Disclaimer: Trump Strikes Back was written before the US Presidential Election on 8 November 2016. Please see The Threat to Peace for musings on the election's result.
He was mostly ignored until the party debates began in November 2015. Few people in the Grand Old Party ever thought he could win. A reality TV show star? No, it was definitely going to be Jeb Bush. Perhaps Marco Rubio or another moderate would win, at a stretch. Yes, Donald Trump was polling highly throughout November and December, gaining support after every debate, but it seemed that there was no way in which such a controversial candidate would ever win.
It was a rude awakening when Donald Trump won the New Hampshire primary with 35% of the vote. Then came South Carolina, Nevada, and another seven of the eleven states on ‘Super Tuesday’. And now, with Mr Trump being the Republican nominee, the oldest party in US politics is wracked by division. Paul Ryan, the Leader of the Republican-dominated Senate, has said his endorsement of Trump is “not irreversible”, and some Republicans have been so disgusted by his comments on immigration and foreign policy that the ‘#NeverTrump’ group are considering voting for Hillary - something that would have been unthinkable only months ago. But how has Trump managed to split the party so much? And how is he ever going to achieve Presidency without a united party behind him?
Trump first came to prominence over his comments about building a wall between the US and Mexico, and making Mexico pay for it. Since then, he has gone from strength to strength, while claiming that John McCain was not a war veteran because he was captured in Vietnam, accusing Megyn Kelly of targeting him in a debate because she was on her period, and saying that women should be punished for having abortions. His poll ratings have inevitably crept upwards, despite his hasty fall-backs after each of his gaffes. This was not, of course, without spawning significant opposition. Although Trump’s job is, in theory, to unify the party, his inflammatory remarks have often overshadowed his Republican credentials. But the interesting thing about Trump’s run towards the Presidency is that he has managed to attract the ‘Rust Belt’ voters, who have voted Democrat every year since 1992. The ‘Blue Wall’ has helped the Democrats to consistently gain over a 50% vote share in these states for the Presidency, despite the fact that Republicans run these states’ legislatures and are the Governors of all these states except Pennsylvania. If Trump can take this ‘wall’, Clinton’s march to the Presidency will become a lot more challenging.
On the other hand, Trump’s approval ratings among women and Hispanics have plumbed record lows. Considering that these groups constitute approximately 50% and 17% of the electorate respectively, and given that, since the first presidential debate, women’s opinion on Trump has worsened, it would make sense if this election were a done deal for Hillary. But Trump’s strong appeal to white, middle and lower-class workers, evangelicals, and conservatives (particularly in the South) means that, on most polls, there is less than 5% difference between the candidates.
But no wonder! This is the man who has generated more free publicity than ever before on the US media. He has even won the support of the leader of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus. And none of his former rivals have stood up and said they are willing to run against him as a third party candidate. Despite his gaffes, Trump has identified with key issues facing many US voters. So it is entirely possible that, this time next year, we may be hosting a President Trump here in the UK…
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