As of late, the inconceivable has become conceivable. It is now widely recognised that Donald Trump – the businessman and political outsider who has never before held political office – could be elected US President.
Given Trump’s enormous unpopularity a lot of people will wonder how that’s possible, particularly after the recent emergence of a video from 2005 in which he was overheard making lewd comments about women.
Part of the explanation lies in the fact that Hillary Clinton is also very unpopular with voters, and is widely thought of as being untrustworthy. Her unpopularity is effectively propping up Trump’s beleaguered campaign. When the FBI announced that it was reopening its investigation into her emails Trumps’s campaign received a much needed boost.
Since then, the FBI has announced that it hasn’t found evidence of criminality. But once suspicions have been repeatedly raised on the subject of Clinton’s emails, it’s difficult to rebuild trust. A significant amount of damage has been done that cannot be undone. Indeed, the FBI’s “nothing to see here” press release just days before the vote could play into Trump’s hands. He has already renewed talk about a “rigged” system.
Trouble for Hillary is not enough to give Trump the White House. He still needs voters to have positive reasons for voting for him to ensure a sufficiently good turnout of supporters. Ultimately, “Trump is the lesser of two evils” is more likely to demoralise people than to mobilise support. Most people don’t like picking evils, and may decide they have better things to do.
If Trump has a chance of winning, it’s because he has tapped into an enormous and seemingly inexhaustible well of discontent. He talks about everything wrong with America and speaks to people about their difficulties. He promises that he has the business acumen and common sense approach America needs. The politicians have failed; you need a businessman to step in.
So Trump talks about the decline in manufacturing jobs that has taken place for decades. He blames this on free trade deals like NAFTA. He blames it on the Chinese artificially lowering the value of their currency to give their steel exports a competitive advantage in the global market. In simple words he gives simple answers. No more bad trade deals, and no more letting China get away with it.
He talks about the threat of Islamic extremism and Islamist terrorism. Muslim extremists are killing Americans. His answer: stop Muslim immigration “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on”.
He talks about illegal immigration. Mexicans are crossing the border in their millions. Hillary Clinton would let in 650 million immigrants in a week. His answer? Build a wall. Don’t grant amnesty to illegal immigrants (it incentivises it). Increase the current rate of deportations.
He talks about political correctness. Political correctness prevents people from pointing out politically incorrect truths that need pointing out. It means Clinton can’t say “radical Islamic terrorism”. His answer: say it how it is.
He talks about a self-serving, self-perpetuating political and cultural elite in the pocket of Wall Street and big business. This is a global elite which doesn’t care about the country, or ordinary people: people in it for themselves and each other, as revealed in the Podesta emails. Clinton is at the heart of this elite. His answer: vote Donald Trump.
So who does he appeal to? Blue collar workers who have lost their jobs in manufacturing, or who are still waiting for a pay rise as the cost of living increases; those concerned by mass immigration and Islamist terrorism; those concerned by political correctness which censors an ever-increasing number of views; people who care about free speech; people who want to preserve their second amendment rights; those who are suspicious of elites, and who dislike politicians who have are to seen to have a sense of entitlement – politicians like Hillary Clinton…
Trump’s unorthodox approach offers his supporters hope that ordinary, moderate politics has long since ceased to inspire. Perhaps some of them are sceptical of his answers. But they won’t miss this unique chance he offers them to protest against the status quo and the political establishment. And since they’ve been told by virtually all of the political and media establishment not to vote for Trump, it’ll be all the more powerful a protest.
The contest has been fraught, and the differences that it has revealed are difficult if not impossible to reconcile. If Clinton wins there will be a lot of anger from Trump supporters who believe that the system is rigged. That is not to mention the disappointment of people who are struggling when they realise it’s business as usual.
On the other hand, if Trump wins he will have to live up to the impossible expectations which he has raised. He will inevitably fail, and there is no telling how his voters will react when the cent finally drops.
In the end, the vote will be an expression of whether or not Americans think things are going alright. If you think a majority of Americans are at least moderately happy the status quo, expect Clinton to win. If you think a majority are dissatisfied, expect Trump to clinch it.
One last thing. When it came to the UK’s EU referendum, most of the polls on June 23rd got the result wrong by predicting that Remain would win. They underestimated the number of “left behind” working class voters in deprived areas who turned up to vote, which made all the difference. A similar thing could happen in this US Presidential election owing to the success Trump has so far had among that same sort of demographic. So if polls predict that Clinton will win by a small margin, prepare yourself for a Trump Presidency. On numerous occasions, Trump has sought to capitalise on the success of Brexit by comparing his campaign to it. He has said that the US vote will be “beyond Brexit”, “Brexit-plus”, “Brexit x 5”, “Brexit x 10”, and now “Brexit plus-plus-plus”, by which he presumably means that his campaign will defy the pollsters to gain victory on the 8th just as the Brexit campaign defied widespread predictions that it would lose.
While it is impossible to predict the result with confidence, one thing’s for sure. If Trump does win it will be a wholesale rejection of the political establishment and the status quo of the same significance to what we saw in Britain on June 23rd.