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Sunday, 9 October 2016

New Debate, Same Question: How Has America Got to This Point and Where Is it Going?

Clinton heads into second presidential debate ahead in the polls, Trump campaign in crisis (again)

Donald Trump enters the second presidential election debate behind by at least 4% in the polls – he was neck and neck ahead of the first debate – under pressure to perform better and win back the initiative. This translates, due to Clinton’s lead in the majority of key ‘swing states’, into a resounding defeat in electoral college terms in November. Yet, given the volatility of the electorate, the outcome remains uncertain due to the possibility of a ‘secret’ Trump voting bloc who conceal their support of Trump from pollsters.

But the recently released video tape showing him boasting of how his celebrity status enables him to sexually assault women is likely to put him on the back foot with undecided voters who constitute around 20% of the electorate in this most controversial of contests.

Those undecided voters will form the studio audience at the second debate scheduled for tonight (Sunday 9 October). Half of all questions directed at the candidates will be from audience members; both candidates will need to be nimble on their political feet to cope with questions that might range from what they’re going to do to restore living standards or about the banks that brought America to its knees in 2008 to the price of a pound of beef.

Most of them will not like hearing that their possible future president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces – in which sexual violence is a major problem - supports sexual assaults on women. Several senior Republicans have now refused to endorse Trump’s candidacy but the party has not yet seen enough to warrant a full-scale repudiation. This could cause the GOP severe credibility problems down the line.

The most recent video of Trump’s predatory view of women, when seen in the context of previous comments, constitutes a world view – that women who work in executive positions are unwelcome, and he is angered if, upon arriving home in the evening, his meal is not ready. He appears to want American women to return to the oppressive 1950s before the women’s rights movement.

Trump declared himself the winner of the first debate but was seen as clearly unprepared by commentators including Republican political strategists. He appeared to have secured an advantage from the vice presidential debate which his running mate, Mike Pence, was thought by many to have won – mainly by denying that Trump had ever said anything racist, sexist or otherwise abusive, a position contrary to Trump’s actual record. But in this post-truth politics age, this contradiction hardly appears worthy of comment in a tribalised media that spew their own views as the truth. Yet, even Pence has distanced himself from the toxic comments about women and girls that Trump first made in 2005.

While Trump alienates voters, Clinton is chasing and gradually winning over Millennials who despite supporting her by a margin of at least 2 to 1 are unenthusiastic about the Democratic candidate; only 47% say that they’ll definitely vote in November. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s primary election nemesis, who provided the lenses through which most Millennials view Clinton, is roving the country to galvanise their votes while Clinton increasingly speaks about college fees and climate change, issues that appeal to the under 35s.

The second debate is likely to see an under-siege but better prepared Donald Trump, probably one likely to rove around the stage – there are no lecterns this time to stand behind and grip with both hands. He will need to retain self-control lest he appears intimidating, reinforcing his image as a male bully who has little if any respect for women.

Billing himself as the change candidate, the change Donald Trump believes in seems to lie somewhere in the 1950s.

But the big question posed by this election remains unchanged: how has America come to this point? That a candidate like Donald Trump has a serious shot at the White House, has not been repudiated by the Republican party, and has yet to be decisively knocked out of the race by an experienced representative of the political class?

It suggests that the crisis of the American political establishment is deep and enduring. This story is far from over, regardless of the outcome at tonight’s debate let alone on 8 November 2016.

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