Who will take control of the Senate?

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Inside the U.S. Senate

With the ongoing race for the Presidency between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump taking most of the headlines, the equally interesting race for control of the US Senate often gets passed over.

Prior to this month’s elections (where thirty-four Senators face re-election) the Republicans held 54 Senate seats, with 44 held by the Democrats, and two held by independents (although both of these independents caucus with the Democrats).

Assuming Hillary Clinton wins the Presidency (which I expect she will), the Democrats need a net gain of four seats to win a majority in the Senate. This gain of four seats would make it a 50–50 split in the Senate. However, the Vice-President gets the deciding vote in the event of ties. Therefore if Clinton is President, the deciding vote will go to Tim Kaine, meaning an effective majority for the Democrats. This means, however, that if Donald Trump manages to win the Presidency, the Democrats need five seats in order to win the Senate.

Where can the Democrats comfortably win seats?

Illinois:

In Illinois it looks as though Republican incumbent Mark Kirk is pretty much dead and buried against challenger, Democratic Congresswomen Tammy Duckworth. Illinois is solidly Democrat and so it was always going to be tough ask for Kirk to retain his seat despite his status as a moderate. As it stands though, this looks like an almost guaranteed Democratic gain.

Wisconsin:

In Wisconsin, Democrat former Senator Russ Feingold is running to unseat Republican incumbent Ron Johnson. Wisconsin hasn’t elected a Republican into the Senate in a Presidential year since Reagan’s Presidential victory in 1980. With Wisconsin looking a solid State for Hillary Clinton, this is unlikely to change this time around. Therefore, this look another almost certain Democratic gain.

Other Races to Watch.

Pennsylvania: Katie McGinty (D) v. Pat Toomey (R).

Here, incumbent Republican Pat Toomey takes on former White House adviser Katie McGinty. Throughout the election, Toomey has tiptoed around the issue of Donald Trump, and has still not said whether he supports his party’s nominee for President. Already, this has become the most expensive race in US Senate history, with money pouring into the State from Democrats in an attempt to unseat Toomey. At the moment, polls suggest it is working, with McGinty 2.0 percent ahead in the RCP average, and on course to take the seat.

Nevada: Catherine Cortez Masto (D) v. Joe Heck (R)

In this race for retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s seat, things have been very close all the way through, with the poll lead flitting between the two candidates. Currently, Cortez Masto holds a lead of just 0.4 percent according the RCP average. However, current data from Nevada suggests that the Democrat Get Out the Vote operation has been extremely successful in terms of early voting for the Presidency, and you would expect it to be similarly successful here. Therefore, it seems likely that Cortez Masto will retain the seat for the Democrats.

Florida: Patrick Murphy (D) v Marco Rubio (R)

Originally, it looked as though Murphy might have a decent chance of winning this seat for the Republicans, especially when Rubio wasn’t going to seek re-election (as he originally announced). However, when Rubio acquiesced to the demands of others in the GOP, and announced that he was running for re-election, things changed. Murphy struggled debating against Rubio, and has also been struggling for cash, which is vitally important in expensive Florida. This has helped to propel Rubio into the lead, and it is looking increasingly as though he will retain his seat.

Missouri: Jason Kander (D) v Roy Blunt (R)

No one expected that virtual unknown Kander would stand much of a chance against seasoned Senator Roy Blunt, but after shooting to prominence recently with a campaign video which showed him assembling a rifle blindfolded, Kander has risen in the polls. The current averages put Blunt just 1.3 percent ahead, with Kander ahead in some polls. This one will come down to the wire, but a strong Democratic turnout on the day should take the seat for Kander.

Indiana: Evan Bayh (D) v Todd Young (R)

Evan Bayh made his comeback this year, attempting to win back the Senate seat which he gave up in 2011. For weeks, he looked like an absolute shoo in to win back his seat, however recently the Republicans have spent big on criticising his ties to lobbyists and the minimal time he actually spends in Indiana. All this has meant that Young actually leads in the polls going into election day, although in reality it is a virtual dead heat. Bayh could certainly take back his seat given strong Democratic turnout on election day, but it is by no means guaranteed.

