The 2016 US Presidential election moved to the next phase this month with two conventions that riveted the nation’s attention. The first was the Republican convention in Cleveland, Ohio, where Donald Trump, as expected, won the nomination as the GOP candidate for President.
The Republican convention was a model in party disunity. Past Presidents George W Bush and George H Bush were no shows. Prominent Republicans like Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Ohio Governor John Kasich were some of the notables who stayed away. Not that it mattered much in real terms since many saw them as spent bullets. But that was not all. In a public show of defiance Ted Cruz, in his address, appealed to delegates for conscience vote and refused to endorse Trump.
On the other hand, the Democratic National Convention was held in the huge Wells Fargo Center in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, where Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination.
The acceptance speeches of the two nominees was indeed instructive. Americans, for all their disdain for politics, were glued to their televisions sets when the two presidential nominees spoke on the last day of their respective conventions. Data published by Nielsen Media Research showed that while almost 28 million viewed Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech, Trump had over 32 million viewers.
The 2016 US Presidential election looks to be all set to go down as one of the very bitterly contested elections. It has clearly facilitated the precipitation of the fundamental differences between the two contestants to the world’s most powerful office. In a subtle, yet powerful narrative, it symbolized the depth of diversity of views and opinions in a great and vibrant democracy. If Clinton came across as a connoisseur in politics, Trump’s acceptance speech had the indelible imprints of a dilettante who spoke from his heart. Clinton’s cultivated grace contrasted Trump’s extempore and often apparent deficient social mores.
Clinton’s speech had all the éclat and sophistication of a Beltway veteran who knew what to say and how to say it. Her attacks on Trump were direct and yet devoid of the crassness that only comes with a lifetime in politics. She was the epitome of political correctness – not missing any voter segment – African American, Latinos, Asian Americans, Muslim Americans and what have you. She also made sure she sounded the right sound bites against Wall street.
Trump, on the other hand, was probably the exact opposite. He came across as someone who had lost his way in the labyrinths of Washington, often repeating himself. His policy prescriptions cul-de-saced in Trump alley. He labored to portray himself as Mr. Know-it-all. His comments on ISIS mirrored his arrogance rather than an informed understanding of international terrorism. Trump’s claim that he knew more about ISIS than the US Army Generals was roundly ridiculed by Clinton.
But that is not to say, Americans did not heed Trump. His forte was more of a man speaking from his heart, a raw naiveté that glaringly outed him as a Washington outsider. That, in the truest sense, seemed to endear him to Americans.
But in a tardy economy where joblessness continued to afflict the middle classes, Trump truly resonated. His projection of himself as a “law and order candidate” was timely and found ready takers in almost every household. From millennials to baby boomers, Americans seemed to be united behind him on this. Rattled by repeated terror related killings at home and abroad, they found solace in Trump’s vocal stand on radical Islamic terror.
If the Republicans were a house divided, the Democrats were not far behind. Behind the veneer of cheer and a carefully crafted image – thanks to slick media management and public relations apparatus- the Democrats sense of desperation was evident. In fact, they sometimes seemed on the verge of collapse – given the scandals, WikiLeaks revelations and continued protests by diehard supporters of Bernie Sanders. Yet the Democrats put a brave face and exuded a confidence that was astonishing.
Wikileaks had released hacked emails just days before the Democratic convention forcing Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairperson, to step down. The emails showed how the DNC abandoned its avowed neutrality and was actively marshaling support for Clinton. The emails also showed that the DNC made derogatory remarks on Sanders and his religious beliefs.
In another stunning revelation by WikiLeaks, a set of emails revealed how a journalist sent in his essays to DNC for vetting prior to submitting to his editor. In a second tranche of revelations, Wikileaks has put out hacked voicemails that have only exacerbated an already burning problem.
Then there was the FBI’s decision not to indict / pursue criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for her “extreme carelessness”. It shocked Americans and heightened a sense of general distrust towards Clinton.
The travails of the Democrats seemed endless. Prominent Americans – Representative Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii and Hollywood star Susan Sarandon – just to name a few – continued to stand firmly by Bernie Sanders and refused to endorse Clinton. This has the potential to develop into a major threat since some pundits have averred that this voter block may swing towards Trump or Dr. Jill Stein of the Green party. In any event it could be a disaster for Clinton.
The Republicans on the other hand had a different set of fires to put out. Donald Trump seemed unable to cash in or take advantage of his opponent’s travails. He did not disappoint Americans as he continued to shoot his mouth off and make thoughtless remarks that may have harmed his campaign. Even diehard fans of Trump were appalled by his invitation to the Russians to hack Clinton’s emails that were wiped clean from the private server. Many pundits felt that he had crossed yet another red line in American election etiquette.
Like Jack’s Beanstalk, Clinton’s laundry list of troubles seemed endless and refuses to stop growing. The party could take no comfort from the fact that despite her excellent acceptance speech and a monster war chest to back, Trump and Clinton were almost tied in the polls. Clinton continued to be perceived as not trust worthy by Americans. With so many issues to resolve, the Clinton campaign seemed to be on the back foot, unable to derive any advantage over Trump. On the contrary, Trump has quickly closed the gap and may have a small lead in the polls. This may be the beginning of a Clinton campaign slide back.
After eight years of Obama-ennui, Americans are itching for a change. One highly respected pollster using sophisticated analytics has said that his models point to Donald Trump as the potential winner in the 2016 US Presidential election. Regardless of what the pundits think, this election will certainly not be yet another boring election.