‘Trumpmania’ and the US Election Year

January 26, 2016

By Elizabeth Jackson

On Wednesday 20 January 2016, in front of a sold out audience at the Frontline Club, a panel of experts – chaired by journalist Michael Goldfarb – set out to discuss what is in store for this election year in the United States.
Panel prepares for Q & A .

With Donald Trump a serious contender for the Republican ticket, and Bernie Sanders challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democrat candidacy, much of the discussion focused on exactly how and why this unprecedented turn of events had arisen.

Chair Michael Goldfarb kicked off the discussion by asking: “Hand on heart, a year ago had you any idea that this is where we’d be in the presidential campaign of 2016? With Donald Trump well ahead of the pack of the Republican party, and with Bernie Sanders gaining traction on Hillary Clinton?”

“No… but perhaps we should have been,” said Xenia Wickett, head of the US programme at Chatham House.

Peter Trubowitz, professor of International Relations at LSE, highlighted the depth of white resentment “on both sides” of the political spectrum as a reason for Trump’s success. On the right, Trump is tapping into the blue collar and evangelical demographic; on the left, it’s the “college age, highly educated (…) turned off by Hillary and turned on by Sanders or at least some alternative (…) They want something that is more progressive,” said Trubowitz.

“I think they are angry both on the right and on the left, because they believe the political system isn’t working (…) I don’t think it is white resentment, I think it’s a matter of issues and it’s more complicated,” said William Lowery, vice-chair of the Republicans Overseas UK.

“People are sick and tired” of the current state of politics, said Lowery – Trump is successfully tapping into that.

The panel then discussed whether Trump would continue to feature so heavily on the agenda in six weeks time. Trubowitz pointed to Iowa as a potential turning point: “If they [Trump supporters] show up there then something serious is happening.” Washington-based journalist Adam Brookes agreed, and commented that “the bubble will pop” if Trump were to lose in Iowa.

With Clinton’s name most likely on the Democrat ticket, Goldfarb posed the question: “Who can beat Hillary?”

Wickett responded that the candidacy will be Clinton’s to lose, but that “she’s doing a really good job of losing.” The panel agreed that the abortion issue and Clinton’s gender will ultimately pull voters. Women – whether Republican or Democrat – will be more likely to vote for Clinton.

However, Lowery argued that “anyone can beat Hillary Clinton” – as Americans are reluctant to return to the drama of the Clinton family. Lowry also commented that Republic voters often believe that any of their candidates can – and will – beat Hillary Clinton.

“Presidential elections are won in the swing states and at the centre,” said Brookes. The Vice President nomination for both the Republican and Democrat candidate could be vital for winning the swing states. The panel pointed to Michael Bloomberg as one to watch as a potential independent candidate.

In terms of implementing genuine change through policy, the panel noted that the topic of immigration seemed to present the most significant opportunity.

One audience member asked the panel to comment on how American citizens tended to vote – with a view to policy, personality or history? Lowery observed that the portion of voters motivated by policy is diminishing: “it’s very hard to make a policy re-tweetable.”

With just under a year to go until the presidential elections, Brookes concluded that there are still “all kinds of possible outcomes.”