According to most polls taken since last month’s party conventions, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton enjoys an insurmountable lead over Republican nominee Donald Trump. Consequently, a number of commentators on both sides of the partisan divide have declared the race over. Clinton, they say, has won.
There are several problems with this conclusion.
First of all, the “official campaign,” won’t begin until September 26, when Clinton and Trump face off in their first presidential debate. Clinton is not a stellar debater and Trump, a seasoned entertainer excels in these formats.
Second, recent polls indicate that Trump is closing the gap. Whereas until this past week Clinton enjoyed a 6-8 point lead in the polls, in two polls taken this week, her lead had contracted to a mere 1-3 points.
Third, it is quite possible that Clinton’s problems have only begun. Her peak popularity may be behind her. Since her nomination, barely a day has passed without another stunning expose of apparently corrupt behavior on the part of Clinton and her closest advisors. This week’s AP report that half of Clinton’s non-official visitors during her tenure as secretary of state were donors to the Clinton Foundation was merely the latest blow.
The continuous drip of corruption stories will have a corrosive effect on Clinton’s support levels. If the revelations to come are as damaging as many have claimed, their impact on Clinton’s candidacy may be fatal.
In light of Clinton’s weaknesses, Trump’s main hurdle for winning the election may very well lie with the NeverTrump movement. That movement encompasses much of the Republican establishment – that is, the political class of centrist elected officials, opinion shapers, former officials and ideologues. Its members have vowed not to vote for Trump even if it means that Clinton wins the White House. The fact that so many prominent Republican voices continue to oppose Trump even after he has been nominated negatively effects his ability to build support among swing voters.
As far as the NeverTrumpsters are concerned, Trump carried out a hostile takeover of their party. The man who discussed his private parts on national television and brutally and personally attacked his opponents may have won more primary votes than any Republican candidate in the past. But he also won the enmity of more members of the party establishment than any other Republican presidential hopeful.
In an interview with CNN in late May, Wall Street Journal columnist (and former Jerusalem Post editor) Bret Stephens spoke for many in the NeverTrump camp when he said that he wants Trump to be “the biggest loser in presidential history.”
Stephens explained, “It’s important that Donald Trump and what he represents, this kind of ethnic quote ‘conservatism’ or populism, be so decisively rebuked that the Republican Party and Republican voters will forever learn their lesson that they cannot nominate a man so manifestly unqualified to be president in any way, shape or form.”
In June Stephens told radio host Hugh Hewitt that a Trump presidency would be more devastating for the US than a Clinton presidency. Stephens argued that whereas a Clinton presidency would be “a survivable event” he was unsure that the US could survive a Trump presidency.
He explained, “The United States survives so long as at least one of its major parties is politically and intellectually healthy. I don’t think the Republican Party…as the vehicle for modern American conservative ideas, survives with Donald Trump.”
This week, the Washington Times published a list of fifty senior Republicans that not only will not support Trump, but have switched sides and are publicly supporting Clinton.
The problem with Stephens’ view, which again, is widely shared by the intellectual and political establishment of the party, is that it ignores the cause of Trump’s primary victory.
On the eve of his 2008 electoral victory, Barack Obama pledged to “fundamentally transform,” America.
He kept his word.
And it is this fundamental transformation and the Republican leadership’s failure to stop it that transformed a loud-mouthed, brash billionaire into the Republican nominee. It was this transformation, and the Republican establishment’s failure to block it that made it impossible for moderates like Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush to win the Republican primaries in 2016.
Not only has the country been transformed, the Republican electorate has been transformed.
Today America is steeped in crisis. Foreign audiences concentrate on the crisis of American power overseas. Today, due to Obama’s decision to prefer his failed attempt at rapprochement with Iran over longtime US allies in the region, the Americans have lost their strategic superiority in the Middle East and are on the way to losing whatever residual influence they still maintain over regional affairs.
Turkey’s ground invasion of Syria on Wednesday is a clear sign of the disintegration of America’s regional position. While the invasion was ostensibly launched against ISIS, the plain fact is that its main target is the Kurds. That is, NATO member Turkey invaded Syria to take out the US’s primary ally in its campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
And the US is providing air cover to the Turkish invaders while abandoning the Kurds.
