Following Super Tuesday, I think it is extremely likely that the next President of the United States of America will be Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.
I was in the United States last week and spoke to lots of people about the elections, as well as watching a range of extensive interviews with Cruz, Rubio and the other candidates on Fox TV. My impressions:
Trump is ahead for many reasons. US Americans have a tendency to elect a president who represents the total opposite of his or her predecessor: They elected Obama because he is totally unlike George W. Bush. Trump is held up as the “anti-Obama” by his supporters. Without a doubt, Obama was one of the weakest US Presidents in foreign policy terms, a fact that Trump has not been slow to point out in a series of brash remarks. Obama stands for “political correctness,” Trump stands for the exact opposite.
As far as the Democrats are concerned, Hillary Clinton has built up a substantial lead with a series of Super Tuesday wins and is now way ahead of her left-wing socialist rival, Bernie Sanders. The relative success of the leftist outsider Sanders has, however, forced Clinton to take up an evermore left-leaning position. There is a real danger that Clinton would continue with Obama’s strategy of steering America in the direction of a European-style welfare state.
As things stand right now, a majority of observers are predicting that it will be Trump against Clinton for the presidency – with Clinton expected to come out on top in a direct race. How do I see things developing from here on out?
- The Democrats are keeping their powder dry and will only wheel out their heavy artillery once Trump is confirmed as the Republican presidential candidate. Things could then quickly get dangerous for Trump. He has certainly been able to brush off every hint of scandal or damaging revelation thrown at him so far. At the moment he seems to be immune from attack – whatever he says and whatever is said about him, nothing seems to put his voters off in the slightest. But all of this could easily change once he is in a real presidential race and has to start winning over undecided, floating and centrist voters.
- On the one hand, Trump is successful in mobilising voters who previously supported the Democrats, or identified as independents, especially those from the working classes. On the other hand, Trump polarises the electorate to such an extent that his candidature could result in an unprecedented mobilisation within the Democrat’s ranks. To some extent the situation reminds of when Franz-Josef Strauß campaigned to become Chancellor of Germany and unwittingly triggered a left-wing mobilisation the likes of which had never been seen in the country before. It should therefore come as no surprise that quite a few Democrats are secretly hoping that Trump ends up as the Republican’s candidate for exactly this reason. This is why they are currently holding back until the Republican’s have decided on their candidate. As soon as Trump receives his party’s official nomination, the situation will change completely.
- A nomination for Cruz, widely regarded as on the “right” of the political spectrum, would also lead to an increase in support for the other side, but not to the same extent as with Trump. Cruz has the advantage that he is not viewed as unpredictable, unlike Trump. I happen to like the economic policies put forward by Cruz – he supports radical tax cuts and is a passionate proponent of free market economics. At the same time he is endorsed by the conservative evangelical Christian groups that form a powerful block within the Tea Party movement. Their support poses a number of problems for Cruz, and is viewed with suspicion by a large swathe of voters. However, the big advantage that Cruz has: Voters know what they will get from him, unlike wild-card Donald Trump. Cruz will argue throughout the upcoming primaries that he has already beaten Trump a number of times – and that it is he, not Trump, who has the best chance of beating Hillary Clinton.
- Trump is going to have to pull off a difficult balancing act: Firstly, he will have to put distance between himself and his image as a wild card candidate who severely polarises the electorate. In attracting the support of a number of major mainstream Republican figures he has already started this process. His biggest win so far has been in gaining the endorsement of the well-known Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie. The balancing act for Trump: In becoming a little more “mainstream” he has to be careful not to tarnish his “anti-Washington” and “anti-establishment” image.