South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
Mike Rowse says the dramatic US presidential race, now down to a contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, is entertainment par excellence – but will it end in tears?
One day, Hollywood will make a film of the 2016 presidential election campaign. That much is for certain. What remains unclear is whether it will be a tragedy, a comedy or something in between.
Start by examining the cast of characters. On the Republican side, all of the early favourites – Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio – fell away one by one. Left on stage were two men. One was master showman Donald Trump, whose main claim to fame was that he had zero relevant political experience, and therefore could guarantee a break from “politics as usual”. Facing him was a religious fanatic, Ted Cruz. Just how remarkable an outcome this was seems scarcely credible even now. The party’s own post-mortem examination of Mitt Romney’s narrow defeat to Barack Obama in 2012 identified the deficiency in its appeal to voters: it wasn’t attracting enough support from women and Hispanics. So, as front runner for the nomination, it selected a misogynist with a racist streak?
Having courted criticism for describing Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers, and promising to deport 11 million (mostly Hispanic) undocumented residents, Trump then attacked a judge on the grounds of his ancestry. The fact that the judge was born in Indiana, and was dealing with a case in which a Trump entity was being accused of fraud, just makes the mind boggle. The most senior elected representative of his own party then distanced himself from the remarks, describing them as classically racist.
Facing him was a fundamentalist whose performance in the Senate had been so extreme that a leader from his own party described him as “Lucifer incarnate”. If his own colleagues hated him, how would he ever get anything through Congress if he were to be elected?
The Democratic side had its own foibles. The front runner was the first serious female candidate from a major party, a past senator and secretary of state, indeed a previous occupant of the White House in her capacity as first lady. Glamour and experience combined – should be a shoo-in, right? Not so. For some reason, Hillary Clinton just rubs a lot of people up the wrong way, and there are trust issues.
Can Trump really get away with this disregard for truth over the next four months?
Facing her was a 74-year-old senator who was not even a member of the Democratic Party until 2015, and describes himself as a socialist. All through the campaign, as the two slugged it out, it was the older candidate who generated most excitement among younger voters while the better-qualified candidate – no spring chicken herself at 69 – struggled to connect even with women voters.
Finally, the two parties selected their preferred candidates and Trump will face Clinton. Politically, they are poles apart, as we will see when the serious campaigning gets under way after the conventions. Trump has already been caught inventing his own facts. For example, he criticised the administration for failing to blockade the coast of Libya which, he claimed, was enabling Islamic State to earn billions of dollars exporting oil to finance its terrorist exploits. He did not seem to know, or perhaps he didn’t care, that all the country’s oil infrastructure was in fact in the hands of the government and Islamic State did not control it. But the error did nothing to hurt his popularity with supporters. Can he really get away with this disregard for truth over the next four months? Perhaps he can.
After all, as part of his programme to “Make America Great Again”, he intends to ban all Muslims from entering the country. America was founded as a haven for people of different religions seeking sanctuary in the new world from persecution in the old one. A blanket ban on new entrants coupled with intrusive surveillance of the millions of existing Muslim citizens – would that even be constitutional? – doesn’t strike the outside observer as a recipe for creating a harmonious society.
Meanwhile, Clinton continues to duck and weave over her use of a private server for official emails.
Well, we don’t need scriptwriters because the story is busy writing itself. And there is still plenty of time for more twists and turns. I’m thinking Meryl Streep to play Clinton. The Donald will no doubt want to play himself.
Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.