The United States presidential election was strange to begin with, but it has turned extraordinary now. Donald Trump's defiant performance in the tawdry second debate on Sunday indicates that he will hang on as the Republican candidate amidst calls for him to leave the ticket.
However, a month from election day, the Republican Party is in a
state of meltdown and its flawed candidate deeply wounded. The
Republican campaign had a major nervous breakdown last week with the
revelation of a recording from 2005 that had candidate Trump making lewd
remarks about women and appearing to encourage unwanted sexual contact
with them. On Saturday, more tapes emerged with topics ranging from his
daughter Ivanka's physique, threesomes and sex with women during
menstrual cycles. All these should have repercussions in an election in a
country where some 53 per cent of the voters are women.
All this led to unprecedented calls by sections of his party to
withdraw as the Republican candidate. Many elected Republican officials
have officially repudiated him, his own vice-presidential nominee Mike
Pence issued a statement saying he could not defend Trump's remarks. In
an effort at damage control, Trump's wife Melania released a statement
deeming his comments as offensive, though she said that "this does not
represent the man I know." For his part, Trump insisted that he would
not quit the race and in the second debate, appeared to successfully
move beyond the issue.
The loss of support from the Republican elite is not surprising;
their relations with Trump have never been good. Many of their actions
are tactical — in other words, designed to shield Republican candidates
contesting for the House of Representatives, the Senate or other
positions from the Trump fallout. But many do reflect the sincere
disenchantment of the party elite with their Presidential candidate.
However, there are no signs that his strong base of support among
disaffected Republican voters has been affected.
The Trump strategy in the second debate was to go on the offensive,
instead of appearing contrite or defensive, with the view of rallying
the forces that have brought him so far in American politics. His
defiant and more coherent performance is also likely to stem the rush of
Republicans seeking to distance themselves from him for fear of
alienating his core voters who remain behind him.
It is not that Hillary is wildly popular. Negative news about her
continues to surface, the most recent being a leaked video suggesting
that she has a public and a private position on issues and that she was
with the banking industry on issues of reform. Also that many of the
remarks were made in paid speeches that netted her over $20 million
since she resigned as Secretary of State in 2013. Hillary also has a
record of 30 years of public life to defend and the big question
hovering over her always is: What is it that you have actually achieved?
The campaign remains unpredictable. There is still room for the
spotlight to return on Hillary Clinton's actions, especially in relation
to her emails. On the other hand, a Trump isolated from his party could
go into a sharp decline as undecided voters decide that he is not fit
for office. In this sense, it is a roller-coaster ride. While the
Democrats remain broadly united, Republicans are calculating whether it
is worth their while in detaching themselves from a losing candidate in a
bid to salvage their Congressional, Senatorial and gubernatorial
As of now, we do not have fresh polls following the revelations, but
the ones prior to that have shown a great deal of volatility, with
Hillary's lead varying from 1 to 8 per cent in different polls. Both
candidates do not have a great deal of support — Hillary is supported by
45 per cent and Trump 40 per cent, as of now, with third-party
candidates Gary Johnson at 6 per cent and Jill Stein at 2. Trump and
Hillary need to attract the 7-8 per cent undecideds to win. Often, these
undecideds make up their mind in the last weekend before the election
and are therefore not caught by the polls that take place earlier.
In democracies, elections are a time of division and even bitterness.
But once done, they also bring a new consensus which strengthens the
polity. However, this American election does not indicate that will
happen. A Hillary victory is not likely to resolve the dysfunctions of
American democracy which are now so marked that they require drastic
It is not likely to come with a Democratic majority in the House, and,
given the current mood, the next four years will be wasted opportunity. A
Trump victory, of course, will bring its own set of questions before
us, rather than answers.
As for India, a Hillary presidency will represent continuity, with
officials and cabinet personnel who are familiar with New Delhi. On the
other hand, a Trump presidency could be a sharp discontinuity,
especially since the central message of Trump backers is the need to fix
things in America, rather than focussing on issues abroad.
Mid Day October 11, 2016