Tuesday 24 April 2018

'In the US presidential popularity campaign, it's a case of lose-lose'

Prof Alan Schroeder at the UCD Clinton Institute. Photo: Frank McGrath
Prof Alan Schroeder at the UCD Clinton Institute. Photo: Frank McGrath

Laura Larkin in Dublin

The US presidential campaign is unlike any other.

Mainly because both of the candidates vying for the Oval office appear to be deeply unpopular with the electorate, a US elections expert told students in UCD last night.

With both the Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump polling poorly amongst Americans, this year's race is too difficult to call at this stage, just over 50 days out from polling day, Professor Alan Schroeder said.

Trump, an unorthodox candidate in many ways, wasn't taken seriously as a viable candidate in the race for far too long into the campaign, Mr Schroeder said.

The businessman may have no experience in politics but he has a keen understanding of how the media works.

He has made himself extremely accessible to journalists in the US, however, he has been known to "prickle at anything he perceives as negative" and ban certain outlets from covering his events.

His views of ethnic and other marginalised groups have driven much of the backlash toward him but Trump also knows how to feed into the narrative around him, Mr Schroeder said.

On the other side of the ballot paper is Clinton.

She is a woman who has been in the public eye for more than two decades, and has a deep mistrust of the press.

In turn, this has made her a difficult candidate to cover.

"She got very bad press when she was First Lady and she hasn't really gotten over that.

"I think it's unfortunate for her that she hasn't learned to play the game a little bit better.

"Only in the past week has she be allowing the journalists who cover her on the plane with her - which Trump doesn't do," he said.

However, the problems with her profile extend further, Mr Schroeder observed.

"For one thing, she and Bill are treated as a single entity. I think reporters have a difficult time teasing out Hillary from what they know about Bill.

"I get that, they are a married couple and they kind of position themselves as a team, and yet she is an independent candidate and she ought to be treated like that.

"Also I think there is a subtle element of sexism in that, in that she viewed as something of an appendage of her husband," he said.

The so-called "scandals" that have blighted her campaign thus far, relating to her use of a private email account and unsecured server for classified emails during her time as secretary of state, have been somewhat lacklustre, Mr Schroeder said.

"For me, a scandal has to involve either sex or money and her scandals involve neither. Ok, so she used a private server on an email . . . wake me up when you have something better than that," he said.

Her lengthy time in the public eye has not helped her campaign either, the Boston North-eastern University lecturer said. "There is a lack of novelty around Hillary Clinton. She has been around for 25 years," he said.

"We know everything there is to know about Hillary . . . and for journalists this makes her yesterday's news."

The three presidential debates that usually take place in September and October are often watershed moments in the campaigns and Mr Schroeder is unconvinced that Trump will take up the mantle.

He predicts Trump's participation in the last two debates will largely depend on his performance in the first debate.

Remaining "on message" for the entire 90-minute debate will be a challenge for the often inconsistent businessman.

Mr Schroeder joked that a video clip of candidate Carly Fiorina challenging Trump in a televised debate would play on loop in Camp Hillary.

Fiorina, whose appearance Trump famously criticised with the put-down 'who would vote for that face?', managed to get the better of him during a TV debate.

In order to succeed, Hillary will need to subtly provoke her rival candidate in order to encourage him to "go all Jack Nicholson in 'A Few Good Men'," Mr Schroeder joked.

The fascinating campaign has not thrown up its last plot twist, there is still more to come, he said.

Trump stance on his tax returns and both candidates health will become more pressing issue as November 8 approaches.

Mr Schroeder was speaking in the UCD Clinton Institute, at an event organise by the Ireland United States Alumni Association, during which he examined the role that the press plays in US elections.

Irish Independent

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