Why Trump Might Win

Why Trump Might Win

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Michael Vadon
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Michael Vadon

 

With the first debate in the American presidential contest scheduled for next Monday, this is a good a time to take stock of what has already happened in this race and what could be expected in the next in the next six weeks. In short, as the race stands now, it is still Hillary Clinton’s race to lose, but it is far from a foregone conclusion as it looked in the middle of last August. Indeed, a Trump victory is no longer considered impossible and would not be a huge surprise if it did happen. To understand this dramatic turnaround a number of key developments that have taken place in the meantime must be considered.

 

As of the time of this writing (Sept. 24, 2016) Clinton leads Trump by 46% to 43.4% in the realclearpolitics.com poll average and by 41.4% to 39.8% in a 4-way race, which includes the two minor party candidates and is therefore the more realistic of the two. Both of these are well within the margin of error, indicating a very close race. Further evidence of a late GOP surge is provided by the two parties contest for Congress and Senate dominance. During the time when Hillary led Trump by nearly 10 points in July and August, the democratic party had strong hopes that the Clinton momentum on top of the ticket would affect ‘down ballot’ races and bring about democrat victories in the House and Senate races, both of which are currently dominated by the republicans. These hopes have largely evaporated as the House (currently 231 GOP to 189 Dem) is almost certain to remain in GOP hands and the Senate (currently 54 GOP to 46 Dem) likely to do so as well.

 

So what changed? We start with the established fact that both candidates are very well known and, for the most part, disliked and distrusted by a large section of the voting public. Indeed, there has seldom been an American presidential election where both candidates have been so universally disliked. There is considerable truth in the current bon mot that “Hillary is the only democrat Trump could conceivably defeat, while Trump is the only GOP contender that Clinton has a chance against.” Thus, changes of political support at this late stage depend not so much on political advertising, both negative and positive, as they do on perceived policy changes. In this respect, most of the perceived positive change has accrued to Trump, with little or no noticeable change benefiting Clinton.  On the contrary, her continuing trouble with the e-mail scandal, her crude attack on Trump supporters as racists, homophobes and Islamophobes and her newly revealed health problems have, if anything, contributed to more doubts about her fitness to be president.

 

For Trump to attract the support of traditional republicans who distrusted him during the primary season, he had to show them that, as president, he would institute policies that are recognizably republican. This was not at all clear prior to his nomination. He is now consistently doing so and the results have not been late to show. Before that, he needed to make major changes in his campaign staff, that for many traditional republicans was a majorpart of the problem they had with Trump. First and foremost, there was his campaign manager, Paul Manafort. Trump had already done himself a lot of harm among GOP voters by ill-advised statements about Putin and Russia, such as “Putin is a great leader.” Information that Manafort had not only been paid millions to advise Putin’s puppet in Ukraine, Yanukovich, but had also been close to a well-known GRU agent coming out in August was a time-bomb for the campaign. Getting rid of Manafort unceremoniously in mid-August and appointing traditional GOP operatives (Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway) in his stead was thus, a key signal to republicans that change in the right direction was coming.

 

There followed in quick succession a number of policy steps and announcements that together looked very much like a republican agenda. First, came the very astute move to meet with the president of Mexico on his turf. This convinced many that Trump was capable of dealing even with world leaders hostile to his policies. This was followed by a detailed economic plan presented to the Economic Club of New York that laid out a bold agenda of massive tax cuts (corporate tax from 35% to 15%), removal of job-killing regulations and smaller government. To most GOP voters, Trump’s new economic agenda was almost Reaganesque in scope and very welcome. Next, Trump moved to appeal to one part of the republican constituency without which no republican can hope to win a national election in the United States – the “born-again” or evangelical Christians, who make nearly half of GOP voters. Early in the campaign evangelicals were not well-disposed toward him and a March 2016 Pew survey indicated that only 56% of them supported Trump. Trump began regularly appearing in front of evangelical audiences and blasting the mainstream media for being anti-Christian, something that most evangelicals fervently believe. Support for Trump among them began ramping up and most surveys now gauge it to be currently at the 78% level of support received by Romney in 2012.

 

Trump’s sustained attacks on the media, which he regularly calls ‘dishonest’ and ‘disgusting,’ may have also contributed to his growing support. Republican and independent voters generally believe that most American newspapers and television stations are run by leftists that skew the news and are not to be trusted. The latest Gallup survey shows that only 14% of GOP voters and 30% of independents trust the media, as opposed to 51% of democrats.

 

Finally, Trump appears to be making headway even among the most unlikely constituency – African-Americans. A Los Angeles Times/USC ‘Daybreak Poll’ of Sept. 18, shows support for Trump among blacks to have grown from 3.1% to 20.1% in just one week.

 

By Alex Alexiev

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