Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Why Trump May Become President

The United States' political scene is so much more interesting than New Zealand's at the moment and that's why I write a lot about the former. New Zealand is mid-term in its election cycle with a middle-of-the-road, middling conservative government that is about as interesting as appointment with the podiatrist. The United States, on the other hand, is nearing a presidential election that will see the end of its divisive, two-term, polemical President and the two main parties appear to be intent on tearing themselves apart in trying to select his successor.

The presidential primary races are fascinating. On the Republican Party side you have the neophyte and ultimate political outsider, Donald Trump, leading in most of the polls with the only other candidate coming close being another relative outsider, Ted Cruz, who was elected to the US Senate on a wave of Tea Party activism in 2012. All the Republican establishment candidates from Jeb Bush to Chris Christie are trailing in their wake. On the Democratic Party side you have the ultimate Washington insider, Hillary Clinton, against an avowed Socialist in Bernie Sanders.

The mainstream media are doing their best to undermine Trump with all the subtlety of a jackhammer, but the New York billionaire is a very different candidate than they are used to and they find themselves in a sort of Nietzschean nightmare where the more they try to hurt him, the stronger he becomes. The more outrageous Trump is, the more the US public appear to support him. The media and the political establishment thought he was a flash-in-the-pan who wouldn't last the summer but it is starting to look like his poll results are built from anti-gravity matter.

Trump might appear to be a buffoon but so far he has shown himself to be more politically astute and more in tune with the American electorate than any of the more experienced candidates. He has a sense of the issues that are important to Americans, issues that the political establishment and mainstream media consider to be too toxic to tackle. He has found fertile ground in immigration. This is unsurprising given that the underemployment rate (which includes those working part-time who are looking for full-time employment as well as the officially unemployed) is running at 14%. Rightly or wrongly (and I happen to think wrongly), many Americans see the large number of illegal immigrants in the United States as responsible for their current stagnant economic fortunes. Trump has combined this concern about immigration with the fear of Muslim terrorism, so his plan to put a moratorium on all Muslim immigration is the quinella in terms of political appeal.

Republicans believe their party has sold out. In 2012 Americans elected a Republican majority in both houses of Congress and supporters of the GOP thought this would mean a reversal of four years of President Obama's policies. Four years later they have nothing to show for it. In 2012 they were given a virtually unelectable presidential candidate by their party - a Wall Street banker Mormon - and yet Mitt Romney nearly beat the media's darling, Obama. A candidate that Republicans actually liked and supported would have romped in, given the broad electoral swing to the GOP at that election. The Republican rank and file are not going to make the same mistake and have a safe, establishment candidate foisted on them this time around.

If it comes down to a head-to-head contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I think the former will win. Hillary Clinton is very vulnerable because she has a track record of business, personal and political scandals that will be dredged up and re-examined again and again during a presidential campaign. Trump does not have this vulnerability because his life is a celebrity's open book. Consider Trump's response to Hillary Clinton's recent attack on him regarding his (frankly disgusting) treatment of Fox News presenter Megyn Kelly. Trump counterattacked with Hillary's complicity in her husband's cover-up of his many sexual harassment accusations (including, it now appears, one alleged rape). Trump has sent a clear message - if Hillary wants to take him on, she had better be prepared for a bloody fight in which Clinton has everything to lose and Trump has everything to win.

In conclusion, I think if it comes to a fight between Trump and Clinton, The Donald will wipe the floor with Hillary. Of course, there is still a long time to go before the Republican National Convention in July and I wouldn't put it past the Republican Party establishment to stitch up an anything-but-Trump result, but at this stage he is looking like the strong horse in a weak field. I am no Trump supporter, but his rise is nothing if not fascinating entertainment for those of us who follow US politics.