Horror at Don, but he is trumping critics

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

This opinion piece was published in the Hutt News on 12th April 2016. Chris is currently in the US as part of the US State Department sponsored International Leadership Programme.

As I wandered down Pennsylvania Ave from the Capitol to the White House, I found myself staring at a massive “TRUMP – Coming soon 2016” sign in front of some building work.

Was this a large ad for the inevitable Trump Presidency, right in the heart of the US capital?

No. It was a sign that Donald Trump’s eponymous company was building a hotel on the site.

And of course it was simultaneously a political advertisement for Trump as well.

The sign symbolised much of why Donald Trump is close to becoming the Republican nominee for President – something scoffed at by almost every commentator until people started voting in the primaries, and he started amassing victories.

Trump is a businessman who symbolises, in his own muscular and albeit vulgar way, the American dream – someone who will “Make America Great Again” – a potent pitch to an electorate that feels, rightly or wrongly, that American soft and hard power is on the wane.

With the Trump Corporation he gets free advertising; with outlandish remarks he gets free media (one study said he’s already received $2 billion of free advertising); and with his denunciation of political elites, he enrages the Establishment and enthrals the Republican base.

The “threat of Trump” is all anyone in the US is talking about at the moment.

In just the past few days I’ve been here, he has suggested that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who get abortions, posited doing away with the Geneva Conventions that protect prisoners of war, refused to condemn or fire his campaign manager who is accused of manhandling a reporter, and refused to “take off the table” the option of using nuclear weapons in Europe.

His earlier comments about building a “wall” along the border with Mexico (and getting Mexico to pay for it) and banning Muslims from entering the United States have been well reported.

It’s clear that within the political establishment here in the US, there is extreme unease and distaste at the prospect of Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination. Everyone I’ve talked to since I’ve been here is generally horrified by the prospect.

But I’ve just been in Washington DC so far – a place that feels like a foreign country to many Americans, a feeling that Trump has so cleverly exploited. Soon we’re off to Denver, Dallas and Chicago. I’m looking forward to talking to folk there about this fascinating time in American politics.

So, will he win? He may win the Republican nomination (although there are serious moves afoot to stop that happening), but it’s hard to see him winning the Presidency in November. He’d probably win all the safe Republican states but he will find it hard to win the key swing states. That’s because of his appalling numbers with key demographics: three-quarters of women view him unfavourably; along with two-thirds of independents; 80% of young adults; and 85% of Hispanics. In almost every poll that matches him against Hilary Clinton – he loses, badly. If selected, he would be the most unpopular major party nominee since surveys began.

So the conventional wisdom is if he makes it to November as the Republican nominee; he’ll get thrashed. But nobody said he’d get to where he is now; so who knows?