Monday, 26 September 2016
A Turning Point in the US Presidential Campaign. What Happened?
If Hillary Clinton’s illness had not materialized, someone would probably have had to have made one up for her. The Democratic presidential candidate’s dramatic drop in popularity just over the course of the last month has been attributed to her sudden health issues and pneumonia. Of course they’re claiming that Clinton will recover and that her extraordinary determination to keep fighting will make voters even more sympathetic to her. The biggest US media outlets are helping her spin that.
But without delving into the details of Ms. Clinton’s medical reports, if we just rewind the tape, the timeline of events looks somewhat different. The polls showing Donald Trump’s popularity across the nation quickly gaining on Hillary’s – and perhaps even surpassing hers – began to emerge in late August, back when she still seemed quite vigorous and no one was talking about her health. The tipping point in the presidential race did not materialize after Hillary’s unfortunate fainting episode, but before it. But it’s not the Democratic candidate’s health issues that are responsible for the shifting tide, but rather the strategic missteps by Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff.
The inordinate personification of the entire campaign by the Democratic camp was the initial miscalculation. Donald Trump does love to get a rise out of his audience, but – seeing him as an easy target – they focused on his persona instead of trying to attack his quite serious political platform.
In the Democratic campaign it all came down to Trump’s personality – after all he’s a racist who is unpredictable and incompetent, he gushes over America’s enemies and is himself a threat to his nation’s security, and so on. So, thus distracted, Clinton and her advisers failed to notice when her Republican challenger radically altered his behavior, suddenly metamorphosing into a level-headed and observant politician who delves deeply into every issue. In his campaign he has refused to exploit Clinton’s ill health and has stopped his aides from doing so. He now launches far fewer personal attacks on his opponent. He currently prefers to lambaste the last traces of President Obama’s dwindling popularity, making it clear that Clinton would be nothing more than «Obama Part Two».
This billionaire candidate is nothing if not wily. In the beginning, his outrageous pronouncements drew nationwide attention and mobilized the radical fringe of the population most fed up with America’s political regime. Now he’s working with politically moderate Americans. Trump speaks to audiences of widely varying ethnic and faith backgrounds, assuring his listeners that his purported hostility to minorities is pure fiction. This could be seen in Trump’s very significant visit to Mexico and his meeting with the president of that country.
In the end, he demonstrated that he can have a very friendly relationship with Mexicans (who had been portrayed as his probable first victims upon taking office), and he can negotiate successfully with them. It turns out that Trump’s much-lampooned idea of walling off the US-Mexican border is actually quite acceptable to the Mexican government, which is every bit as concerned as the US government by the criminal elements crossing back and forth across the border. The only issue is about who is going to pay to build it. But if push comes to shove, Trump will undoubtedly be able to force the Mexicans to cough up the cash. And after Trump came back from Mexico no one was mocking his wall anymore.
The Republican candidate is also actively pursuing the union vote, which had always been seen as Democratic turf. The ace up his sleeve will be his careful preparation prior to meetings with them and his ability to allude to the nuances of any particular trade. Several influential unions have already declared their support. And impressive data is coming in from places that until quite recently were seen as utterly out of reach for Trump. He holds a commanding lead in Florida, Ohio, Nevada, and even Iowa, which has swung Republican in only one of the last seven presidential campaigns.
Other serious Democratic blunders included their constant attempts to portray Trump’s goal of normal relations with Russia as a threat to America. It’s difficult to recall any other time in American history when the «subject of Russia» was so harped upon in the election campaign, as if it in some way discredited one of the candidates. The exception perhaps would be the election of 1948, when Henry Wallace, FDR’s former vice president and the leader of the Progressive Party, was labeled the «pro-Soviet» candidate. Wallace, however, won only slightly over a million votes back then, and his leftist convictions have nothing whatsoever in common with Trump’s views.
Apparently, Hillary Clinton’s staff have calculated that Russia and Putin have been so demonized in the American consciousness that linking Trump’s name to them in any way will automatically diminish the Republican candidate’s chances. But that hasn’t worked. Or only a bit.
It’s possible that Americans truly do not know much about Russia, but they are a rational people, capable of drawing conclusions. And when told that Russia is a threat to the US, they immediately ask: where? And how? And that’s a hard question to answer. For the Americans who lived through the tragedy of 9/11, the threat of domestic terrorism – or, for example, the search for a job – is infinitely more important than seeking to destroy the fictional monsters abroad that the second US president, John Quincy Adams, warned them about.
Any juxtaposition of the two countries’ strengths would quickly show that there is simply no threat to the United States emanating from Russia. Those who now specialize in demonizing Russia have clearly forgotten Abraham Lincoln’s words: «You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time». Americans for the most part would be happy to divvy up both the responsibilities and expenses with «those awful Russians,» just to wipe out the evil of terrorism that is building itself a cozy nest in the Middle East. And that’s exactly what Trump is suggesting.
Something called charisma is also working in Trump’s favor (and not in Clinton’s). Clinton is taking great pains to appear energetic and convincing, but she’s not very good at firing people up. Trump’s better at it. Polls show that 58 % of his supporters feel «extremely enthusiastic» about him, while only 46% of Clinton’s «troops» can make such a claim. And 20% of those intending to vote for Hillary are «not at all enthusiastic» about their choice vs. only 10% of Trump’s supporters who admit to feeling that way.
The Democrats have also made a tactical blunder when it comes to the independent third-party candidates who were supposed to pull votes away from Trump. Michael Bloomberg, yet another well-known billionaire, was avowing his readiness to take on this mission, only to later reconsider. It was also thought that such a role could be played by the leader of the Libertarian Party, Gary Johnson, whose outlook is a bit closer to Trump’s than Clinton’s. His ratings are fairly high – 8%, but the problem is that he could steal just as many votes from Clinton as from Trump. And the fourth and final player in the running, the Green Party nominee Jill Stein, could play a part in this political drama that will make Hillary Clinton very uncomfortable. And what is probably most offensive to the Democrats is that Jill Stein took advantage of their own campaign gambit when she chose as her running mate the only African-American still in the ranks by that late date in the campaign – an activist with the distinctive name of Ajamu Baraka. And everyone understands that Clinton has now lost one segment of President Obama’s supporters (estimated at up to 4%).
But the Democrats still have one more option up their sleeve, which some experts have been discussing from the very beginning: pulling Hillary Clinton off the ballot «for health reasons» and nominating a new candidate to be determined by the leaders of the Democratic Party. However, there is a difficulty there as well: many within the Democratic establishment are adamantly opposed to the «socialist» Bernie Sanders, and there is not enough time left to crank up the publicity machines for Vice President Joe Biden or Secretary of State John Kerry, whose names have been mentioned more often than any others in this regard. Nor would it be a simple matter to coax the former first lady, who is already envisioning herself as the mistress of the Oval Office, to quit the game.