New Hampshire: Maggie Hassan (D) v Kelly Ayotte (R)

In New Hampshire, Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan faces off against incumbent GOP Senator Kelly Ayotte, who is considered a moderate and has said that she will not be voting for Donald Trump. At the moment it looks as though Ayotte has crept ahead, but who knows what will happen on election day.

Who will take control?

With the Democrats pretty much guaranteed two gains (in Illinois and Wisconsin) they only need to win two of the toss-ups to take control on the Senate. This is, of course, assuming the that Hillary Clinton prevails in the main event. In Pennsylvania and Nevada, they look poised to do just that. It would be no surprise to see McGinty and Cortez Masto elected to the Senate, especially given that it looks likely that their States will go for Clinton in the Presidential election. In addition, who knows whether the Democrats can sneak another of the toss-ups on the day.

In any case, it looks as though, at worst for the Democrats, the Senate will be a 50–50 split. This means that whoever wins the Presidency will have control of the Senate. It look increasingly like the President will be Hillary Clinton, meaning that the Democrats will take back control of the Senate, after losing control in the 2014 midterms.

What next for the Republican Party?

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Donald Trump speaks at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. 

The GOP has been totally split by this election, failure to reconcile its warring factions could result in its demise.

 

The campaign for the Republican nominee for President began in earnest on 23 March 2015, when Texas Senator Ted Cruz announced that he would be seeking the Republican nomination for President. One by one, other high-profile Republicans began to announce that they too would seek the nomination, including the likes of Jeb! Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, and Lindsey Graham. In total, seventeen major candidates campaigned for the nomination, making it the largest single field in United States Presidential primary history.

 

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The campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination featured seventeen major candidates, the most in Presidential primary history. 

 

Of course the ultimate winner of this process, and the person who I have deliberately chosen to refrain from mentioning just yet, was businessman and reality-television star Donald J. Trump.

When Trump announced his campaign for the Republican nomination with a press conference at Trump Tower, New York on 16 June 2015, few foresaw his victory, and even fewer foresaw the impact that Donald Trump would have on the wider Republican Party.

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Donald Trump announces his run for the Presidency at Trump Tower, New York City on 16 June 2015. 

 

The nomination of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee highlighted a huge fissure in the Republican Party between much of the party elite (Senators, Congressmen and women, and Governors) and the Republican base. Time after time, comments by Donald Trump were disavowed by senior Republicans, but party members kept on voting for him. There was seemingly nothing that those in Washington D.C. could do to stop the Trump Train, with establishment candidates like Jeb! Bush, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich unable to conjure any answer at all to the Trump surge.

 

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The likes of Marco Rubio, Jeb! Bush, and John Kasich had no answer to Trump’s popularity with the Republican base.

 

This means that we have an election coming up in November where the candidate at the top of the ticket (Trump) is running on a hugely different platform to many of the Republicans lower down the ticket, who are running for seats in Congress, or on State Legislatures. It seems clear that the Republican Party is hugely divided, which isn’t going to help when it comes to competing in subsequent elections.

Now, all ostensibly ‘big-tent’ parties face internal divisions, and it isn’t this which is the problem. Divisions can exist within parties, as long as these divisions are reconciled to the extent that the party avoids a full blown civil war. We have seen this in the United Kingdom with the takeover of the Labour Party by Jeremy Corbyn, causing a civil war between his faction and the so-called ‘Blairites’. Meanwhile, the governing Conservative Party are able to continue increasing their support, despite huge divisions of their own, simply because they prioritise power ahead of internal squabbles. The same is often true in the United States. The Democratic Primary Campaign showed that the Democrats also faced significant internal divisions, with the left-wing Bernie Sanders gaining huge support in his attempt at beating Hillary Clinton to the nomination. However, once Clinton won the nomination, the Democrats put much of this squabbling behind them because they recognised that winning the Presidency was more important than an ideologically pure political party.

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Bernie Sanders gained a lot of support in his campaign for the Democratic nomination, but then offered strong support to Hillary Clinton following her win. 

