Sunday 25 September 2016

Both candidates for the White House have moved far from the traditional centre ground

Ruth Sherlock

Published 28/07/2016 | 02:30

Neither candidate has occupied the centre ground. Photo: Getty
Neither candidate has occupied the centre ground. Photo: Getty

This week, Hillary Clinton will take the stage to formally accept the Democratic nomination for president of the United States.

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It is a moment she has dreamed of and fought for. For the party's establishment, however, it is simply a huge relief.

For months, they had feared the same fate as that endured by their Republican rivals, who expected Jeb Bush but got Donald Trump.

Throughout the Democrat primary race, renegade voters backed Bernie Sanders, a septuagenarian senator for Vermont, whose policies seemed better suited to socialist Scandinavia than their free-market nation.

So when the balloons fall for Clinton in the convention hall, senior Democrats will party with the abandon of those who know they have had a close shave.

But there will be a hangover. Clinton may have won the battle. She has not won the war. In most American elections, candidates pander to the party base and then tack to the political centre to woo the middle ground. This time, Mrs Clinton has had to do the reverse.

She has had the nomination tied up since early June, but since then has had to offer dramatic policy concessions to the Left in order to avoid full-scale rebellion.

Behind closed doors, battles have been fought by members of the Sanders and Clinton campaigns, lasting into the small hours of the morning. Kathleen Kennedy, niece of John F Kennedy, was in the room for one of these wrangles, watching her family's party slug it out before her very eyes.

In a sign of Sanders' continuing political clout, the result is the most progressive policy platform to be adopted by a major American political party in recent memory.

Mrs Clinton may be the nominee, but she has had to adopt the Vermont senator's call for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Her party is the first to commit to ending capital punishment. Promises to fight climate change are matched with vows to embrace the legalisation of marijuana.

For Mr Sanders, then, losing the primary race was no failure.

The Democrats are not tacking to the centre after all.

Indeed, we now have two candidates whose manifestos would be unrecognisable to their party mainstream in elections gone by.

Take Trump. The Republican nominee can be unrelenting on matters of national security.

"I have a message to every last person threatening the peace on our streets and the safety of our police: when I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order our country."

So far, so standard.

His nativist view of foreign affairs and economic protectionism is less usual but not unheard of.

But on social matters, he is far more liberal than many in his party and became the first Republican to invoke gay rights from the convention stage.

Despite this bucking of convention, one of these two 'fringe' candidates will now win the presidential election.

But the effect of them vacating the political centre will be felt long after they step through the White House front door.

America is already a fractious polity. President Obama is loved by Democrats and despised by Republicans. The result is that Congress is already pretty dysfunctional.

It is no surprise then that more than ever in this election, Americans want a candidate who stands for change.

The problem is that in choosing such unusual nominees, who are so divisive and unpalatable to the other side, they risk deepening the gridlock and division which so angers them. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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