SINCE I wrote in this newspaper last month that Donald Trump wouldn’t make it to the White House a lot has occurred and the first woman to become president in 240 years of US history never happened. History has been eclipsed and as one American commentator questioned, how did a country of 320 million people end up with a cruel choice between a crook and a creep?
Hillary Clinton could not pull it off against the outsider, but few properly appreciated, until Tuesday, that the global uprising of the little guy against the establishment had reached land in America. The signs were there, even if most commentators missed them, Trump didn’t. Brexit should have taught us that nothing is business as usual anymore and nothing is entirely predictable where it once may have been. Clinton overlooked the first warning signs when she barely managed to beat off the challenge to her nomination from the eccentric Bernie Sanders, even with the full force and backing of President Obama behind her.
The establishment on both sides of the American political divide has lost touch with reality and the ability to hear its electorate. The reality is now this; Donald J Trump will be sworn in as the most powerful President since the 1920’s, having control of the White House, Senate and the House, a first in 90 years.
When the debate was not about Trump it was about Clinton. Clinton’s team was sophisticated and Trump’s band of enthusiastic amateurs were not, but the candidate himself was smart enough to know that all the time she had negative polling of over 50%, little more was needed than keeping the debate on anything other than Hillary for her to survive and that is what she was desperate to do.
Trump learned to focus his message back onto his opponent’s failings, he became more disciplined in avoiding the kind of outbursts that had taken her off the agenda before. His new self-control closed the gap, and he repeatedly linked Clinton to the failings of big government in delivering to the small guy and the nation’s forgotten people. The silent majority who have lost out heard him and they let out a deafening roar.
Clinton had a ground-game with troops in every key state and she was technically able to out-gun Trump all the way when it came to getting-out the vote. This should have been her life raft as the polls narrowed in the closing days. On Election Day she cast her own ballot at eight o’clock in the morning alongside her husband Bill, not far from their home at Chappaqua, New York. Trump by contrast was relaxed and waited until lunch time to vote, he was only backed by a pint-sized professional support squad, no match for Clinton’s hired army of officers engaged to polish and push her message, but it was enough for Trump.
Trump’s answer was to build a movement instead of a machine, to create a tidal-wave that would move under the force of its own energy. This was not how the rule book was written and he fell out with the Republican Party leadership as a result of this and other issues. An internal email on 15th October from the Republican National Committee’s Lauren Toomey actually ordered a moratorium on the committee’s “Project Victory” campaign designed to support Trump, in which he ordered “Please put a hold/stop on all mail projects right now. If something is in production or print it needs to stop,” under the subject line “Hold all projects.”
Trump was not distressed by the sabotage from his own party leadership, even when two former presidents refused to back him. He repeated his view that organisation was overrated and was confident that his enthusiasm itself would be enough to beat her machine and the whole system.
A coherent decision maker would have been working every second to get the party back on side, but Trump just took on the role of communicating with the American people directly. He got on his plane, cut out the middle-man and hit the battle ground states over and over again.
On Election Day Ohio came in for Trump at ten-twenty in the evening. It was the first sign of the night that Trump could take the presidency. The State that has voted for the winning candidate in every election since 1964 and which no Republican has ever won the White House without would be backing the winner again this time around.
At eleven-thirty Wisconsin called for Trump with 10 electoral votes and three minutes later the State of Iowa fell and delivered a further 6 votes. At that moment the race was over and Donald Trump realised he would be President of the United States of America, his momentum was going to carry him all the way up Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C.
Trump’s best organisation apparatus was in marginal Michigan, with its 16 electoral votes, he slipped past the winning line there and also triumphed in Florida where no Republican since 1924 has won without winning that state.
Trump does things his way, he produces results first and dictates the terms of settlement later. Instead of building bridges with the Republican Party Trump has railed against them, escalating his anti-establishment rhetoric, relishing the fact that the Republican base had defied its hierarchy and sent him in as a brawler and knock-down street fighter to carry its flag.
He hired operators to make him look more presidential in a shake-up of his team but the grandiloquence never changed and people liked straight talk over spin.
Clinton wanted to own a legacy deserving of the first woman elected to the highest office in the land, one hundred years after American women got the vote. But the reality was a divided America where people who didn’t vote for her do not just dislike Clinton, they loath her as the epitome of everything they hate about politics. Her enemies wanted to impeach her under rules laid out 147 years ago for the trial of President Andrew Johnson, before she had even been elected.
The Republican Party abandoned Trump, and argued for a triage: sacrifice Trump to save the Party and fight another day. But it was Trump that saved them all in the end and it was Clinton who provided the perfect prop against which the ground-swell could rise.
Barrack Obama’s legacy is now dead, most of his keystone policies introduced during two terms as President, by Executive Order, can be revoked at the stroke of a pen and have already been flagged up by Trump for cancellation. The biggest policy casualty will be the revocation of Obama Care and with it all trace that Obama ever existed.
The rhetoric is now over and the word Democracy has been used to extinction in this election; in its name anything goes. It remains to be seen what the long-term effect of this bitter campaign has had on the American psyche, but God bless America and God help the rest of us – even the atheists are praying.
John Kennedy is President of the British Caribbean Chamber of Commerce Saint Lucia and CEO of Boka Group. The views expressed in this Column are his personal views.