 

The Republicans have manifestly failed to do this, and the Trump campaign can count on one hand the number of senior GOP lawmakers who are actively campaigning for him around the country. This is for a good reason, Trump has done absolutely nothing to gain the support of the party elite, and has instead chosen to shun them at every available opportunity by regularly making disparaging remarks about people like Jeb! Bush, John McCain, and Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan. On the Democratic side, the Clinton campaign recognised the need to reach out to Bernie Sanders and those who supported him during the primaries, with the result being that Sanders has campaigned around the country on her behalf, leading to a much more comfortable election campaign. Trump on the other hand failed to do this, meaning that throughout the campaign he has been fighting on two frontiers: against the Democrats, and against the Republican Party elite. Given this situation, it is perhaps a miracle that he remains somewhat in contention for the Presidency at this late stage.

This being said, it remains unlikely that Donald Trump will win the Presidency next week. This leaves the Republican Party at a crossroads, where failure to choose the right path could easily result in the demise of the Grand Old Party — at least in the sense of the party being unable to compete for the Presidency.

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Could George W. Bush be the last Republican President?

 

In the Republican Party, this crossroads comprises two very distinct factions. One the one side, you have the moderates, the wing of the party which has dominated the Republican Party throughout most of its existence, particularly at the Presidential level. On the other side, you have what we’ll call the ‘Trumpists’, a movement which has effectively morphed out of the Tea Party movement which has come to the forefront of the Republican Party within the last ten years.

Assuming that Trump loses on 8 November, there are many from the moderate wing of the party who will feel that the Trump experiment has come to an end, and that they will be able to return to something resembling their prior more moderate ideology. However, this will be far easier said than done. The rhetoric emanating from Trump over the course of the campaign is that the election, and indeed the whole political system, is rigged. Therefore, Trump supporters are being primed to not accept the result of next week’s election. If this is the case, and Trump’s most keen supporters refuse to accept the result in significant numbers, then rebuilding the Republican Party of old could prove almost impossible.

The difficulties that the Republican Party face today have been a long time coming, with the grounds for these difficulties perhaps being set in 1980 when the Republicans returned to presidential power with Ronald Reagan.

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Ronald Reagan won the 1980 Presidential Election with a hugely different electoral coalition to the one which traditionally supported Republican Presidential candidates. 

 

This was done with an almost completely different electoral coalition than that which usually supported the Republicans, with Reagan’s supporters encompassing many evangelical Christians and white working-class ex-Democrats. These new party members were in sharp contrast to the existing pro-business conservatives who made up the Republican Party. More recently, these divisions have been manifested in the rise of the Tea Party movement, which mostly occurred during the 2010 midterms, although it could be said that the 2008 selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running-mate also helped to usher the Tea Party onto the national stage.

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The selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s 2008 running-mate helped to usher the Tea Party onto the national stage in the 2010 midterms. 

 

With the emergence of the Tea Party, the moderate wing of the GOP effectively lost control of the primary process. This has led to many Tea Party backed candidates winning Republican primaries and then getting trounced by their Democratic opponents in Congressional races (remember Christine O’Donnell?), although this being said there have also been many Tea Party backed candidates who have made it into Congress due to their standing in safe Republican seats. One of the most notable of these was Tea Party candidate Dave Brat who challenged then Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for his Congressional seat in Virginia in a primary prior to the 2014 midterms. In a huge upset, Brat defeated Cantor 55.5%-44.5%, and with this Cantor became the first ever House Majority Leader to lose his seat in a primary challenge.

 

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Tea Party backed candidate Dave Brat was able to defeat House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014. 

 

The Tea Party takeover of the Republican Party, particularly in terms of their House of Representatives group, caused huge problems for the moderate party elite. It was effectively this that caused the resignation of Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, with the Tea Party wing kicking up a huge fuss if Boehner so much as considered compromise with President Obama and the Democrats. This led to the Republican Party being forced to shift further to the right of the ideological spectrum in order to appease the Tea Party faction, and by extension the grassroots of the party. This has culminated in the election of Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for President, and what is effectively an existential crisis for the Republican Party.

 

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The Tea Party caused huge problems for John Boehner during his time as Speaker of the House. 

