Trump’s winning strategy
Donald Trump has been elected as the 45th President of the United States, sweeping the Electoral College and getting over the 270 mark despite every bit of the establishment being against him. Trump won fewer votes than both Hillary Clinton, his opponent, and Mitt Romney, his predecessor as Republican nominee, but none of that matters in the Electoral College as Trump swept the board. The purpose of this article is to explain why this took place, how Trump both captivated and split America. Can he Make America Great Again? It focuses firstly on the 2012 presidential election and the failure of Romney and how this influenced the Republican grassroots’ thinking in general before Trump’s firebrand style ruined his rivals. It goes on to explain the Clinton problem for the Democrats, how polling thus was skewed before finally looking at the final result.
Back in 2012, the Republican grassroots had chosen Romney, a businessman, suave and intelligent and above all seen as a marketable politician. They chose who they were expected to choose – the Republican establishment man. Yet he failed to win and instead got smashed by Obama. His tax plan was moderate; he was seen as a safe pair of hands and yet the public rejected him. Romney had pandered to the media, flip-flopping and changing course to seek approval but in the end no one knew what he stood for and the electoral coalition that propelled Obama to power came out once more to vote for him. The black vote, young people and traditional Democrats, all enthused and engaged, came out once more to vote for Obama. On the other hand, Romney couldn’t build a coalition that really wanted to get out and vote for him.
So, three years later, in front of the Republican grassroots was a man unafraid of what the media thought of him. Trump was the wrecking ball of the contest, the strong leader capable of hitting his enemies into the dirt and making mincemeat of an establishment Republican. He was the anti-Romney; he was the brash businessman who just said what they wanted to hear. He stood out and made the narrative about him, talking about immigration and not being afraid of being called a racist, talking about jobs going overseas and speaking to the left-behind white vote. The big ideas came next – The Wall, rewriting trade deals… “Make America Great Again”. He sold his ideas to those longing for someone who would fix things. The grassroots felt rebellious and wanted a change, and this was encouraged by a media establishment that wanted Clinton to have the easiest path to victory. Trump looked to them so beatable so they merely gave him more airtime and encouraged him, but his strategy of knocking his opponents down was all about branding.
He turned on his opponents and attached names to them. Whether it was “Lyin’ Ted” or “Little Marco”, it became a new way of deriding his opponents and labelling them negatively. That negative association manifested itself in how the grassroots thought about each of them and, all of a sudden, images and caricatures of his Republican rivals became stuck in the grassroots’ mind. Trump had made himself the brand – the winner – and everyone else was a negative choice so he was the only one left. He turned this on Hillary and the label “Crooked Hilary” began to spill into the mind of the mainstream voter. So now, after winning the nomination, he had enthused his base with slogans and provided big policy ideas that made those of his opponent pale into insignificance. With his “Make America Great Again” pitch, he had voters’ blood pumping and an energised base to work with and this is where Clinton came into play.
Hillary Clinton was the worst person the Democrats could have nominated. The DNC effectively torpedoed the real energy on the left, contained in the Bernie Sanders’ campaign, in favour of the ‘right establishment choice’. Why was she so bad? Well, let’s start with The Clinton Foundation. Officially is a charity, it was labelled by some of her opponents as a criminal organisation that allegedly trades cash for influence with donors, many of whom were international. She was subject to an FBI investigation after using a private server to store emails, deleting many of them before they could be fully investigated. In short she stunk of corruption. She also had a terrible record, whether it was her foreign policy on ISIS or her actions in Benghazi, where a number of American citizens died. She had stumbled over the finish line against Bernie Sanders and she knew it. No campaign strategy seemed to work, the “woman card” backfired, her focus on experience was easily dismantled. The DNC didn’t know what to do. So they did the one thing the Democrats had done to Romney that had caused him to constantly change position: label Trump a racist, sexist homophobe who hates poor people. This time, though, it wasn’t to work. He didn’t change his flagship policies as Romney had and he started ripping into her record and history. Trump had his core vote now but the aim was not to garner more, merely ensure the same coalition that propelled Obama to power would not vote for her. His voters were pumped and going to vote for him.
Well, according to the polling, it seemed that Clinton would succeed. She was ahead throughout in most of the swing states and maintained a solid lead in the national polls. People were not telling the pollsters that they were voting for Trump. So why was it that he won despite this? Well, you have to understand a little bit about polling in America. Rather than simply asking the voter whom they were voting for first, they would ask a series of questions, such as did they think Clinton had enough experience to be President; or was it acceptable for Trump to make such derogatory comments about women. After asking around five of these questions, they would then ask whom they were voting for. But by asking the series of questions first, the voter was led to answer the question in a manner in which they otherwise would not have. Along with this skewing, there were many communities in which the hatred for Trump was so strong that people felt afraid to tell pollsters the truth for fear of reprisal. Faced with such a climate of fear, it was much easier to lie.
