Andrew Smith is worried about Donald Trump’s recent recovery in the race against Hillary Clinton to become the next US President and asks if we are living in an age of improbable political outcomes
AFTER MONTHS of being glued to the American elections, what once seemed unthinkable now seems a lot more likely. What if Donald Trump becomes the next President of the United States?
It’s become a cliché to say that a week is a long time in politics, but that doesn’t stop it from being true. The last week has been particularly tumultuous across the pond, where a stumble at a 9/11 memorial has aided a resurgent Trump in closing in on a troubled Hillary Clinton.
With the first Presidential debate less than a fortnight away, the tightening couldn’t be coming at a worse time for Democrats.
Only a few weeks ago, Clinton was enjoying warm press coverage, plaudits from a successful convention and, most importantly, an eight-point lead.
Only a few weeks ago, Clinton was enjoying warm press coverage, plaudits from a successful convention and, most importantly, an eight-point lead. Now, after taking a couple of days off the campaign trail, parts of the mainstream media are openly discussing whether she should even be standing at all.
Of course Clinton is far from the first candidate to have their health questioned (Dukakis, Regan, Kennedy, Nixon and FDR all faced questions), but she is arguably the first of the social media age – you could argue John McCain was, and that didn’t exactly end well for him.
In comparison, Trump has enjoyed a pretty good few weeks. He’s had yet another campaign reshuffle, but it’s resulted in stricter messaging, smarter scheduling and a greater degree of personal restraint. He’s still the same divisive, pugnacious candidate he always was, but now he’s reading from auto-cues and managing to show a bit more empathy and nuance.
The ongoing questions about Clinton’s emails and the funding of her foundation have intensified, and what began as memes about her health on alt-right message boards has now become front page news.
How long he can refrain from putting his foot in his mouth is anyone’s guess (he may well have done it before this article is published), but the results have been good for him. We have seen closing polls both nationally and in the all-important battleground states. Some polls are even putting him in the lead.
So what’s gone wrong for Clinton? Foremost she’s come under a lot more scrutiny. In part because Trump has gone a fortnight without insulting large numbers of people, the focus has shifted on to her. The ongoing questions about her emails and the funding of her foundation have intensified, and what began as memes about her health on alt-right message boards has now become front page news.
She’s also making some pretty elementary mistakes. Huge sections of Trump’s supporters may well be racist and undesirable (and the data suggests many are), but when she used a recent speech to label half of them as “deplorable” it had shades of Mitt Romney’s notorious 47% speech. Does it make her condemnation of his supporters any less true? No. But it can only make it far harder to win over his voters or depress his turnout.
Another obvious mistake in the making has been the way that the debate preparation has been handled, with Clinton’s team briefing that she is doing extensive background research, talking to Trump’s former colleagues and is ready to ‘hit it out of the park’ in two weeks.
Trump can only benefit from a dynamic that means all he has to do to surpass expectations is turn up sober, remember his name and not say anything racist.
The problem isn’t that these things are necessarily untrue, it’s that they create a background and mood music where expectations will be imbalanced. Trump can only benefit from a dynamic that means all he has to do to surpass expectations is turn up sober, remember his name and not say anything racist.
Part of the problem is that this is an election between two historically disliked candidates, with many questioning Trump’s competence and Hillary’s honesty. In those sorts of contests, particularly where both have been in the public eye for decades, it becomes less about who can appeal to the whole electorate and more about who can enthuse their voters to turn out.
Trump supporters may be many things, but they have proven themselves to be motivated. Republicans garnered record turnouts, with ‘The Donald’ consistently over performing against polls. Granted, this is easier to do in primaries which vote in smaller numbers and broadly one or two states at a time. What it does indicate is that Trump’s notorious lack of advertising and ground game are far from fatal.
There’s also an ongoing debate about if there is such a thing as a ‘shy’ Trump voter. The basis for it is largely a combination of the social stigma that can come from being openly pro-Trump combined with the fact that he consistently performs better in online polling.
If long-term polls and conventional wisdom alone were enough to secure victory, then I’d be writing this from a very different country. It would be one in which Ed Miliband was Prime Minister, Britain had a long future in the EU and Leicester City could never win the Premiership.
Obviously most of his supporters are loud and proud, but if even 2-3 per cent are staying quiet – particularly among ethnic minority voters – then it could be decisive. Does 2-3 per cent seem too high? Possibly, but not when you consider that the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, is currently polling around 9 per cent, which there’s no reason whatsoever to believe he’ll get.
On 26 September the two candidates will face-off in a debate that some believe could be a bigger draw than the Superbowl. We can expect questions about competence, health and electability to be central. Both candidates are seasoned debaters that are unlikely to face a meltdown, but nothing about this contest has been predictable.
Make no mistake, despite the health concerns, it is still Clinton’s race to lose. The conventional wisdom is that the speed and scale of demographic change should give her enough of a cushion to see-off a Republican candidate that doesn’t appeal to minority voters. But the likelihood of an upset can no longer be laughed-off.
If long-term polls and conventional wisdom alone were enough to secure victory, then I’d be writing this from a very different country. It would be one in which Ed Miliband was Prime Minister, Britain had a long future in the EU and Leicester City could never win the Premiership. Most of the commentators were proven wrong when Trump won the Republican nomination, unfortunately it’s not out of the question they’ll be proven wrong again in November.
Picture courtesy of Azi Paybarah
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