 

Given that this Tea Party wing of the party is totally unelectable on the national stage then the answer would seem pretty straightforward. If asked the question: which way should the Republican Party go? then you would expect any rational person to suggest that they go the way of the moderates, i.e. those who have some chance of winning the Presidency. However, it is not that simple. Those who vote in the Republican primaries are the party grassroots, and as I said previously this group are on a completely different wavelength ideologically to those in the moderate wing of the party. It is these in the party grassroots who are relied upon to campaign when it comes around to elections, and so to a certain extent it is very important to be able to keep them onside. In addition, the problem is further complicated by the Conservative ideologues who populate the likes of Fox News, Breitbart, and Conservative talk radio. It is these individuals who effectively control much of the modern Republican Party and to whom Republican politicians are forced to pander if they wish to appeal to their grassroots supporters, indeed the Chief Executive of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign is Stephen Bannon who is on leave from Breitbart for the duration of the campaign. The likes of Fox News commentator Sean Hannity, and radio hosts Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, and Laura Ingraham have been particularly keen backers of Trump, and it is these people who set the tone in the modern Republican Party.

 

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Fox News presenter Sean Hannity has been a particularly keen supporter of Donald Trump. 

 

This group could soon include Trump himself, if he launches ‘Trump TV’. It has been suggested that his son-in-law and de-facto campaign manager, Jared Kushner, has been attempting to drum up support for this, although naturally when asked Kushner denied it. In any case, the Conservative media will go a long way to deciding which way the Republican Party goes. It seems extremely unlikely that following a Donald Trump loss, they will simply roll over and allow the moderates to take back the party. If anything, it is more likely for the Tea Party wing of the GOP to blame to moderates, and suggest that the party needs to shift even further right.

In short, there seems little chance that the two factions of the Republican Party will reconcile. What this means, is that they could instead split.

The possibility of a split in the party has been suggested by several high-profile moderate Republicans, perhaps most notably by Steve Schmidt who was a key advisor on George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, and who managed John McCain’s 2008 campaign for the Presidency. In an interview with Vox, Schmidt said:

I think the Republican Party has an outstanding chance of fracturing. There will be the alt-right party; then there will be a center-right conservative party that has an opportunity to reach out, repair damage, and rebuild the brand over time. America, ideologically right now, is a centrist country — it used to be a center-right country — but it’s by no means a Bernie Sanders country. Not even close. The market will demand a center-right party.

There seems little doubt that a split like this would indeed be possible. If someone with no knowledge of American politics were to compare the views espoused by Donald Trump during his Presidential campaign with the views of some moderate Republicans, perhaps Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona and Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, then it would be unlikely that they’d guess that Trump was technically part of the same party as Flake and Kirk. This means that the landscape is ripe for a split, and it seems unlikely that either of the two factions would be particularly adverse to this outcome. Indeed, the aforementioned Flake has himself said that if the Republican Party doesn’t undergo a dramatic shift in policy and tone then they will consign themselves to “political oblivion”. Given that the grassroots supporters of the Republican Party won’t tolerate this kind of policy change, a split seems the only option.

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Arizona Senator Jeff Flake has suggested that the Republican Party need to undergo a dramatic policy shift if they are to remain electorally viable on the national stage. 

 

However, the problem with a split is that it would be highly likely that it would end the possibility of a Republican being elected as President for a generation. The first-past-the-post electoral college system for electing the US President means that third-parties have almost no chance at all of gaining electoral votes. The effect of the Republican Party splitting would be that their vote would also be split, making a Republican President an impossibility.

A split would likely consign the Republican Party (and any new party) to the electoral dustbin. If the Republican Party is serious about winning the Presidency then it needs to unite and reconcile the more conservative wing of the party with the moderate wing. Because running on a moderate platform is the only way to win the Presidency. This particularly the case in modern America where demographic changes mean that the electoral map is skewed more and more in favour of the Democratic Party. The likes of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Colorado tend to be touted as swing states, however statistically it looks as though it would be fair to classify these states as safe Democratic. Even Texas, once the bastion of Republican support, is turner bluer every year thanks to a rapidly increasing Hispanic population flexing its political muscles. These changes are making it more and more difficult for even a moderate Republican Party to win the Presidency, meaning that an ‘alt-right’/Tea Party Republican Party has absolutely no chance of national success.

The only hope for the Republican Party’s survival would be for the party to unite around a moderate candidate to take the party forward. This could be John Kasich, who it is rumoured is already preparing another bid for the Republican nomination in 2020.

