What a week this has been for the 2016 US Presidential election primaries! The primaries brought to fore some truly unprecedented developments. Senator Bernie Sanders, who many think would not be able to win the Democratic party nomination, continued his strong performance against Hillary Clinton. The size and demography of Bernie’s supporter base – particularly young Americans – is a continued source of worry for Clinton. She may not be able to convince Bernie’s supporters to vote for her instead. Worse, some pollsters have opined that they may vote for Donald Trump.
Speaking of Donald Trump, as expected, he continued to dominate the headlines and spotlight on national TV. He swept Indiana primaries and took home 57 delegates – bringing his overall tally to 1068, just 199 short of the magic number of 1267 delegates required to be declared the party nominee. Trump’s closest rival, Ted Cruz who has the pledged support of 564 delegates, decided to suspend his campaign after Indiana results were out. Governor Kasich, who had played spoiler all along, followed suit and pulled out the next day. Much to the consternation of many entrenched lobbies and groups, Indiana primary results made Donald Trump the presumptive nominee of the Republican party.
But the sweeping wins and massive public support did not seem to impress the GOP or Trump’s detractors. In fact, this saw the start of series of new confrontations and obstacles in his path to nomination. His victory in Indiana seemed to have set off a series of events that only befuddled Americans.
Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, told CNN that Trump, the presumptive nominee, would not have his support. Two living former Republican Presidents – George Bush and George W Bush declared that they will not attend the Republican convention in Cleveland. President Obama, in a very unusual move, openly attacked Trump. On the other hand, Obama appeared to openly support Clinton. For a sitting President to comment on the election, let alone attack a presumptive nominee, is almost bizarre. But how all these will impact the Trump campaign is to be seen.
The electronic and print media lapped this all up and just cheered on. The media has all along been negative to Trump and at every stage had analytically explained the impossibility of Trump’s nomination. That all the pundits have been proved wrong again and again has been quietly buried in the dust and din of the unprecedented developments of the past week.
Abandoning neutrality, the networks seemed to join the bandwagon to highlight the fallout of Trump’s rise. For instance, former President of Mexico, Vicente Fox’s comments on Trump were repeatedly aired. One Cable network even asked Mr. Fox if he would address the Democratic and Republican conventions. Mr. Fox graciously accepted the invite. But none of the media pundits found it cause for concern that the comments of a former head of a sovereign nation amounted to interference in what is seen as a purely internal and domestic affair of the Americans. But anything remotely antagonistic to Trump seemed to be enough to get air time.
Trump’s victory has created deep furrows within the GOP, prompting the New York Times to call it a “hostile takeover” of the Republican Party. Sure, he has angered the Republican establishment with his cavalier attitude and open scorn for its leadership. He has denounced political lobbies and refused their funds. His vocal stand on campaign fund reforms also has earned him powerful enemies in the party.
Trump’s remarks on a host of politically sensitive issues have not helped him either. His comments on Muslim immigrants, immigration reforms may have been thoughtless. But for a majority of Republicans like Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan to take umbrage under these offensive comments smacked of hypocrisy.
But surprisingly, the electorate seems to love Donald Trump for the very same reason the establishment loathes him. The more offensive comments he unloads, the more he seems to be cheered as evidenced by his continued sweep of the primaries. But more importantly, Trump’s stand on bringing back jobs to America has resonated with middle America. Case in point was his open condemnation of air conditioner manufacturer Carrier’s move to close shop in US and move to Mexico has been cheered by millions.
Trump has been ridiculed as a dilettante on policy issues– especially foreign and economic policy. For example, he has advocated cut in US expenditure on NATO. His stand has been roundly condemned but not critically analyzed by pundits on cable TV. The fact remains that since the fall of the Soviet Union, this alliance has been searching for a raison d’etre. Many defense experts and retired Army Generals have in fact privately and publicly aired similar views since long.
Also his pronouncements on Middle East policy – specifically relations with Saudi Arabia – has invited rile of policy honchos. Truth is that many privately agree it is time to revamp America’s policy in the Gulf. In fact, President Obama’s initiatives of opening up with Iran, are set to achieve a “rebalancing” of the power equation in the region that will have implications for that region for years to come.
On economic policy, Trump has been critical of the proposed Trans-Atlantic Partnership treaty as unhelpful to America since it may take away domestic jobs. To be fair, many economists and writers from across the globe have raised fears of such a trade construct that would only benefit MNCs. It is interesting to note that even Hillary Clinton, who was neutral to these issues has now adopted Trump’s views on new trade agreements.
It is of course anybody’s guess as to what would be a correct policy stand on these issues. But what is glaringly obvious to lay Americans this election season is the lack of objectivity and a balanced critique of each of the candidate’s stand on these issues. Watching the election cycle play out over the course of the year, a neutral observer cannot miss the partisan punditry out at play to denounce whatever Donald Trump stands for. It is, probably, for these reasons that he seems to have endeared himself to middle America, who also feel equally estranged by politicians, big business and the shenanigans of Wall Street. The more the media ridicules Trump, the more support he seems to garner and win more primaries.
That Donald Trump is now the presumptive nominee has galled many a section of the established power centers. The unprecedented events recalled above are symptomatic of this irritation.
Trump’s rise has serious implications for the electoral fortunes of Hillary Clinton. On the one hand, Senator Bernie Sanders performance has been unprecedented in that he has a very strong and loyal following. He has repeatedly refused to quit till the end and vowed to continue to fight Clinton till the Democratic convention. But more important is Clinton’s response to Trump. Will she be able to handle his bag of tricks and offensive campaign? Will the millennials who are with Sanders now, swing to Trump’s side?
Confronted by all-round animosity – from high visibility media to high profile politicians – Trump faces an unparalleled confrontational setting. His inflammatory campaign style and often thoughtless repartees have only helped his antagonists who are ever ready to pluck at his words inflame the situation. However, this does not make candidate Trump a disaster for America. As a rookie politician, he has a long and steep learning curve before he can emerge “Presidential”. But the road is not exactly a bed of roses for the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton either.
While the GOP is all set to hit the reset button, Trump’s emergence has created a defining moment in contemporary American politics. Even President Ronald Reagan was dubbed as a disaster by the very same Republicans who now swear by him. Dismissing Trump as a flash in the pan will be a serious mistake for the GOP as well as the Clinton campaign. Clearly the disconnect of politicians with public mood is larger and deeper than many would have imagined. Bottom line is, Americans are thinking differently this election cycle. They are desperately seeking to be heard this time around.