Can Trump possibly triumph

It’s all about brashness
It’s all about brashness

As things stand, it looks like a Trump vs Clinton showdown in this year’s high-stakes US election, with interesting lessons to learn for SA, writes Rapule Tabane

In six months’ time, the US will hold elections to choose a new president. That may be just enough time for the country’s voters to decide between two stark contrasts.

On the day, they could choose, along with Donald Trump, to:

  • Ban all Muslims from entering their country;
  • Build a wall to stop Mexicans and other Hispanics from coming over;
  • Deport all 11 million illegal immigrants already living in the country;
  • Cancel all existing trade treaties with other countries; and
  • “Bomb the sh*t out of the IS”, and consequently,
  • “Make America great again” (Trump’s election slogan).

Alternatively, they could opt for Hillary Clinton to:

  • Raise the minimum wage for the working class;
  • Fight for income equality between men and women;
  • Increase social security;
  • Get students to repay study loans at lower interest rates and lower terms;
  • Get Wall Street to help fund poor students; and
  • Demilitarise the police.

It is difficult to see a middle road between these two; it is like living in two different countries, where the needs and the agendas are completely different.

The Indiana primaries ended this week, with billionaire Donald Trump triumphing over conservatives Ted Cruz and John Kasich, and becoming what the Americans call the “presumptive nominee” of the Republican party.

So far, elections are being held in different states across the country until July, when both parties finalise their candidates. This means that Trump is just waiting for the Republican Convention to confirm him.

He is not everyone’s cup of tea, and no less distinguished Republican veterans than the Bush family have refused to endorse him. George W Bush and his father, George H Bush – both of them former US presidents – have issued statements indicating that they will not get involved and will skip the Republican convention, which party veterans normally attend.

The day before he was forced to suspend his campaign, Cruz had called Trump “a pathological liar, a proud philanderer and a man who lies each time he opens his mouth”.

Leading Republican and (parliamentary) House Speaker Paul Ryan said that he was still battling to accept Trump as he was not sure if the New York businessman fully embraces conservative values. “I am not ready to do that yet,” he told CNN.

Current CNN polls show that if a general election were held tomorrow, Trump would garner only 41% of the vote, as opposed to Clinton’s 54%.

But Trump also started off the Republican race as the underdog, managing only 1% of party support when the contest started – only to turn it around remarkably and beat more than 10 other candidates.

But it is much easier to win back your own party supporters than people who detest you outside of it.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly what his appeal is. He is highly unpopular among Hispanics, African Americans and women, all of whom constitute growing voter groups.

At a rally held in Terre Haute, Indiana last Sunday, there was not a single black or Hispanic person in sight, besides hawkers and journalists. His supporters were wearing T-shirts bearing nasty messages, including “Trump that b*tch”, “Hillary sucks, but not like Monica” and “Trump: finally someone with balls”.

As for Trump’s speech, he assured supporters that he loved Indiana. “Indiana is great,” he said.

Otherwise, he spent most of the time talking about how well his campaign was going and describing how the media and other Republicans were conspiring against him.

“The press in this country is extremely dishonest. Like, beyond belief,” he added. Sound familiar?

Hundreds of people were locked out of his rally as they could not be accommodated in the 2 000-seater hall.

A supporter at the rally, Brian McLean, said Trump would “wipe the floor with Hillary” and unify the nation with his message of nationalism.

“You touch him, he is gonna (sic) hit back. He never swings first. He swings best,” he gushed.

Republican spokesperson Sean Spicer said that he was confident that the party would unify around Trump in the next few months.

“We have time. There will be lots of excitement in the party as we head to elections,” he said, adding that the party took seriously all the concerns raised about Trump.

But he stopped short of clarifying what it would do.

Trump has already rejected ideas that he should act more presidentially, presumably because he sees no need to change a winning formula.

Spicer said that the fact that Trump did not do well among black voters actually represented “a growth opportunity”.

He said that the party was happy that Trump was attracting thousands of new supporters, who had never voted before as they were disillusioned with politicians in Washington, DC.

“We are breaking attendance records, and TV ratings are high. We are presenting the conservative methods in positive ways,” said Spicer.

As a supporter put it to City Press in Kokomo, Indiana: “As a businessman, he will get things done.”

It may be hard for an outsider to understand, but many of those rooting for Trump believe that he will breathe fresh air into US politics.

