Previewing the US 2016 primaries

Tim de Gier
4 min readJan 31, 2016
Jasper Johns. Flag. 1954.

This is a ridiculous race for the primary elections: very funny and exciting, but also terribly stupid. The US democracy is drunk and needs a good night sleep, but it doesn’t get any. I guess it’s fun while it lasts?

I like being an outsider in all this. In my small town of Cambridge in New England, it’s dark early, and then it’s a thrill to watch the debates, pour myself a cup of tea and follow the wildfire of jokes on twitter. Maybe this is what Entertainment Industrial Complex means. The candidates are competing for the headlines and the funniest one wins. The distance between campaigning and the real world has never been bigger.
And it’s comforting that I can turn off the debate halfway and do something else, because damn, this is too much and too long.
The US elections need two things, and quickly please: limit the campaign budgets and limit the whole thing to six months.

This is what I predict will happen: Hillary and Trump will run and Hillary will quite easily be president, despite media efforts to make it a close game.

Now let’s quickly go over the candidates.

Hillary Clinton
In this race, HRC is a league on her own. She’s better, more experienced and more electable than any other candidate. But nobody knows what she really wants.
There were debates and interviews where Hillary just nailed it. She is a great speaker and terribly smart, something you want from a politician. But she also comes from the empire of bankers and consultants and she can’t seem to shake that image. She’s better than you and if you hate that, what reason do you have to vote on her? Nobody’s really sure.
Though I’ll offer one: same sex marriage.

Bernie Sanders
This old man with grey curls attracts a huge majority of the voters under 35, that say they #feelthebern. Sanders is anti-Wallstreet, anti-millionaires and calls himself bluntly a socialist. It’s a clear image: Bernie Sanders is the candidate of the political left.
He’s the candidate that rose from Occupy and Indignados sentiments, a movement that’s been wildly underestimated by the press. Commentators called him unelectable and crazy and superweird, but he’s as electable as Syriza, HDP and Podemos. He has some funny edges though. What does he think of gun-control? What does he want with foreign policy? This is not entirely clear.

Ted Cruz
Everyone seems to hate Ted Cruz. Did you see the rant of his former roommate? It’s not the only rant against Cruz. People say he’s quite terrible.
I don’t think he stands any chance. He’s basically functioning as the guy that’s not Donald Trump. But in terms of issues, he’s basically the same as Trump. Just as anti-immigrant, just as militaristic, just not as funny.
Poor Cruz. Now I feel sorry for him.

Donald Trump
The concept of a populist xenophobe seems to be new to the United States, but everyone in Western Europe by now has gotten used to this phenomenon. He joined the angry white mob of Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Philip de Winter, Sylvio Berluconi, UKIP and Pegida. There must be a playbook somewhere, because Trump is following all its rules.
The typical moment came during one of the debates, when all the republican candidates said: we understand why the American people are angry (at muslims). Then Trump said: well, ‘I’ am angry at muslims.
That’s the difference. Trump is super direct and speaks the language of the little devil on your right shoulder. And also: he has a sense of humor that makes him invincible.
But Trump won’t beat Hillary. He looks too much like our crazy uncle.

Marco Rubio
Rubio is the joker the Republicans hope to play when Trump is having difficulties. Rubio is probably having a better chance against Hillary, because he’s a little more moderate and for a change doesn’t look like a villain.
The crowds are currently cheering at his rallies and the super PACs are moving their money to his camp, as if he’s the last hope for mankind. But the main risk is that Rubio is just as crazy as the others, but just less funny and direct.
The narrative is in his favor though. His polling results are so low that for this guy, it’s only uphill from here when voting begins.

Next Friday I’ll take the bus to New Hampshire, to look at the candidates getting ready for the first real primary elections. Chances are that by then the media has pulled Rubio back in the race and that they’re saying that Bernie is now really really really close to Hillary. This is a million dollar business, the polls need to keep moving. But we’ll have to wait until super Tuesday, to separate hype from what’s really happening.

Write it in on your calendar: Tuesday, march 1. See you then.



Tim de Gier

Nieman Fellow at Harvard | Vrij Nederland Magazine | Literaturfest