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It has been rumoured that Ohio Governor John Kasich is already preparing another bid for the Presidency in 2020.

 

As the aforementioned Steve Schmidt has said: “there’s no question that Republicans — as an institution and what we’re led by — are unfit to run the country, or to govern the country.” And he’s absolutely right. For rational, moderate voters, the Democrats are the only option. For liberals like myself this is great at first glance, but history shows that a lack of credible political opposition isn’t good for anyone, and ultimately leads to inefficient government.

For the Republicans the task is simple, they must take a more moderate path and stop obsessing about settled social issues that don’t concern the wider electorate. Failure to appeal to the wider election will result in the demise of the party of Lincoln, which is still affectionately known as the Grand Old Party.

For democracy, this would be a sorry result.

 

Stop saying Trump is like Brexit!

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I personally don’t think that Donald Trump will win the Presidential election. I’ve said this ever since he announced his candidacy, and although by winning the Republican nomination he proved me wrong to a certain extent, I stand by my original prediction.

With Hillary Clinton surging to a lead of 11 percent in post-debate polling byNBC News and The Wall Street Journal, a Trump victory seems to be more unlikely than ever before. Nonetheless, I’ve lost track of the amount of times that I have read something which suggests that Trump ability to win is being massively underestimated, much like the way in which most people (me included) underestimated the ability of the Leave campaign to win in the EU Referendum. Generally this argument seems to rest upon the so-called ‘huge similarities’ between the Trump campaign and the Leave campaign, with these similarities allegedly suggesting that the victory for the Leave campaign in the EU Referendum foreshadowed a Trump victory in November.

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Does the victory of the Leave campaign in June’s EU Referendum foreshadow a Trump victory in November?

 

At first glance this rings true. On the surface, there are indeed some superficial similarities between the two campaigns.

Both campaigns have been led by charismatic individuals. Trump himself is inarguably charismatic, whilst the leading Leave campaigners — Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, and erm…Michael Gove, managed to successfully pitch themselves in a more charismatic and optimistic way to their opponents on the Remain side.

In addition, both campaigns were built on a base of support which strongly felt that immigration had spun out of control and fundamentally altered the identity of their respective countries, and which is hugely distrustful of the so-called political elite.

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Vote Leave were helped by charismatic leaders like Boris Johnson. 

 

But, when you dig a little deeper, these similarities end.

Firstly, the arguments of the Trump campaign and the Leave campaign are not as similar as has often been suggested. Trump is vehemently against anti-free trade, and advocates strong protectionist measures. This wasn’t the argument of the Leave campaign. They were just as in favour of free-trade as the Remain campaign, where the two campaigns differed was simply how this goal could be best achieved. In addition, the political elite which Trump supporters distrust is based at home in Washington; in contrast to the Leave campaign, whose quarrel was with unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. In short, the US election is not a debate about sovereignty in the same way the EU Referendum was.

Secondly, the rhetoric surrounding the campaigns is very different. The Leave campaign was strongly in favour of reducing immigration. But, aside from Nigel Farage standing in front of some despicable posters, the Leave campaigners weren’t overtly racist. Donald Trump on the other hand, has consistently offered racist and xenophobic views; including the labelling of Mexicans as ‘rapists and thieves’, his suggestion that Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s Mexican ancestry precluded him from being fair, his suggestion that he saw Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks, and his long running campaign suggesting that Barack Obama isn’t an American. Add this to his seeming indifference to sexual harassment and his admiration for Vladimir Putin; and you’ve got a candidate who many people can’t morally bring themselves to vote for. Even those who agree with Trump on the economy and energy policy for example, can’t bring themselves to vote for a candidate who is so overtly racist, and who will nominate a Supreme Court justice who will roll back minority rights so significantly.

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Trump’s praise of Vladimir Putin, and derogatory remarks about Gonzalo Curiel (among others), means that many people have a moral objection to voting for him even if they agree with him on economic policy or energy policy. 

