Trump’s true opponent
As these lines are being written it is Thursday morning in the US. Wikileaks announced hours ago that it is about to drop the mother lode of material it has gathered on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Previous Wikileaks document drops set the stage for FBI director James Comey’s letter to Congress last Friday, when he informed lawmakers that he has ordered his agents to reopen their probe of Clinton’s private email server, which he closed last July.
One week on, the FBI probe still dominates election coverage. If Wikileaks is true to its word, and even if it isn’t, Clinton and her campaign team will be unable to shift public attention away from the ballooning allegations of criminal corruption. This will remain the story of the election when polls open Tuesday morning.
The focus on Clinton’s alleged criminality in the final weeks of the election brings the 2016 presidential race full circle. Since the contest began in the summer of 2015, it was clear that this would be an election like no other.
After eight years of Barack Obama’s White House, America is a different place than it was in 2008, when Obama ran on a platform of hope and change.
Americans today are angry, scared, divided and cynical.
The outcome of this presidential election will determine whether Obama’s fundamental transformation of America will become a done deal. If Clinton prevails, the Obama revolution will be irreversible.
If Republican nominee Donald Trump emerges the winner, America will embark on a different course.
But even support or opposition to Obama’s revolution is not what this election is about. The anger that Americans’ feel is more powerful than mere policy differences – no matter how strongly felt.
More than a referendum on Obama, Tuesday vote will be a vote about Republican nominee Donald Trump and what he has come to represent. Voters on Tuesday will have to decide what they oppose more: Trump or what he stands for.
Trump is without a doubt a morally dubious candidate.
His prolific record of trash talking make the allegations of sexual harassment leveled against him by multiple women in recent weeks ring true. So too, his willingness to truck in racially charged rhetoric, like his accusation that the Mexican government is sending its rapists and violent criminals across the border for Americans to deal with, has made him toxic for millions of American voters.
But for his supporters, who Trump is, is less important than what he represents.
What he represents is the voters’ rebellion against the American establishment – not just the political establishment, but the full spectrum of the American elite. From Washington to Wall Street, from college campuses to the media, tens of millions of Americans believe that their establishment is rotten to the core. And they support Trump because he is running against the establishment.
Popular resentment and animosity towards the powers that be was enough to win Trump the Republican nomination. And as he closes the gap with Clinton in the lead up to Tuesday, chances are rising that it will be enough to get him into the White House as well.
How did we get to this point?
Trump’s rise has been in the making for a decade.
During the Bush administration, many Republicans quietly fretted that George W. Bush and his advisers didn’t know what they were doing in Iraq. They were angered even more by Bush’s bank bailout in 2008 and his massive increase of the national debt.
But as angry as they were at Bush, Republican anger at their leaders has grown exponentially during Obama’s tenure in office.
Since Obama entered office he has used the powers of his office to seize powers no president had ever dared to claim. And Republicans – who bore the brunt of the damage his policies caused – expected their presidential nominees and congressional representatives to protect them. They expected them to curb Obama’s perceived abuses at the IRS, the EPA, at the border with Mexico, the Justice Department, in the healthcare industry, the military, the State Department and beyond.
In both the 2008 and 2012 elections, millions of Republican voters were appalled by their successive nominees’ refusal to go on the offensive against Obama. In 2008, Sen. John McCain refused to mention Obama’s deep and longstanding ties with radical political and social forces, including his decades’ long relationship with his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, who regularly preached hatred for America from his pulpit.
In 2012, Mitt Romney simply choked. He couldn’t make a competent case against Obama or withstand media criticism, that as the Republican nominee he should have expected.
Republican voters walked away from their party’s defeat with the sense that their candidates cared more about what media said about them than they cared about winning.
Republican voters took an even dimmer view of their congressional leadership. In both the 2010 and 2014 congressional elections, Republicans won big in both houses of Congress. The voters’ clear wish was for their lawmakers to check Obama. But instead, the Republican leadership lashed out at their own voters while failing time after time to check Obama’s perceived abuse of power.
Case in point of course was the Republican Senate leadership’s failure to view Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran as a treaty, despite the fact that it clearly met the standard to be so viewed. By going along with Obama’s lie that the nuclear deal, which destroyed 70 years of US nuclear nonproliferation policy in one fell swoop, was a mere presidential agreement, the Senate leaders enabled Obama to implement his radical deal with little difficulty.
