Thursday 22 March 2018

Analysis: Hillary may have won the battle, but election story won't end there

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets a woman and a baby outside the Leonard J. Kaplan Center for Wellness at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in Greensboro, N.C.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets a woman and a baby outside the Leonard J. Kaplan Center for Wellness at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in Greensboro, N.C.

David Millward

With under a fortnight to go, all the polls suggest Hillary Clinton will be America's first woman president following what has been a bruising, nasty and tawdry campaign.

It should, of course, be seen as momentous an event as when Barack Obama entered the White House as America's first black president. But it will not be.

For many people who have lived through months of playground insults and allegations of political, sexual and financial impropriety, the end of the election campaign will be a relief.

It is hard to think of a presidential election contested by two more unpopular candidates. Some Americans have voiced their despair that this is the best a country of more than 300 million people can produce.

The visceral hatred aimed at Mrs Clinton has been astonishing. Cars and T-shirts bearing the slogan 'Hillary for Prison 2016' are commonplace. At Trump rallies, chants of 'lock her up' are routine. At one event, a supporter waved a particularly unpleasant poster with the former First Lady as a rifle target.

Donald Trump's candidacy was initially regarded by many as little more than a stunt by a publicity-hungry television personality. Few people took him seriously and most expected the billionaire's self-funded campaign to collapse pretty quickly.

Relying on Twitter and a brash debating style to get his message across, Mr Trump laid waste to the vast Republican field in pretty short order, leaving a legacy of bruised egos and bitterness.

The consensus, however, has been that the tactics which secured the nomination have been ill-suited to dealing with a candidate as savvy, street-wise and experienced as Mrs Clinton.

Seeing the writing on the wall, some Republicans began jumping ship months ago.

Even before the drip-feeding of allegations about groping and rampant sexism, there were a number of figures in the GOP who made it clear they had no intention of supporting Mr Trump even if he was the party's nominee for the Oval Office.

Over the past few weeks this has become a stampede joined by a number of rival candidates for the nomination.

Quite simply, Donald Trump has now become so toxic that Republicans fear he will not only cost the party the presidency, but the Senate and, should things go really badly, the House as well.

The party establishment has deserted him. Instead, money is being thrown at congressional races as the Republicans desperately try to shore up their position.

Things are so bad that some Republicans have threatened to sue television stations who have run ads saying that they are backing Mr Trump.

Lawyers acting on behalf of Mike Coffman, who is running in Colorado, have said suggestions that he supports Mr Trump for president are "defamatory and false".

This is all very good news for Mrs Clinton.

The indications are that it will be women who sweep her to a comfortable victory. Most polls give her a double-digit lead over Mr Trump among female voters.

There was palpable excitement at the prospect of Mrs Clinton's candidacy when the campaigning started in earnest.

But it dissipated in the months that followed. It was an old, white man who generated the passion - Bernie Sanders, the independent socialist senator from Vermont. While Mrs Clinton addressed hundreds of voters, his rallies drew thousands across the US.

Somehow he put together an alliance of veteran radicals, many of whom campaigned for Eugene McCarthy in 1968, and young voters, many struggling to make ends meet as they paid off their student debts.

Like Donald Trump, his message was simple. The political system was rigged in favour of the wealthy and his slogan that the billionaires could not have it all resonated with a vast swathe of voters.

Mrs Clinton became tetchy as it grew clear that the road to the nomination was not going to be a serene procession culminating in a coronation.

But unlike the feuding in the Republican party, Mr Sanders accepted his defeat with surprisingly good grace, even if some of his supporters did not.

Having more or less secured her base, team Clinton moved in on women voters. They were aided by a series of crass comments by Mr Trump, including his extraordinary spat with Megyn Kelly, a broadcaster with the right-wing cable station Fox News.

There was a significant gender gap which was merely accentuated by the publication of Mr Trump's lewd remarks about women and the procession of alleged victims of sexual harassment.

Perhaps the most telling campaign slot was one in which young girls were filmed looking into the mirror against a sound track of Mr Trump's assorted insults about women's appearance.

The ad ends with the question: "Is this the president we want for our daughters?"

Should Mrs Clinton secure the presidency, she will have finally broken the glass ceiling. It will mean that Britain, the United States and Germany will all have women at the helm.

But there is a nagging doubt that the story will not end when votes are cast on November 8.

Even if Mrs Clinton wins comfortably, there will still be those who will not accept the result. As historic as the election of a woman president would be, the country will still be divided.

Her key campaign slogan has been 'Better Together'.

Making that a reality could prove to be her first and biggest challenge.

Irish Independent

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