A descent into caricature

Last night’s third and final presidential debate cemented Hillary Clinton’s frontrunner status in an encounter that was depressing to watch for what it said about today’s politics and the likes of Donald Trump.

The headlines in America have focused on his answer refusing to commit to accepting the result. Having lived through Brexit, seen the triumph of the ‘we’ve had enough of experts’ school of campaigning, and the rise of a social media debate on both left and right that has no problem saying black is white, the Republican nominee reached for all the same conspiracy theories, attacks on supposed media bias and the smears of opponents that we are well familiar with.

Clinton had two very strong moments last night. The first was contrasting her thirty years in public service with the last three decades of Trump’s life, pointing out that while she was in the situation room as Osama Bin Laden was killed, he was presenting Celebrity Apprentice.

And the second was precisely getting to him crying foul on whenever he does not get his way, down to his Twitter rants when that very same show did not win an Emmy due to bias in the judges. Now, given Angela Lansbury has been nominated 18 times and never received a single award, I might be willing to accept the last one.

But, of course, the broader conspiracy theory stuff is designed to achieve two things: show that despite being a billionaire property developer from New York, he is not part of the establishment. Second, and more worryingly, it is about motivating some of the more extreme elements of society to get behind his campaign, unleashing forces most campaigns would reject.

There is no doubt Trump has improved across the three debates but he has ultimately been exposed across the 270 minutes of prime time television to the extent that, despite a strong first couple of segments last night, by the end he had almost merged into Alec Baldwin’s Saturday Night Live caricature.

But while Paddy Power may already be paying out on a Clinton victory, her Brooklyn-based campaign team will be determined to ensure there is no complacency and for good reason. Clinton is now in the carrying-a-glass-vase-across-a-polished-floor phase of the campaign. One slip could be fatal. Although Clinton’s poll leads in the battle ground states are consistent, they are often in polls that have a margin of error of as much as four points.

Turnout, as ever, will be crucial. Expect to see repeated messages about how just a few dozen voters not turning out in a bunch of precincts could make all the difference.

Clinton’s campaign team will keep a tight discipline on where the money, surrogates and troops are deployed to ensure she crosses that winning post of 270 electoral votes, hopefully picking up a couple of additional states like Arizona and North Carolina from Obama’s 2012 result.

The advantage for the Democrats is that there are more possible routes to that victory line. For Trump, he has a few must-win states like Florida or Ohio that if he is not picking those up, there is no viable path to the White House.

Optimistically, this is where the lack of ground game from the Trump and his reliance on a Republican machine that is in reality more set up to defend the House and Senate will let him down

Pessimistically, we know that he has no trouble controlling the media megaphone – despite his claims of bias – and the one message he did get the better of Clinton on during the debate was the section on open borders and immigration. His hope is keeping the 2012 Romney voters and adding on those traditional post-industrial states with exactly the same sort of messaging that saw the Leave campaign win over Labour voters in their millions.

One thing last night’s debate confirmed is that he does not really know how to talk to anyone other than angry white men. From his answers on a women’s right to choose and the supreme court through to his only use of Spanish being to say there are a lot of ‘bad hombres’ in the country, Trump is unable to grow his voter pool enough.

In less than three weeks, this will all be over. Voting has already started in many states. Hopefully the result will be one Trump does not like but has to accept. Until then, we have to hope that the political unpredictability of the last two years has not made it all the way to determining the next occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.


This article originally appeared on Progress Online.

It’s not logical, Jim

Sometimes things happen in politics to question one’s very sanity, the rules by which you have always thought things operate. One such moment is Donald Trump’s rise in America.

The night of president Obama’s re-election I wrote for Progress to say that surely now the Republican party would have to realise that there are not enough angry white men to win them the White House and they should probably stop hating women, gays, blacks and Latinos.

This was not exactly a stunning political insight, but one of basic maths. Now was the time for the GOP to moderate their tone on immigration, and stop getting into a core vote strategy on wedge issues such as equal marriage and abortion.

The right is normally far more ruthless about winning power than the left, so even if these were not positions they agreed with, they could at least agree the electoral benefit in moderating their tone to deliver a right wing agenda – much as David Cameron has done in the United Kingdom.

Sometimes political parties decide they want to make a point more than the traditional considerations of how to win an election such as picking a candidate with broad appeal, experience and policies to match.

Today’s Republican party has reached such a place, with the leading candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson, making, by what would be the usual rules of politics, enough gaffes to see them back at their non-political day jobs.

Instead that very lack of experience, of playing by the rules, of campaigning in the traditional way seems to be the wind beneath their wings. GOP activists seem so mad at the current crop of Washington politicians that they are willing to think the unthinkable.

The only time America has selected a president without government or elected office experience it has been a war-winning general as in the case of George Washington, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S Grant or Dwight D Eisenhower.

Logically between now and the conclusion of the primary season Donald Trump will make one insult too many and the Republicans will call on someone like Florida senator Marco Rubio to step forward and take the fight to Hillary Clinton. But as time goes by that moment still has not come despite the Trump gaffeometer being off the scale.

This whole article could be filled with offensive statements from the billionaire property mogul and reality TV star but let’s take just a couple of the most recent ones, namely that following the Paris attacks Muslims should have special ID cards, or that he heard thousands of Muslims cheering the fall of the twin towers – a claim rubbished by both media and politicians.

Voters are picking Trump because he is not the traditional political candidate, and moderate politics is failing to meet the challenge. Trump can promise to expel 11 million illegal immigrants, and questions of cost and practicality are irrelevant to those who are voting for him.

The establishment choice to beat Trump, Jeb Bush, the son and brother of the 41st and 43rd president has certainly failed to meet the challenge. The nature of primary politics is yet again skewing the field but even that fails to excuse the failure of the moderates on the GOP side.

The Democrats also flirted with the traditional left debate of principles versus power, but they at least seem to have come down on the side that thinks winning elections is better than losing them. True, Hillary Clinton is no shoo-in. No party has held the White House for three terms since world war two, other than Bush Sr in 1988.

But deep down, Democrats know that Hillary Clinton has the best chance of keeping the Oval Office in their hands and recognise that whatever their desire for the Vermont senator to be a credible general election candidate, he just isn’t.

The primary process means that Bernie Sanders could still chalk up early wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, where a combination of the process and his local appeal could provide a couple of bumps in the road for Clinton. But what this requires is for Team Hillary to hold their nerve and know that as the race goes on they will prevail.

So what if? What if the Republicans really do end up picking Donald Trump as their nominee? Surely, logic dictates he cannot win, that Hillary Clinton will be able to build a coalition of mainstream and minority interests to win the White House. But whoever said politics was logical.


This article originally appeared on Progress Online.