Trump was elected to be the Republican presidential nominee because Trump is the opposite of McCain, Romney and their counterparts in the GOP’s congressional leadership ranks. Trump isn’t merely running against Democrats and the liberal establishment. He is running against the Republican establishment as well. And his supporters love him for it.
Trump began building his anti-establishment credentials as soon as he announced his candidacy. At the first Republican primary debate in August 2015, he effectively declared war against the Republican establishment when he refused to pledge to support whatever candidate the party elected to serve as its nominee.
And the establishment understood that he was the gravest threat to their power and began attacking him.
What they didn’t understand was that he had goaded them into a fight that they could only lose.
The secret of Trump’s success has been a simple logical calculation. As the anti-establishment candidate, he has managed to castigate every criticism launched against him – no matter how valid – as the ravings of the corrupt establishment.
The establishment has not thrown in the towel though. According to one analysis, 91 percent of the media coverage of Trump’s campaign has been negative.
But the negative press has only strengthened his supporters’ conviction that he is the man of the hour.
But the attacks, again, have boomeranged.
A poll taken by USA Today earlier this week demonstrates this point. The poll asked likely voters, “What do you think is the primary threat that might try to change the election results?”
For months, the Clinton campaign has claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin is interfering in the election on Trump’s behalf. Yet a mere 10 percent of voters polled said that “foreign interests such as Russian hackers,” would try to steal the elections.
On the other hand, 46 percent said the news media would. Another 21 percent said “the national political establishment” was intervening in the elections to shift the vote in the direction they wish.
In other words, 67 percent of voters believe that the establishment Trump is running against is trying to steal the elections.
Anti-Trump voters can be grouped into three often overlapping categories. First, of course there are the Democrats. These voters want Clinton to win. They support what Obama has done as president. They support Clinton because they want to see Obama’s policies continued and because they think she is the best candidate for the job.
Second, there is the establishment itself. In August The Washington Examiner polled Washington elites.
Among members of the Beltway establishment, support for Clinton is overwhelming. She beat Trump 62-22 percent. Twenty percent of Washington Republicans said they support Clinton.
These first two groups of anti-Trump voters support Clinton because they are more or less satisfied with the way things are.
The third group of anti-Trump voters oppose him because they believe that he is unfit to serve. They are Republicans and Independents.
It is this third group that brings us to the greatest anomaly of the election. According to Real Clear Politics’ average of polling data, Trump is trailing Clinton in national polls in a four-way race 43-45 percent. But at the same time, a mere 38 percent of Americans have a favorable view of him. In other words, millions of Americans who cannot stand Trump intend to vote for him on Tuesday.
This anomaly is explained by the public’s revulsion with the establishment. And this brings us to the Wikileaks documents and the FBI’s reopening of its criminal probe of Clinton and her team.
Clinton’s support levels have not dropped in the polls in the week that passed since Comey informed Congress that he had reopened the email probe.
On October 28, the Real Clear Politics poll average placed voter support for Clinton at 44.9 percent. On November 2, it had risen to 45.3 percent.
In the same time period, Trump’s support level rose from 41 to 43.6 percent.
Trump is rising because Republicans who have been undecided or have supported Libertarian Gary Johnson have decided to make their peace with him.
The renewed investigations against Clinton are not driving her voters away from her. As Clinton herself argued hours after Comey’s decision became public, her supporters have already factored in her legal difficulties. Trump is rising because with every new report of Clinton’s alleged corruption, Republican and Independent voters are reminded of how corrupt the establishment has become.
Their view of the lesser of two evils is shifting.
By Wednesday we will know whether the Republicans and Independents who are now accepting Trump will be enough to put him over the top. But what is clear enough today is that the voters who reject the establishment and view it as incurably corrupt will give Clinton no quarter if she manages to eke out a victory. At the same time, the establishment’s hatred of Trump will foment Washington battles the likes of which we have never seen, if he wins on Tuesday.
There is a lot hanging in the balance in this election. But only one question will determine the outcome.
If Trump wins on Tuesday, it will be the establishment he defeats.