 

Thirdly, perhaps the main reason that Brexit doesn’t foreshadow a Trump victory, is that the UK and US electorates are not directly comparable. Trump main base of support comes from white males, the same base of support that the Leave campaign could draw upon. However, the main difference is that in the UK, 87 percent of the electorate is non-Hispanic white, compared with just 63 percent in the US. In the EU Referendum, ethnic minority groups voted overwhelmingly to remain, however the electorate simply wasn’t diverse enough for this to make a tangible difference. In the US, it is estimated that more than 30 percent of the electorate will be part of an ethnic minority group. Throughout the Presidential campaign, most polls have fluctuated between the two candidates. However, one poll which hasn’t changed, is that ethnic minority voters have an extremely unfavourable view of Donald Trump. Given the high number of ethnic minority voters in the US, this can make a tangible difference on the result, unlike in the EU Referendum.

In addition, anti-EU sentiment had been brewing in the UK for many years, whereas Trump is a new phenomenon. Many in the Leave campaign had been working for years to cultivate sympathy for a leave vote, and this helped hugely when it came to the referendum. There is also the fact that even many of those who supported remain, were lukewarm in their feelings about the EU. This isn’t the case with Trump. Those who oppose him, are vehemently against almost everything he stands for, and will turn out to vote to ensure that he doesn’t become President. Those who support Trump at this election won’t go away overnight. In fact, they will perhaps offer their biggest challenge at the next Presidential election, where an individual more palatable to the wider electorate can act as their standard bearer. This was effectively the case in the UK for a long time. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) had been building support for years, but hit a wall in part because the vast majority of people couldn’t bring themselves to cast a vote for a divisive figure like Nigel Farage. Indeed, Vote Leave Campaign Director Dominic Cummings said this week that Farage’s unpopularity came extremely close to them losing the referendum, and that excluding him from the wider campaign was key to their victory.

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Vote Leave Campaign Director, Dominic Cummings, has said that Nigel Farage’s unpopularity with the wider electorate meant that excluding him from the campaign was vital for victory. 

 

Donald Trump’s unpopularity is on another level to Nigel Farage. Although Trumpian politics may take root for years to come, they won’t be electorally successful until someone less divisive than Trump is found to be the standard bearer (maybe Mike Pence in 2020?).

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Could Mike Pence be the long-term standard bearer for Trumpian politics?

 

Finally, it would be wrong not to consider the differences in the democratic mechanism used for the EU Referendum and the mechanism that will be used for the presidential election. In the referendum, the traditional UK constituency boundaries didn’t feature. This meant that there were no ‘safe seats’, and every vote counted. The US Electoral College system is different, as it means that the campaign can be primarily fought in the swing states. The election will mostly be decided in Ohio, Colorado, and Florida; rather than through a nationwide popular vote. This gives a huge advantage to the more organised and strategic campaign, and there is little doubt that this is the Clinton campaign. The way the Electoral College is set up gives a huge advantage to the Democrats. Since 1992, there are eighteen states (plus the District of Columbia) which have been won by the Democrats every time. Between them, these states encompass 242 electoral college votes, very close to the 270 required for victory. Hillary Clinton only needs to win a couple of the swing states to become President. Donald Trump on the other hand, needs to hold all of the states won by Romney in 2012, plus win all of the major swing states. This would be an extremely difficult task even for the most popular of nominees. For Trump it is nigh on impossible. Whereas the format of the referendum gave the Leave campaign a clear road to victory, the same cannot be said for Trump in this presidential campaign.

So, although there are certainly some similarities on the surface, Brexit certainly doesn’t suggest a Trump victory. So stop saying it does!

What to expect from the Vice-Presidential debate.

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Tonight, the first and only Vice-Presidential debate between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence will take place, at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia.

Typically, there is minimal media attention directed toward the Vice-Presidential debate in an election campaign. This is because the Vice-Presidential debate rarely influences the result of the election in the same way as the Presidential Debates proper do. However, tonight’s debate still matters, and could potentially be important to the eventual outcome of the campaign.

Usually, the point of the Vice-Presidential debate is to test the competence of each Vice-Presidential nominee in case of a situation arising where said nominee is forced to deputise (or take over from) the sitting President. This means that the Vice-Presidential debate is usually a thorough discussion of the record of each candidate, and their competency for the job in hand.

However, this won’t be the case this time around.