Kathy Richardson, an election official from Hamilton County, said that Americans were frustrated with politicians. “Trump is saying what everyone is thinking, but not saying.

“The feeling of people who support him is that politicians go to [Washington] DC and lose perspective of where they come from.”

To be fair, South Africans often raise the same complaints about politicians, but have often baulked at supporting individuals who are not politicians but try to take on the system, such as Mamphela Ramphele.

What is striking about Republican supporters is just how proudly they wear the label “conservative”.

They do not purport to be anything else. Their notion of “family values” centres on celebrating the nuclear family and opposing same-sex unions. They believe in former apartheid police minister Hernus Kriel’s version of law and order, with police and the justice system being tough on criminals and effectively throwing away the keys. They disapprove of abortion and insist on the right to bear numerous firearms.

In South Africa, there are many who still believe in these values, but since 1994, they are far less vocal and more reluctant to show themselves.

Where are those members of the erstwhile Conservative Party and National Party? And those black conservative religious leaders, who would be sent to our schools in the 1980s to implore us to concentrate on our studies and forget politics?

Political parties in South Africa have gravitated closer to the values of the ANC, despite serving conservative voters since the new dispensation – hence the scant policy differences in our political discourse and voters electing leaders based on personality and history.

When I heard Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders unashamedly call for the legalisation of marijuana on Monday – a day before voting in Indiana – I was struck by his bravery in pushing what could be an unpopular position.

But it was not the only one. He also criticised the “war on drugs” programme, the main consequence of which had been sentencing African-American men to lengthy jail terms. The US currently had the highest incarceration rate in the world as a result, and Sanders said that government spent $80 million (R1.2 billion) a year keeping these men in prison, when most had committed nonviolent offences.

It’s all about brashness
sexist slogan A typical Trump supporter’s chant
hillary hater Republicans loathe Trump’s rival ï
in your face To offend is the aim PHOTOs: Rapule Tabane

Sanders, by the way, has campaigned on an openly socialist ticket, against which the Republicans have played their own “rooi gevaar” card.

Each time he rattles off one of his promises – such as getting the US stock exchange, AKA Wall Street, to pay for poor students – he asks the crowd: “Is there anything radical about this?”

They resoundingly shout, “No!”

Is our SA Communist Party watching?

There is no shame in socialism in 2016.

Sanders has also attracted young, first-time voters, who have vowed not to vote if he is not picked as the Democrats’ nominee. “Feel the Bern!” they scream.

His opponent, Clinton, has been torn between campaigning against Sanders and her ultimate rival, Trump.

The former US first lady is hated by Republicans who, despite detesting Trump, might feel obliged to vote for him to stop her succeeding Obama.

The next six months will be the longest for Clinton, who can only pray that no catastrophe hits the Obama administration – because she is the candidate linked to its current fortunes with the most to lose.

A recession, for example, or any major scandal would take her down, because she is seen as the candidate to continue Obama’s legacy.

And her campaign has been severely hampered by a continuing high-profile investigation against her for having used her private email address to conduct official business.

All the candidates have to survive a complicated US electoral system whereby the nominee who garners the most number of voters is not necessarily the winner.

After voters cast their ballots in the state primaries now, and later in November, it will be up to delegates from the 50 states who will have the final say as part of an electoral college.

The delegates are the ones who will choose the president and his or her deputy. They ordinarily vote in line with the mandate of their state.

However, if there is no winner after the first round of voting, a number of the delegates are no longer bound by the mandate and are free to vote as they like.

In 2000, George W Bush became president despite rival Al Gore acquiring the lion’s share of popular votes.

However, the system has been in place since 1787, and Americans have no appetite to change what they see as a system that works.

In South Africa too, it is theoretically possible that MPs may vote for a president from the minority parties, but it is very unlikely.

There is not much in it for South Africans at this stage of the US campaign. Trump gave a jingoistic speech on his foreign policy last week and had nothing to say about Africa.

But he will be disastrous for the entire world if elected. His slogan, “Let’s make America great again”, sums it up. He has no understanding of world issues and could make blunders that may hurt the US itself.

On the other hand, the politically savvy Clinton would continue Obama’s legacy. But despite being a Democrat, she could be more hawkish in increasing US military intervention in the Middle East and other global trouble spots.

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