This week the picture became a little clearer in the crowded pack that is the US Presidential Primaries. After a couple of unexpected stumbles in Iowa, the two front runners of the Republican and Democratic parties – Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton – both managed to put a bit of daylight between them and the chasing pack.
On Super Tuesday where twelve states were up for grabs, both Trump and Clinton made mince meat of their rivals and at this stage, one would think that it would only take a scandal of the highest order to unseat either candidate. And considering that both of them have built their political careers on deftly navigating scandals and media beat ups, it would have to take something formidable probably involving a ritual sacrifice or shooting someone in the head. Actually, Trump already postulated that even doing that wouldn’t hurt his chances.
In a presidential primary that has already served up many memorable moments, Chris Christie had a week of humiliation that could just about top all the others. The tough-talking New Jersey governor who built his credentials on bullying his political adversaries dropped out of the Republican primaries and then unexpectedly endorsed Donald Trump.
The deal was sealed with an extraordinary looking handshake on stage where the body language told the whole story. He had been humiliated by Trump who was now employing his services as a bus boy. It was an unbelievable capitulation that killed any future political aspirations dead in an instant. He was now a doormat.
Christie’s fate was sealed when his dour, sullen expression lit up social media on the night of Trump’s victory speech after Super Tuesday. He had been figuratively tarred, feathered and depantsed and the whole world knew it.
— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) March 3, 2016
— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) March 2, 2016
Meanwhile, DC outsider Bernie Sanders tried to remain upbeat about his chances of beating Hillary but barring some sort of miracle, it looks like the socialist from Vermont has run his course. It’s been an incredible showing from Sanders who was given no chance when he first announced his candidacy. How Sanders conducts himself will still potentiall have a bearing on the result of the General Election. Anecdotally, there is plenty of chatter to suggest that Sanders voters won’t necessarily jump on the Hillary bandwagon when the time comes.
Trump, the Establishment and the GOP Debate
Another week and once again, all the talk was about Trump.
There was a news item back in December where a Buzzfeed memo was made public in which the political editor Ben Smith had explained to his staff that they were free to refer to Trump as a racist.
“The goals of this policy (which is stricter with BuzzFeed News staff) are twofold: To preserve our readers’ confidence that we can be fair; and to not needlessly undermine the work of reporters on the beat,” Smith wrote. “And in that context, Trump is operating far outside the political campaigns to which those guidelines usually apply.”
“It is, for instance, entirely fair to call him a mendacious racist, as the politics team and others here have reported clearly and aggressively: He’s out there saying things that are false, and running an overtly anti-Muslim campaign,” he continued. ”BuzzFeed News’s reporting is rooted in facts, not opinion; these are facts.”
Godwin’s Law, the practise of invoking Hitler and the Nazis when in a heated argument, has long been seen as the scourge of Internet discourse. But here we are today in the US Presidential Election of 2016 and its noticeable that more and more voices – mainstream publications, world leaders and members of Donald Trump’s own party – are stating quite openly and plainly that his campaign has strongly fascistic overtones.
If Trump was hoping to make a ‘pivot to the centre’ in anticipation of the General Election, he didn’t help his cause when he fluffed his lines on an endorsement from David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the KKK. Although Trump has been quick to form strong opinions on Muslims, liberals, Planned Parenthood and women he doesn’t like, he was uncharacteristically unsure of himself and stumbled over his words when asked about Duke’s endorsement. In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, he pretended not to know who Duke was, despite having spoken of him many times in years past. It was seen as Trump unwilling (or unable) to reject the racist foundation of his rhetoric and campaign platform.
Days later he was back to ‘winking and nodding’ to openly racist political establishments. At a rally in Orlando, he asked his voters to pledge to vote for him in the primaries like so.
Donald Trump makes members of his Orlando crowd raise their right hands and swear to vote in the primary. pic.twitter.com/EVenRilJrV
— Jenna Johnson (@wpjenna) March 5, 2016
At this late stage, its unclear what’s going to happen when Trump gets the vote as the Establishment has remained resolutely vocal in rejecting who he is and what he represents. In the past fortnight, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, Lindsay Graham and Mitch McConnell all made statements criticising Trump. But it is certain he will be the GOP voter’s choice. Will these party elders fall into line after all they have said about him? How could they possibly? Whatever the outcome of this election, it almost certainly appears to be the end of the Republican party as we know it.
For the likes of Ryan and Graham who have expressed their shock at Trump’s rhetoric, you can’t help but feel that decades of dog whistling and baiting their voters have lead to this moment and that they have been complicit in what the party has become.
As author Stephen King observed:
Conservatives who for 8 years sowed the dragon’s teeth of partisan politics are horrified to discover they have grown an actual dragon.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) March 3, 2016
So much has been said of Donald Trump’s campaign so far and how the other candidates have desperately and unsuccessfully tried to attack him. He is a creature who thrives on media attention and has run the race with a stunning disregard for facts, a blatant lack of consistency in his views and he has rejected the idea of showing even a modicum of decorum towards his peers. Trump is a zero-sum proposal in everything he stands for. There can only be winners and losers.
In a moment of desperation, Marco Rubio, the last remaining Establishment candidate made a ‘small hands’ remark, inferring that Donald Trump has a small penis. Of course this is what would irk the orange giant the most. In the latest GOP Debate in Detroit, Trump defended the size of penis and began referring to Rubio as ‘Little Marco’. Rubio fired back by address Trump as if he was a ten year old having a temper tantrum. ‘Breathe, Donald. Breathe!’
The spectacle of the Republican candidates standing on a stage yelling at one another and comparing dick sizes was too much even for some of the most hardened and one eyed conservatives in the press. Trump had succeeded in lowering the bar for the party so far that even the very notion of behaving in a statesmanlike fashion was beyond him. And he had dragged Rubio and Cruz down with him. It speaks volumes about how disastrous the entire affair was that The Economist ended up praising John Kasich for ‘coming across as the only adult on the stage’.
Which brings things back to why Donald Trump is even in the conversation in the first place. How on Earth is this man the frontrunner of a major party in the race to win the United States presidential election.
I think an article on the Guardian which interviewed some of his supporters has come the closest to hitting the nail on the head. Of course it goes without saying that there is a massive number of racist, old, disenfranchised white people that form the core of his support. But there are others who are knowingly, actively and complicity voting against their self interest. And for many of those people they are doing so out of desperation.
I remember quite vividly when I visited America in 2012 how confronting it was seeing the average person on the street. It is a country that imposes extremes hardship on the working class. Many are on a minimum wage which is so low it is impossible to make ends meet and they need a second job. The average annual leave is just two weeks a year. Not everyone has access to healthcare. Upwards social mobility seems extremely limited and millions of Americans today are worse off than their parents and worse off than they were twenty years ago.
So it might seem nuts to an outsider looking in that these voters see ‘no difference’ between a Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton. But when you’re dreaming of radical life changing promises – whether its aspirations of universal healthcare and wealth redistribution (Sanders), an Evangelical revolution (Cruz) or some kind of ethnic and religious cleansing (Trump) – the Establishment candidates like Clinton and Rubio don’t resonate in the same way. There is extraordinary number of voters that are pursuing radical, destabilizing change to the status quo in this election. They are so desperate they feel like they have nothing to lose.