By Sridhar Krishnaswami*
Over the next three weeks, both Republicans and Democrats will be in their final stages of an election campaign that has simply startled America and for all the wrong reasons. If the Grand Old Party finishes its show in Cleveland by July 21, the Democrats will have to wind up their four day circus in Pennsylvania on July 28. Political activists and pundits are well aware of the fact that states like Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania play a critical role in the Presidential sweepstakes. Traditional wisdom has it that a winner must have two out of these states if he is going to enter the White House; and a win in Ohio is almost a must for a President of the United States.
About the most striking of the Republican Party is the lack of unity from within or in any attempt to scale down the dangerous rhetoric of Donald Trump, the Republican nominee. Even getting into the convention centre, there is the talk that somehow delegates could be talked into voting against Trump. And the bizarre thing is that the Speaker’s schedule is almost barren—thus far, not an established Republican of high-standing.
Trump’s pick of Mike Pence as his running mate has been talked about for some time, but the manner in which he went about the announcement has also lent to a lot of criticism. Uncertainty of his pick until the very last minute, Trump is said to be introduced his running mate first in a tweet and later on very casually at an event that was supposed to be focused on Pence. Still not many in the Grand Old Party are convinced of Pence’s strength to the Trump candidacy. Worse, the Indiana Governor’s comparison of Trump to the legendary Ronald Reagan would have infuriated many—for all his simplicity of thinking in many areas, Reagan’s thinking and policies were not based on religion, gender or vitriol. Poison was not a bottom line of the Reagan era.
Pence’s contribution to the Trump presidency bid could be quite minimal other than perhaps boosting the conservative credentials of a ticket that still has a long way to go in assuring America that the basic structure and founding principles of the country is not about to be torn down if Republicans enter the White House in January 2017. It is not just about Islam, terrorism, illegals or the H1B work visa but a general fanning the flames of fear and phobias and in a phony notion that everything will be hunkydory once Trump enters 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The real baffling part of this year’s Republican race has been the non-focus on substantive issues, be it foreign or domestic. The obsessions being what they are, Trump has managed to turn every tragedy into a feast of delight to his supporters by his simplistic explanations; and the shocking aspect is that the electorate may even be listening to him and those of his ilk. The more disturbing element to the Trump candidacy is the virtual non existence of a “brains trust” in the campaign and campaign strategists. This gives rise to an uneasy feeling that just about one person determines all the parameters and in this insistence the framework being within the major thinking of the Republican candidate alone.
National Conventions are generally events that are carefully planned. The manifestos will be written in a non-dramatic fashion with Republicans and Democrats pretty much sticking to their points of views on issues that are dear to them. But the expectation is that this year’s RNC at Cleveland could be boisterous, both inside and outside the Convention Centre. With Trump basically hitting out at minorities at every opportunity, Republicans may be left with very little diversity knowing full well that African Americans and Latinos are a formidable voting force in key states.
But there is another aspect of the November 8 showdown that is of deep worry to the GOP leaders and establishment bosses—the fate of the strength in the House of Representatives and Senate. All 435 members in the former are in the fray and in the Senate 34 law makers are seeing re-election or election. Worrisome for the Republicans is that 24 of its Senators as opposed 10 Democrats are on the mat—with only three Democrats and three Republicans retiring. The GOP has now a 54-44 majority in the Senate with two Independents generally caucusing with the Democrats. Only the very optimistic will be of the view that Trump’s popularity is going to pay dividends to Republican lawmakers; but in large liberal states, Trump’s broadsides against minorities will impact Republican’s seeking re-election/election.
Foreign policy, they say, seldom plays a role in American presidential election. That said, there has rarely been an election since the 1960s in which foreign policy has not been debated seriously, be it with respect to the Vietnam War, the Cambodian sideshow, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the fall of the Berlin War, the First Gulf War, 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, the continuing war on terror and so on. But in the grand scheme of things of the 2016 race one wonders if anything meaningful has been discussed, except perhaps of simplistic solutions to complex problems. The fact that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are running almost even in key states is only indicative of the politics of paranoia having the upper hand at this point of time.
*Dr. Sridhar Krishnaswami is Professor and Head, Dept. of Journalism and Mass Communication of the Faculty of Science and Humanities, SRM University, Chennai. He can be reached at: [email protected]