Guest Column

US could have most unpopular president yet

2016-11-02 14:59

America's tumultuous, tawdry election campaign finally ends on Tuesday with one certainty: the people of the United States will elect a president many of them don't like.

 

"There is a lot about this election that is dispiriting, unsettling," Democrat Hillary Clinton told supporters in Seattle. "For a lot of people, it is too much. They want to turn away, and I totally get that."

 

The campaign began as a mismatch between one of the most experienced, carefully calibrated and well-connected political figures in the country, and an astonishingly unfiltered and improvised outsider who has alienated many in his Republican party. It ends with the two closer in the polls than a lot of people ever would have expected.

But the polls have been consistent on one thing: a RealClearPolitics.Com average of surveys going back almost a year shows more than 50 percent of Americans have had an unfavourable opinion of Clinton, almost without interruption. Trump's numbers have been even worse. 

The excitement and optimism that accompanied the election of Barack Obama eight years ago is absent; the potential election of America's first female president is just a footnote to the fight. Instead the campaign has swerved from insult to outrage, from scandal to more scandal.

After facing a tangled web of fundraising and financial queries related to her husband's charity, the Clinton Foundation, the endless questions about Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while secretary of state have resurfaced yet again. Extraordinarily, their return comes about because of an FBI investigation into the emails of a disgraced ex-congressman who sent explicit messages to several women, including an under-aged girl.

 

The connection to Clinton? The congressman, the memorably named Anthony Weiner, is the estranged husband of Huma Abedine, a close Clinton aide.

For his part, Trump has been accused of routinely short-changing contractors who worked on his real estate projects. He has also refused to release his full tax records, fuelling accusations that he has avoided paying federal taxes for years. He even faced a now infamous 2005 recording, in which he boasted crudely about groping women with impunity.

 But Trump has also brought the election into new territory in an entirely different way.  He has repeatedly called the contest "rigged", and in doing so denigrated the trustworthiness of the entire US electoral system.  He has even suggested that he may not abide by the outcome and concede defeat if he loses.

 

When Republican Party leaders tried to reassure voters, Trump went after them. "Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day," he tweeted.  "Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive!"

 

Even during the deadlocked 2000 election, when the US Supreme Court had to decide the outcome, both George W. Bush and Al Gore expressed their faith in US democracy.

 

Trump has campaigned with a promise to "Make American Great Again," but coupled it with an alarming vision of today’s America. He tells supporters that under President Obama and potentially Hillary Clinton, their jobs are being shipped overseas, their right to bear arms is under attack and their protection from terrorists is being undermined.

 

Many of his supporters say they believe him. If Trump loses the election and describes the outcome as rigged, many of them may believe that too.

 

So after all the astonishing rhetoric we've heard in the course of the campaign, potentially the most important speech of the election could come after the election is over.

 

If Trump loses but refuses to concede, an unpopular new president would hardly be America’s only problem.

- Jonathan Mann is the anchor for Political Mann on CNN International.


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