Politics, World

US 2016: The Morning After After the Morning After – New York state of mind

US 2016: The Morning After After the Morning After – New York state of mind

The New York primary is history and Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both gained blow-out victories over their intra-party opponents. J. BROOKS SPECTOR shifts gears away from the primary and looks ahead.

Well, okay, then. Donald Trump had a convincing victory last night, but then, so did Hillary Clinton. What does it all mean and where are things going, in the days ahead, following the New York Republican and Democratic presidential candidate primary voting?

For starters, following the New York results, Hillary Clinton is now very close to clinching her party’s nomination, even as it is still more than two months before the end of the primary season, and well before the Democratic Party national nominating convention in Philadelphia, at the end of July. And, in fact, she is actually ahead of the pace of gaining delegates that Barack Obama had set in his first (and blazingly successful) run for the White House in 2008, versus Clinton.

Her less than salutary polling results over whether voters fully “trust” her remain problematic for her and her campaign, however.

Next week’s primaries – Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware – should, however, play to many of Clinton’s strengths, such as significant minority populations and populations of white voters older than the national average. If she gains victories in most of those state primary votes, the magic number to clinch the number of delegates committed to her for a win might well put the nomination virtually within her reach by 27 April. Waiting in the wings are still big primaries in Indiana, New Jersey and California – with the latter two coming at the end of the primary season on 7 June.

At this point in the Democratic contest, it was already clear in Hillary Clinton’s victory speech, after the results from the New York primary were in, that she has started the reach-across to her intra-party opponent. This represented an effort to reclaim a kind of party amity and common purpose, despite the bickering in the debates and the increasingly harsh words between them over the past several weeks. For Sanders, although he, his surrogates and his spokespeople still insist he is in it for the long haul, right to the vote on the floor of the convention in Philadelphia, the real truth is that in the coming weeks he has a bitter choice to make.

With it almost certain that he will not be the nominee, he could go off, sulking like Achilles in his tent during the Greeks’ siege of Troy, and then, eventually, offer a cold, pro forma endorsement of his opponent that barely qualifies as one. Such an approach would signal to his supporters that they should not be too quick to (and very reluctantly) throw their arms around Clinton as their party’s presidential candidate.

Theoretically, Sanders could even seek out the nomination of a minor party like the Green Party – the Ralph Nader option – and thus stand as a third party candidate, even though such a move might lead to the defeat of the Clinton candidacy at the hands of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or Mr X, though he would have not much time to gather enough signatures to feature in all 50 states.

Or (and most likely, ultimately), he can still insist his struggle for greater income equality, free tuition at public universities, a single payer national health care plan, the breaking up of all those evil banks and the reining in of all those other nefarious Wall Street entities, represents a long-term set of goals that must be part of the DNA of the Democratic Party. While Clinton is not the perfect choice on all those goals, he could say, yes, she is eminently “qualified” to be the next president, and that she should be supported by all his followers – just as he will do at the convention and then in the general election campaign trail as well.

The challenge for the Clinton campaign forces would be to figure out, somehow, how to tap into the remaining enthusiasm of Sanders’ youthful army – and keep them from sitting out the election entirely. However, the AP was reporting that Clinton’s task might not be as difficult as some are assuming. As the AP wrote just after the primary results were known, “Exit polls suggested Democrats were ready to rally around whomever the party nominates. Nearly seven in 10 Sanders supporters in New York said that they would definitely or probably vote for Clinton if she is the party’s pick.”

Meanwhile, that stunning Donald Trump victory in the New York primary on the Republican side of the ballot has obviously made it that much more likely that he will be the astounding surprise choice as the GOP’s candidate, come November. As numerous commentators have fallen all over themselves to admit over the past several months, just a year or so ago, hardly any of them really expected such a result to happen.

Partly this failed to take on board the importance of that growing anger among some – less than university degree-holding white men – over the ongoing demographic shift in America that is fundamentally transforming the country. For others, it is the economic impact of globalisation that has bled blue-collar, industrial jobs out of the US and on to emerging economies like China, India, and even the nations of Southeast Asia, as well as a shift in the nature of industrial work that has eliminated many such jobs entirely. Moreover, pundits have rather slowly accepted the fact that Trump’s popularity, even as he continues to inhabit a largely fact-free, policy-free zone as far as serious discussion is concerned, comes significantly from his take-no-prisoners verbal style, his mastery of reality television performance, and the impact of his exceptionally effective manipulation of social media in building his political brand.

Meanwhile, this Trump victory has now made the strategic choices for Ted Cruz and John Kasich that much more problematic – just as it has already done possibly terminal damage to the Republican establishment’s stealth plan. This was to somehow force a contested, open convention that slowly but surely bled away support for Trump on the floor of the convention so that by a second, a third or a fourth ballot some more appropriate figure was finally nominated.

