all and tire of the long grind?
His ego is such that I doubt he will pass up on the opportunity to become the biggest winner of all. The opportunity to humiliate the political establishment which has never given him too much respect will be too big to give up. He is like the dumb kid in class who was looked down on by the smart kids. But he is going to show them all. He will have the best women, the best words, the best products, the best House, and the biggest job in the land. Think of the marketing potential! He could be sharing some Trump water with Vladimir Putin – another strong man he admires.
Hillary is everything he hates – an opinionated women, educated, an establishment icon. “She’s got nothing going for her except that she’s a women. She would get 5% of the vote if she were a man” is his most heartfelt put down. No doubt this resonates with some men used to bossing their wives, who now feel humiliated by women making greater strides in the workplace. His only comment on Carly Fiorina, ex Hewlett Packard Chief Executive and an early rival for the nomination was that she was ugly. “Who would vote for a face like that?” Never mind that Trump, himself, is hardly an oil painting…
So how can a candidate who has said and done so much to humiliate and insult women, Hispanics, Moslems, immigrants and the Republican establishment still be competitive in the race? Are there enough white males with inferiority complexes or authoritarian tendencies to bring his candidacy over the line? Will many women and minorities vote for him anyway out of some Stockholm Syndrome like identification with their tormentor? Will religious conservatives overlook his obvious failing to respect their beliefs, values and morals in his own personal life?
My take is that Hillary will struggle to overcome him until some time in the fall by which time former Sanders’ supporters will have overcome their disappointment at his failure to win the nomination, and reluctantly fall in line behind the Hillary bandwagon. The media have a huge vested interest in a competitive race and will continue to portray it as a close run thing despite all evidence to the contrary. Trump’s right hand man, Paul Manafort has a long track record working for unsavoury dictators and using false flag and black operations to discredit opponents. Hillary had better be ready for a dirty war.
But she will win by a large margin: The only question is whether her coat-tails will be long enough to drag in a Democratic majority into both Houses of Congress as well. As the Republican policy of scorched earth towards Obama has shown, there is not much a President can do if he doesn’t have a Congress he can work with, and right now winning both houses is still a tall order, given the gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics Republican controlled State Houses have been engaging in.
Hillary will also have to realise that campaigning and governing in the USA at the moment is more like fighting a war than engaging in diplomacy and reasoned debate. To achieve anything Democrats are going to have to overcome their fetish for bipartisanship and compromise. Their opponents only see such posturing as a weakness to be exploited. The filibuster will have to be abolished in the Senate and the Supreme Court filled with activist progressives rather than conservatives.
It remains to be seen whether Hillary has the balls to be anything other than the archetypal weak women that Trump so despises. She has to become his worst nightmare, and that of his supporters. She also has to break with her big money donors on Wall Street and elsewhere if she is ever to be seen as anything more than an establishment candidate fighting off a populist insurgency. The neo-conservatives fleeing Trump and flocking to the Democratic Party in the hope of influence and preferment will have to be disappointed. Ultimately, her biggest challenge will be to take the big money out of US politics. The Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs. FEC which effectively equated money with free speech, and corporations with people, will have to be overturned by a new majority on the court. Corporate donations will have to be de-legitimized as the bribery they truly are.
But does she even have the vision, never mind the will to go down that path?