Trump Surge Will Begin at the Debates
Once memories fade over Trump’s missteps and mistakes post convention — and due to the nature of the news cycle they already have — there is a real chance of him catching up with and surpassing Clinton off the back of strong debate performances. After the Republican convention he got a 6% bounce; the debates offer him three opportunities to do so again.
This is where Roger Ailes, of Fox News fame, and Stephen Bannon of Breitbart Media come in. Reports suggest that Ailes is, at the very least, prepping Trump for the debates. He may also be an unofficial adviser. Considering his success over the last 20 years his ability to help Trump should not be underestimated.
Nor should the new campaign CEO Bannon, who ‘seems to have a near three-dimensional chess-style mastery of that [right-wing] audience’. Bannon has the ability to foster a community built on and fuelled by anger. If anyone is able to capture the imagination of the angry, disillusioned and left-behind masses across the rust belt and beyond, and direct it towards voting for Trump it’s going to be him.
Moreover, to think that Trump won’t be able to hammer Clinton over NAFTA, her emails, the Clinton Foundation, Bill’s 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, his 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, his 1999 repeal of Glass — Steagall via the Financial Services Modernization Act is a mistake. All he has to do, in this era of anti-establishment rebellion, is effectively link Clinton to the failed policies of the last 30 years and highlight her position as the establishment candidate. Furthermore, his anti-globalisation stance and attacks on the Trans Pacific Partnership, highlighting Clinton’s support for it, have the potential to yield gains. It then falls on Bannon to attract sufficient numbers of non-whites that feel the same way.
Again, this will be an uphill battle, but as Ken Stern points out, Breitbart played its part in encouraging the populist elements of the British leave campaign. They’ll need to move away from race and implement an effective strategy that draws a link between globalisation, trade deals and inequality and economic struggle.
African Americans make up 37% of Mississippi, 32% of Louisiana, 31% of Georgia, 26% of Alabama and 21% of North Carolina. However, the poor relationship between the Republican party and African American voters has not resulted in deep red states voting blue for quite some time. Furthermore, the Cuban and Puerto Rican dominated Florida may limit negative repercussions of Trump’s anti-Mexican comments.
If the media were to stop talking about Ailes’ presence as a sign that Trump plans to set up a Fox News-esque media company they might realise that Ailes and Bannon have the potential to do for Trump what Karl Rove did for Bush Jr. If he can appear somewhat polished, presidential and respectable, combined with his ability to entertain and engage a crowd, he can cause serious damage to Clinton.
His performances during the primary debates show that Trump knows what he needs to do — he went after his rivals one by one, first demolishing Jeb before turning his attention to Rubio and Cruz. Trump’s strategy will, therefore, involve demolishing Clinton and attacking globalisation. Clinton’s difficulty will stem from the near impossible task of preparing for a debate with someone like Donald Trump.
Even worse, Hillary is not Bill or Obama. On account of her bookworm, policy wonk nature and lack of charisma and (perceived) authenticity, she is closer to Al Gore. To make things even worse, she struggled at times against Sanders, coming across as inauthentic and robotic, even though Sanders was not as aggressive as his supporters and aides had wanted him to be. Trump won’t make the same mistake.
The election will boil down to personality — the individual that is the centre of attention is the one that loses. Clearly, his post-convention disasters have meant that Trump has been the centre of attention throughout July and August. If he can, with the help of Ailes, turn it around on Clinton and her record, forcing her on the defensive he may well stand a good chance of winning.
Personally, I’m inclined to believe Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges when he refers to this era as the ‘interregnum’ — the period of collapse of a discredited regime that has yet to be replaced by a new order. Clearly the zeitgeist and overton window have shifted — whether it’s the rejection of neoliberal New Labour, Donald Trump’s primary win or Bernie Sanders’ strong showing against Clinton. People are rejecting the present order and are more willing to listen to a 1980s style socialist, an American social democrat or a right-wing populist. The third way of Clinton and Blair is finished. Even if Trump loses, the rebellion against the establishment and neoliberal order will continue on both left and right.
I am predicting a Trump victory, but it is far from certain. I could easily end up with egg on my face. The outcome will rest on whether Trump gets a boost from the debates and whether he can successfully link Clinton to this old order that has failed, in turn mobilising and exciting more voters. At the same time, sufficient numbers of left wingers have to be disillusioned enough not to vote, while others need to believe a Clinton win is a virtual certainty.
Right wingers are clearly enthused, progressives are disillusioned and the centre is not keen on either one of them. Democrats seem increasingly confident, but they shouldn’t be. Trump’s path to victory rests on the overconfidence of Democrats and lower than expected turnout. For all of his mistakes, he’s still not out of the game — this is perhaps the most interesting and scariest aspect to it all. After all the racism and traditional campaign mistakes Clinton should be destroying him. The election should already be over. And yet it’s not; it might be time to take him seriously. The United States has a history of electing men into the White House that really had no business being there — Reagan and Bush Jr. In an increasingly unconventional and unpredictable world, it might be time for a third.