Every advance the US has made in its campaign against ISIS has been achieved on the backs of the Kurds. And yet, Vice President Joe Biden, who was visiting in Ankara the day of the Turkish invasion openly threatened the Kurds. Biden said the US will abandon them if they refuse to conform with Turkey’s demand that they withdraw to the eastern side of the Euphrates River.
Biden’s move merely reinforced the growing impression that the US is only dangerous to its allies. The Iranians, for instance responded to the Turkish move by harassing the US destroyer USS Nitze as it traversed the Straits of Hormuz. Rather than sink the Iranian vessels that threatened it, the Nitze responded by shooting off a couple of flares. The State Department then whined about the assault, calling Iran’s act of war, “unprofessional.”
And the worst part about the US’s strategic crack-up is that it is but one of the crises endangering America today.
Economically, the US has been steeped in stagnation for eight years. Largely as a result of overregulation, entrepreneurship is producing almost no new jobs. The housing crisis has not ended. People who purchased homes before 2008 remain stuck with underwater mortgages, doomed to remain in towns with no jobs because they can’t afford to sell their homes.
Obamacare has made health care unaffordable for people who have insurance. Co-pays have risen so steeply, that for many insured Americans, medical care is now viewed as a luxury item.
In Rust Belt states, tens of millions of blue collar workers find themselves living in ruined towns. In the past two decades company after company closed their factories, shipped their operations out of the US or went bankrupt to foreign competitors. And their former workers, people who believed in the American Dream, and actually achieved it, now have no dreams and no hope of ever getting back what they lost, much less of seeing their children do better than they did.
The economic crisis has caused deeper crises. First and foremost the US is now in the midst of a crisis of faith. A Pew poll released this week showed that between 2007 and 2014, church attendance declined from 39 to 36 percent over the seven year period. A significant number of non-observant Americans no longer believe in God.
Those numbers themselves are highly inflated. A multiyear study of church attendance data gathered from the majority of churches in the US by sociologists C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler and published in 2005 showed that less than half of those who claim to go to church regularly actually do so. Hadaway and Marler assessed that a mere 17.7 percent of Americans go to church on a regular basis. The rest just tell pollsters that they attend because they are embarrassed that they don’t attend.
In other words, what the Pew survey shows is not a reduction in religious worship but a shift in values. Today fewer Americans view church attendance as normatively superior to non-attendance.
Loss of faith may well be directly correlated with a diminished view of the value of life. In Appalachia and the Midwest, the economic crisis and the spiritual crisis have also engendered a drug epidemic unprecedented in rural America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 125 Americans die every day from drug overdoses. That is more than the number of Americans who die in car accidents. The most significant rise in drug addiction rates has occurred in rural America. New Hampshire is the heroin capital of the US.
Just last weekend, 10 people died of heroin overdoses in one rural county in Ohio. The heroin in question was laced with a tranquilizer generally used on elephants.
This is the American transformation that Obama has brought about. And the suffering and misery it has engendered are the reason that Trump is now the Republican presidential nominee.
Trump is no Billy Sunday. He is not a champion of free trade or social conservativism. He isn’t a neoconservative interventionist. Trump is the bar brawler who says things no one else will say. And the people who lack faith in the country’s ability to help them, who have lost hope that things that used to work can work again adore him for it.
This brings us to the issue of the lessons that will be learned by Republican voters if Trump loses as the NeverTrumpsters hope and expect.
If Trump loses, his voters will not realize that they were mistaken to believe in him and support him in defiance of their party’s intellectual class. They will blame the NeverTrumpsters for the election results and boot them out of the party altogether.
If the Republican Party even exists in 2020 and 2024, its candidates will make Trump look like a moderate.
If Trump wins, on the other hand, while it is true that the NeverTrumpsters will not maintain their unquestioned control over Republican policies, they will likely get a seat at the table and retain some influence.
More importantly, if Trump wins, the US will have a chance of changing back to the country it was before Obama fundamentally transformed it.
Clinton, who like Obama and the NeverTrumpsters, scoffs at Trump’s dark descriptions of American life today, has pledged to double down on Obama’s foreign and domestic policies. Indeed, she even pledged to destroy what’s left of the coal industry.
So if Clinton is elected, what Republicans think about illegal immigration and free trade and foreign policy will be irrelevant. America’s fundamental transformation will become irreversible.
In that event, America as a whole – not Trump, and not even the NeverTrumpsters – will be the greatest loser of November’s election.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.