On Election Day, Clinton was not being able to get her vote out. She had a strong lead amongst black and younger voters, yet Trump managed to hold a sizeable advantage among white working-class people across the rust belt. Obama had inspired people to go out and vote for him because they identified with him and genuinely felt a sense of connection. Burdened with all her problems, Clinton didn’t have that attraction in the states she needed to win. For the past few weeks of the campaign, Trump had gone on the offensive, attacking her constantly over her emails and accusing her of corruption. The attacks seemed to discourage voters from going to the polls for her. Furthermore, Trump had an energised base from his campaign – one that would walk through fire to vote for their man. His strategy had paid off.
Many experts never saw this coming and this election will be looked at for decades to come, as people ask how Donald Trump managed to win against all the odds. Trump faces an uphill struggle to win a second term because his next opponent will be a much tougher challenge, so he needs to get off to a good start and assemble a good team around him. He’ll have to rely on Mike Pence and those around him to help him succeed, owing to his lack of political experience. Whether he can Make America Great Again remains to be seen, but to achieve this he will need excellent GDP growth as well as improving trust and cohesion in society. That said, he has every tool at his disposal: his party control both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and he also has a Supreme Court Judge to nominate. He has no excuses for failure.
by Tarquin Pritchard, UCLU Conservative Society Social Secretary, 2016-17
Trump isn’t the answer – but there is a question
After Donald Trump’s victory, there was no atmosphere of congratulations and reconciliation: there were riots and talk of abolishing the Electoral College to reverse the result. The issue is that, had Hillary Clinton won, there would have been riots – and talk of a rigged election – all the same. America is a divided country and its political system is ripe for change. Although Trump sounds like the answer, he is not the man to heal America.
The political polarization in America is caused by a profound tension and division that permeates all of American society – along racial, socio-economic and religious lines. This is the fundamental issue that dominated the election cycle: from economic inequality to Mexican immigrants to Black Lives Matter, America today is – or is perceived by its electorate to be – in a state of deep crisis as every stratum of society finds itself in diametrical opposition to (at least) one other.
The two candidates, too, represented two extreme ends of a spectrum: Clinton was a typical establishment candidate of caricatural proportions who failed to inspire – a verdict of “more of the same” is certainly fair. Trump, on the other hand, was the ultimate anti-politician, who, in what is hoped to be a relentless assault on the status quo, is supposed to bring positive change.
The deep divisions in American society are thus reflected in the developments in the political arena: people feel alienated, frustrated and betrayed by their politicians. In a genuine democracy, the interests and sentiments of the people at large are shared by the politicians they elect. America is a divided nation and it is dangerously susceptible to talk of its weakness and the need for an outsider to effect change; hence, Trump’s election should not come unexpected.
However expected it should have been and however uncharismatic a candidate Clinton was, Trump is the opposite of what America needs. America, ultimately, is a society that needs healing and reconciliation, but a quick glance at his proposed policies show he will achieve the opposite.
In the realm of economics, where inequality of income and opportunity continues to rise and the rich have disproportionate control over both the economic and political systems, a Trump government will cut taxes for the rich – a measure, historically, unlikely to provide a tangible stimulus – and impose trade protection that will hurt the poor more than anyone. While Clinton’s tax plan, for example, is questionable, she would not coldly ignore the plight of the working class (those whom Trump claims to stand up for) and side with the rich the way Trump, the billionaire, will.
Social tension is another major area where Trump is likely to do irreparable damage: his comments on the deportation of countless immigrants and banning Muslims from entering the country, his talk of “law and order” – exactly the term associated with the mass incarceration of black people – and his flagship policy of building a wall along the Mexican border, when there is already border control in place that serves that purpose, are not only impractical plans that show how removed from reality Trump is, but they also fuel rising tensions, since siding with Trump is equated to agreeing with all of his ridiculous plans and ugly underlying sentiment. Whether this judgment is fair is a different story – the point is that Trump’s very rhetoric, let alone the implementation of his plans, exacerbate existing divisions more than healing them.
It speaks for Clinton that, for all her flaws, she acknowledges the issues of racial, economic and social tensions. That is the start of the discussion, and a breakdown of the election results – ethnic minorities, for example, overwhelmingly voted for her – corroborates that she was onto something when she advocated restoring trust between the people and the police, helping the poor fiscally or repairing broken communities.
In conclusion: America is undoubtedly divided, if not in social crisis, and the candidacy of Clinton and Trump, two extremes, reflect that. Many individual issues and the diametrically opposed narratives around them can be traced back to this fundamental divide, which constitutes the chief question America must face for decades to come. Taking a broader perspective, a self-described incrementalist like Clinton would have made little difference, but at least she acknowledged the issues and proposed constructive policies. On the other hand, Trump’s election is a disaster: while he is a man for drastic change, and his election thus appears to be the answer to the question, it is the wrong kind of change. His policies are not only unpractical; their implementation will deepen the divide and do damage that cannot be undone. In a nutshell, Clinton was no charismatic leader or earth-shattering ideologue – but her election would have been a genuine sign that America was ready to be healed. Trump’s election shows the opposite. If anything, one must hope that his presidency will show the world the dangers of divisive, irrational and populist politics – that is the sole glimmer of hope in political darkness as the world enters the Trump era.
by Maurits Westbroek, UCLU Campaigns and Liaison Officer 2016-17