The problem with this is that the GOP establishment’s grip on the nominating process has been increasingly exposed for the powerless chimera that it now seems to be. Imagine, for example, the GOP elders in the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and her comrades stand before that vast, frightful apparition of the Wizard; that is, until her dog, Toto, runs across the floor, pulls at the curtain and exposes the Wizard as just another old man without real power to do anything. Thus, too, it is with the Republican establishment. Their once-favoured candidates such as Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio have all fallen away and they – whoever the establishment is, really, besides Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham, John McCain, Mitt Romney, the Republican National Committee (RNC) staff and their associated contribution bundlers – have been singularly unable to undermine Trump or even to interpose a viable candidate in his path to pull the nomination away from him.

And Donald Trump seems to have realised all of that, along with one other crucial factor. That is the need to reel in the shreds of that establishment over to his side, if for no other reason than they still have a hold on the machinery of gathering in campaign contributions.

It is one thing to have run an insurrectionist campaign during the primaries that relies on an unending free media exposure by television networks mesmerised by The Donald. But it is entirely another thing to fund a national general election campaign. And so, Trump must embrace the RNC fund-raising machine after all, even if he, Trump, has been working overtime overthrowing politics as usual, and leading all those disaffected, burly men bearing those metaphorical pitchforks off on his crusade. As a result, the Trump campaign has begun to sign on a clutch of experienced hands, wise to the ways of running more usual campaigns. And, even in his rhetoric, Trump has made some important linguistic shifts from the likes of “Lyin’ Ted” to “Senator Cruz”, almost without audibly grinding any gears.

Going forward, the Trump challenges are basically two. The first, of course, is to continue to make yet further wins in the remaining primaries such that he either crosses the threshold to 50% + 1 delegates by the time of the convention, or comes close enough that he can make the case he has effectively won the delegate race. Then it would simply up to a few surly former candidates to release their pledged delegates, and for those he has virtually defeated to accept his victory and surrender forthwith. In doing this, he has that still-half hidden club he has already shown once or twice – that there might even be violence at the convention if he is deprived of his just desserts. The second challenge is to keep up the enthusiasm of his supporters for his general election campaign, even as these are the very people whose emotions he has tapped in his revolt against politics as usual, even as he edges ever closer to the very politics he placed himself in rebellion against.

As the actual campaign for election, beyond the primaries, finally starts to take shape, the battle will come to resemble a competition between what philosopher Isaiah Berlin defined as the contest between the fox and the hedgehog. In Berlin’s explanation – the fox knows many things, while the hedgehog knows only one great thing. The idea, therefore, is that the fox understands there are many paths that lead towards a full stomach, while the hedgehog fully understands that its primary task is to stay uneaten.

In his column on Wednesday morning in The New York Times, David Brooks argued essentially the same thing in a particularly interesting way. As Brooks wrote, “In 2009 the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a fabulous TED talk called The Danger of a Single Story. It was about what happens when complex human beings and situations are reduced to a single narrative: when Africans, for example, are treated solely as pitiably poor, starving victims with flies on their faces.

Her point was that each individual life contains a heterogeneous compilation of stories. If you reduce people to one, you’re taking away their humanity.

American politics has always been prone to single storyism — candidates reducing complex issues to simple fables. This year the problem is acute because Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are the giants of Single Storyism. They reduce pretty much all issues to the same single story: the alien invader story.

Every problem can be solved by finding some corrupt or oppressive group to blame. If America is beset by wage stagnation it’s not because of intricate structural problems. It’s because of the criminal Mexicans sneaking across the border or it’s because of this evil entity called ‘the banks’.”

Broadening out his own metaphor, and effectively tying up with Brooks’ own, new analogy, Berlin had argued that some politicians and thinkers see all kinds of ideas and complexities in front of them while others see everything as motivated by that one great idea.

In this way, Trump is the exemplar of a politician who sees the entire American plight as something motivated by alien forces (or by their domestic tools) – Mexicans, Chinese factory workers, Muslims, et al, standing in a long line, but all bent on the same evil.

Clinton, by contrast, seems to be the example of Berlin’s fox. She sees complexity and interconnecting and intersecting issues. No one silver bullet exists and the incremental approach towards the country’s problems is best, and is, indeed, the only way for progress. As the two square off, this should be interesting, and watch closely for both Clinton and Trump to ramp up their attacks upon each other significantly as the campaign heads ever closer to those nominating conventions in July. DM

Photo: A file combo picture made available on 20 April 2016 shows US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addressing the National Action Network’s national convention in New York, New York, US, on 13 April 2016; and US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking at Trump Building in New York, New York, US, on 3 November 2015. EPA/JUSTIN LANE / ANDREW GOMBERT


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