Trump-Clinton Second Debate: Extraordinary Times, Landmark Election
The main thing that we learned or, rather, we were reminded of, from the second debate is that this is truly an extraordinary election, and the outcome is going to be very significant going into the next decade or more. There are two forces up against each other – the status quo, represented by Democratic Hillary Clinton, who symbolises the political establishment, against the Republican Donald Trump, who argues that he is a change candidate. The race started off with an extraordinary primary season, where Hillary Clinton defeated the ‘socialist’ Bernie Sanders after he secured over 13 million votes in the Democratic primaries; the debating season is matching this that unprecedented character.
The (most recent) strategy that Trump has been employing is to try to win back those Republican voters turned off by his overall image of xenophobia and misogyny. I do not believe that there was enough in the second debate, other than his denial on the question of the video tape released on Friday, to win them over. Overall, he is believed to have failed to win back ground from Clinton, who held her own in the debate, even when Trump raised allegations of sexual abuse relating to her husband for which she could hardly be held responsible.
Hillary Clinton maintained a relatively dignified approach to the entire debate, which had a very personal nature. Donald Trump used the tactics he is normally associated with, which often lower the level of civility, by saying that she had “hate in her heart” and that she has tolerated abuse. The important point to make here, though, is that this kind of political gossip is an opium of the American electorate, and the cult of celebrity and interest in stardom means these debate exchanges are lapped up every four years.
Yet, Trump hit home with several points that show why this race is as close as it is: Clinton's place and role as an establishment politician, with powerful links with the past and with Big Money, the disasters of the Iraq war and of the financial meltdown of 2008-09, of the chaos in post-US intervention for regime change in Libya. Trump also scored with criticism of Clinton's private email server as secretary of state and with the Wikileaked transcripts of Clinton's espousal of sympathy with Wall St and on the efficacy of maintaining public and private positions on key political questions, and her sympathy for a policy she has publicly repudiated - the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Hillary Clinton's credibility, level of public trust and disapproval is only slightly higher than the same for Donald Trump.
But that should not deflect from the other main problem at the moment, and that is that Donald Trump stands for a reversal of the historic 1960s and 1970s rights revolution, where women and African Americans and many other minorities won rights. What he stands for is really a reversion to the 1950s – he’s a person who appears to wish that the civil rights movement and the women’s rights movement had never happened.
The election of Barack Obama for the first time in 2008, and now the prospect of a woman president in 2016, has really sent a signal to a lot of people who are very deeply conservative, who opposed the rights revolution from the very beginning, and have chipped away at those gains ever since. The level of vitriol against those changes and the effect that they are now having in the twenty-first century, has reached such a high point that Trump is able to sustain support despite everything he’s said and done.
Trump continues to garner support at between 40 and 42 per cent in opinion polls, which appears at odds with everything we know about his businesses, his taxes and his attitudes towards women and racial minorities. On the other hand, it must be remembered that his popularity still puts him near the lower end of support achieved in previous election campaigns. We could see something similar to Republican contender Barry Goldwater’s spectacular defeat when, in 1964, he was thoroughly trounced in the electoral college, resulting in a landslide victory to Lyndon Johnson.
It is said of Barry Goldwater that he lost the election but won the future – a victory that resonates with the anti-rights appeals of Donald Trump. But 2016 is not 1964 and the demographic future of America is against the Trump tide. When national opinion polls are translated into electoral college votes in the key swing states, it will probably be a handsome victory for Hillary Clinton, leaving a Trump rump that will maintain that the election process was rigged all along, that his defeat resulted from betrayal by the GOP's leadership.
Expect more thunder from the Right.