In June 2016, right after the UK voted to leave the EU, I shared some thoughts about what the Brexit vote would mean for US politics and the upcoming presidential election. Seemed obvious to me, but apparently it wasn’t to the Democrats. Re-reading, I see some Canadian parallels as well. One paragraph in particular struck home – I’ve highlighted it. Tell me what you think; do you see what I saw?
Democratic Party strategists were probably quite enthusiastic as they analyzed the returns from Thursday’s Brexit vote. The result was not what they expected, but the demographics, when translated into an American context, would seem to bode well for Hillary Clinton’s team.
Their theory would be that progressive Americans are located in the more liberally minded states such as California and New York, which have the biggest number of electoral votes. Trump can have all the conservative votes he likes, but they won’t be enough to win, even if they are the majority of the people. They just don’t live in the right places
I see a potential flaw in that argument though. Trump has shown great resilience and his team has defied all expectations to date. And that was before he became the presumptive nominee. Now, in theory, he should have access to the top Republican strategists. I have seen some of those people in action. They are used to crafting victories out of a minority position. They know what it takes to get their supporters to the polls on election day.
In the final few days of the Brexit campaign the Remain side pulled ahead in the public opinion polls. When the votes were counted, Leave won the day. Early speculation was that many Remain voters, young and not as politically motivated as their opposition, saw the polls and didn’t bother to cast a ballot. They assumed a victory that was not certain and their cause was lost.
I can see the Clinton forces doing that. After a year they still have difficulty taking Trump seriously. I can understand that. No matter how low your opinion was of the Republican Party prior to the commencement of this campaign, it would have been unfathomable to suggest that the nominee would be a racist, misogynistic blowhard with no experience in elected office. No one could have reasonably expected that the party that trumpets family values would choose as its standard bearer a twice divorced, thrice married businessman whose current wife is best known for scantily clad modelling. But such thinking is so 2014.
Every opponent Trump has faced in the past year has been guilty of seriously underestimating him and his appeal. If Hillary Clinton and the Democrats do that, then Trump becomes president.
One thing the Brexit vote shows that does cross to this side of the Atlantic is that voters are tired of being told what is best for them by politicians who speak down to them. While I must admit I haven’t followed the campaign that closely, I can see that as a very easy trap for Hillary Clinton to fall into. The Democrats consider themselves to be on the side of the angels, or would if they believed in angels. Since they are always right they won’t hesitate in stating that their opponents are wrong, on everything. I suspect that they will deny the legitimacy of opposing viewpoints. (Was I describing not just the Democrats but Justin Trudeau?)
And that is where Trump has the opportunity to win and win big. Voters in many countries, from what I have observed, have grown tired of career politicians telling them there is only one way to think.
As I look at the American presidential campaign, it doesn’t seem to me as if Hillary Clinton is as effective in portraying sympathy as Donald Trump. She tells people what to think instead of listening. And that may be her downfall.