Republicans must learn from the Tories – don’t wage war on your own nation
Published by the i paper (16th October, 2016)
A few days ago I bumped into someone who knows Donald Trump. Inevitably, the conversation turned to the arrogant billionaire who is, incredibly, just one step from the White House. ‘So, is he as bad as he looks?’ I asked rather hopefully. ‘He’s worse, much worse,’ came the instant reply – before adding that at the start of the campaign Trump bragged to him that a tilt at the presidency would increase speaking fees.
Who knows if that was the real reason he ran? Certainly few people at that time took him seriously. But Trump tapped into a sense of dislocation among angry white Americans, propelling a reality television star to the Republican nomination despite revolting bigotry and a cavalier approach to truth.Now the property baron stands snarling on the threshold of power in the planet’s most influential nation, his frightening naivety on international issues symbolised by sympathy for an ultra-nationalist Russian president.
It would be disaster if this repellent man is elected President next month, not least for Europe, given his readiness to rip apart the Nato alliance regardless of Russian expansionism. Although it’s hard to trust polls these days, the latest batch indicate Hillary Clinton has taken a significant lead following the barrage of sexual misconduct claims against Trump. He is only four points ahead in deep red Texas and his team is pulling resources from Virginia, won by every Republican elected president for almost a century.
We must hope this is a sign Trump’s crass campaign is going down in flames, although there can be few certainties in such febrile times. Crude racism did not stop his campaign, let alone cruel disdain for disabled people, but abuse of women might finally stall this populist bandwagon. Yet the danger does not pass, even if he is soon back on the speaking circuit only displaying his bigotry to those stupid enough to pay big money to hear his misanthropic words. Already he claims an establishment conspiracy is demolishing his candidacy.
These are dangerous words in the current climate, especially when Clinton is such a third-rate alternative, social media such a disruptive force and so many Americans contemptuous of their political masters. Clinton is a polarising figure, whose victory would fuel the fury of many voters backing Trump, watching American Dreams fade into the distance from devastated communities.
Some two-thirds of Americans do not trust her. She embodies much that is wrong with Washington, from recent deceptions over emails through to dirty tricks by her team when running last time against Barack Obama. She says one thing giving highly-paid speeches to bankers, another seeking support from ordinary people. If a president’s wife must become the first woman to win the White House, shame it is not the majestic Michelle Obama who lacerated Trump with such passion and precision.
Could there be a worse pair of candidates to offer US voters in their fragile, flawed and money-drenched democracy? But if Trump loses, the Republicans will be especially damaged after association with his hate-fuelled nativism. Few senior figures in the GOP emerge with dignity from the party’s flirtation with this strutting egomaniac. If only more had shown the moral clarity of their last White House challenger Mitt Romney, who back in March said ‘dishonesty is Donald Trump’s hallmark’ as he drew attention to ‘the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics’.
Ignore those who have finally broken cover to criticise their candidate after recent groping claims, for they placed pragmatism before decency until now and the damage is done to their cause. Even if Trump wins, many voters so essential to their party’s future will rightly recoil from the brand after the Republicans stood by a man showing such contempt to so many voters including women, minorities and people with disabilities.
It is not just obvious targets of his bile, such as Hispanics and Muslims, being lost. Take Asian-Americans, long seen as among the most conservative groups in the country with highest average incomes, highest rate of college graduation and lowest rates of divorce. They are also the fastest-growing racial group in the US. Two decades ago, fewer than one in three voted Democrat. Yet a recent survey found them four times more likely to endorse Clinton over Trump, continuing a steady drift away from the party that should be their natural home.
The Republicans are testing to destruction the hard-right theory that economic frustration and racial resentments of the white middle-class can win national elections. Just like fellow conservatives in Britain, the party must recognise their nation has changed. Under three different leaders, most notably the dismal Iain Duncan Smith, the Tories in Britain sought to ignore a rapidly shifting demographic and electoral realities. Only when the likes of David Cameron and Theresa May saw the urgent need to appeal to women and ethnic minorities did they win power again. And having tackled the roughest edges of the nasty party and returned to government, they left traditional rivals flailing around in their wake.
Trump is merely the most depressing exponent of this outdated creed, shrouded in all manner of personal issues that underscore his unsuitability for highest office. Hopefully this corrosive contest finally proves to Republicans the stupidity of waging war on large chunks of your own nation. Yet while the idea of Trump as president remains terrifying, the tragedy for America is that its saviour is a candidate such as Hillary Clinton who may only inflame the wounds of the world’s most crucial democracy.