This blog piece has been a little while in the making. Earlier, in March, the effort to try to better understand what was going on in the American Presidential Primaries prompted a trip to Washington DC. Probably overdue and making good, finally, on often made promises to visit, this was a chance to meet old friends and gain a first hand sense of what was going on.
Here was an opportunity to hear the views of people involved in education, lobbying, journalism, policy and politics. With the exception of the ex-pat journalist, of whom I would not presume to ask political affiliation, everyone else was a Republican. Anyway, morning TV included CNN, MSNBC, CBS, etc, as well as FOX. Balance restored.
At the time of the visit Trump was still in the end stage battle with Rubio and Cruz, and Clinton still had some months to go of a slugging match with Sanders before getting over the line with the delegate vote required.
So in a few short days, what sense could be made of American politics generally, Presidential primaries in particular?
Staying at a hotel, the routine was to watch the news shows whenever in the room: mostly morning after breakfast to around 11.30am, and for an hour or so in the evening before heading out for dinner. It was hard to escape the Donald. If he wasn’t on a show in a personal capacity, he was ever present as the topic of discussion: commentary on what he had said; what was thought he had said; what he hadn’t said but was probably thinking.
You could see easily why other Republican candidates had found it difficult to push themselves in to the campaign frame, when almost the first thing they were ever asked was to respond to the latest Trump thought/word/action.
What policy any Republican hopeful might have had, anything they had to say, was framed in the context of Trump. If you didn’t want to talk immigration reform you were a Democrat, if you believed in securing the border why wouldn’t you build a big beautiful wall?
Media wise it was win-win for Trump on any TV channel. It also explains how Clinton took so long to lurch over the line. America’s liberal/left projected all they hate onto the personality of Trump. So the emotional virtuous purity of Sanders stood as the splendid polar opposite. Serious, ambitious, but not very much trusted, Clinton had a hill to climb on that one.
Of course the Republican Party had its part to play in the Primaries. By the time it was down to three candidates it wasn’t hard to detect an ‘anyone but Trump’ desperation with the Republican National Committee.
It has to be said, the strategist who thought up the idea of letting it be known that Rubio was the preferred of the three missed the flaw in that idea. Rubio had largely managed to stick on the ballot as being both young and anti-establishment: not the outsider that Trump was, but nevertheless he wasn’t an ‘insider’.
Rubio, did to some extent accept the conferred role of first choice for the Republican Party at that stage – it brought much needed funds into the campaign coffers. But in a year where anti-establishment feeling was running high, to publicly embrace a candidate, into the establishment fold, was essentially the kiss of death to Rubio’s campaign.
At this point the RNC options evaporated as far as the Primaries were concerned, or indeed as far as the election was concerned. Perhaps at this point the RNC should have just let Trump blow into the wind, and focus all resources into the Senate, Congress, and key battles elsewhere. Of course you would have to presume Trump was going to lose, and that was what you had thought of his Primary chances…
So off-air, among Republican friends talking freely, what was the view?
Common to everyone was that at the outset of the Republican Primaries no-one believed Trump would be President because no-one believed he would win the nomination. That is an important point, because as it was becoming increasingly clear that Trump was going to be the Republican Presidential Candidate, all bets had to be off as to whether he could take this all the way.
Nor did anyone have anything kind to say about Trump other than he wasn’t Clinton, but that was discussed as a contrast between the devil and the deep blue sea – take your pick on which was which. Discussion on the relative merits of the other candidates took place in the context of being academic. It was going to be a Trump v Clinton Presidential campaign and people were preparing themselves for that eventuality, mostly by doing other things and ignoring the prospect.
Of Clinton, even back in March the word around the Hill was that Clinton wasn’t going to be prosecuted, maybe some around her at some point but perhaps not this side of the election. The frustration, and conversation, around Clinton’s likely nomination was mostly that the likely Republican candidate, Trump, was the least palatable Republican for whom to vote (and that was from a broadly unexceptional choice.
Despite the intervening six months since that visit it seems the Presidential campaign has not managed to get beyond the rhetoric of the Primaries. All the commentator assurances that the appeals to the respective base voters would tack to the centre in the actual Presidential campaign hasn’t happened.
With a few days to go, there is not really any defining (or defined) policy that separates the candidates other than mutual loathing. When one or other enters the White House the only certainty will be that they won because they are not the other one. Either one would enter the White House with a rating with which any previous President in mid-term would be appalled.
Of all that has been written on the Trump v Clinton campaign perhaps the most alarming piece was written in the Economist, which drew attention to the gulf between the Democrat and Republican mainstreams, as represented by the two Vice-Presidential candidates.
Nothing in common. The Trump v Clinton campaign is an amplification of the underlying polarization of American political discourse.
It could be said of most previous Presidents that they entered the White House with a popular mandate. Of the two leading candidates it can only be said that it is unlikely they will enter the White House as popular, or with any particular political mandate.
Amazingly, the campaign has not switched off voters. Indeed sports and ratings for other popular TV has stuttered as news channels have been more watched. This is prime political entertainment. Except this is reality TV with a prize as leader of the biggest, richest, most powerful nation on earth.
There are other candidates in this election. Standing in US polling booth, would you not place the mark for this man – at the very least, he is neither of the other two! He’s been a successful State Governor, as has his running mate.
Socially and economically liberal, in the freedom sense, Johnson/Weld is not the worst choice on offer, and not mainstream. There are worse choices, genuinely and clearly.
thedissenter hasn’t got a vote in this election. So off again to Washington, for the election night and whatever it holds for the Presidency, Senate and all those other elections down to local sheriffs et al.
Live tweeting @thedissenter from the TV room of a home in Maryland, watching election night events unfold with friends. If you don’t have twitter, you can follow the Twitter feed to the right of this page. At this point in time, no idea what is going to happen.