This Presidential campaign has been dominated by the records of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and the suitability of each of these candidates for the White House. Expect, this Vice-Presidential debate to be completely dominated by discussion of the competency of Trump and Clinton. Effectively Pence and Kaine will simply be acting as surrogates for their running mates, and answering questions on their behalf.

For Kaine this will mean going after Trump’s temperament and looking to hammer home the message that Clinton looked to push during the first Presidential Debate — that Trump doesn’t have the temperament required for the Oval Office. Given the week that Trump has had, Kaine will certainly have plenty of readily available material to use to criticise Trump.

Pence, on the other hand, will look to push the Trump line that Clinton will not be able to create the change in Washington that Trump can, and that she is simply a member of the political establishment. With Clinton having won the first debate, but not scored anything close to a knockout blow, Kaine’s performance could be very important.

For Pence, he needs to be able to show stability in the Trump campaign. Although Clinton won the debate, it wasn’t a thrashing by any means. However, Trump then spent the rest of the week making things very difficult for himself. He re-ignited a feud with a former Miss Universe winner, which involved him tweeting abuse in the early hours of Friday morning. There was then an investigation by The New York Times which suggested that Trump had been able to avoid income tax for almost twenty years, he failed to respond to this. Finally, he faced renewed question about the status of his charitable foundation, which he failed to answer satisfactorily. None of these did him any favours in terms of his goal of appearing Presidential. Pence needs to put in a solid, measured performance in order to try and put out the fire Trump has lit for himself.

Both Kaine and Pence are known for being mind-mannered, and so it will be interesting to see how they rise to the task of strongly criticising their opponent’s campaign. For Pence, the task is perhaps hardest. He has already been called into action throughout the campaign to defend Trump, but with the week Trump has had, this could prove very difficult. His only option could be to go on the attack.

What could be interesting is whether the debate boils down to a discussion on social issues. This was something which wasn’t covered in the first Presidential Debate, in part because they aren’t a key part of either Trump or Clinton’s pitch to become President. However, Pence is a social-conservative and has long been a champion of the anti-abortion movement, and the push to defund Planned Parenthood. On the other hand, Kaine has been a strong proponent for the abolition of the death penalty, and is generally socially liberal.

Overall, this Vice-Presidential debate could be an interesting one. With Pence facing the task of getting back on message, and negating the impact of some of Trump’s recent indiscretions; and Kaine attempting to hammer home these indiscretions, it could make for compelling viewing. On the other hand, with neither candidate known for their exciting oratory, it could be very dull. Who knows!

Gary Johnson wins this year’s Palin-Perry award.

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Libertarian Party candidate for President Gary Johnson. 

Libertarian Party candidate for President Gary Johnson is fast becoming the most mocked candidate in this Presidential debate on account of some of his mistakes during the campaign. Quite an achievement in an election featuring Donald Trump.

Johnson’s latest misstep brings back memories of the candidacies of Sarah Palin and Rick Perry for sheer idiocy.

When being interviewed on Wednesday on MSNBC, Johnson was asked the question, “Who is your favourite foreign leader?”

Johnson sighed and took a deep breath, clearly struggling to answer the question, before saying, “I guess I’m having an Aleppo moment.” This refers to Johnson’s now infamous television appearance in which he answered a question about Aleppo, the epicentre of the Syrian Civil War with, “What is a leppo?”

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Gary Johnson looks blank as he attempts to name his favourite foreign leader. 

After putting his difficulty in answering the question down to ‘brain freeze’, Johnson then quickly stated that his favourite foreign leader was the former President of Mexico. But he still didn’t know his name. His Vice-Presidential running mate Bill Weld then had to step in and put him out of his misery with the name of Vicente Fox.

Johnson’s original ‘Aleppo moment’ suggested that he was severely lacking in basic foreign policy skills, and this latest misstep only proves it further. This won’t impress traditional Republicans amongst whom Johnson has proved relatively popular due to their concerns over Donald Trump’s foreign policy credentials. Could Johnson’s mistakes therefore prove beneficial to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy?

Johnson’s inability to remember a single world leader who he admired, brings back memories of similar mistakes during previous Presidential campaigns.

For example Sarah Palin’s (when running as John McCain’s running mate in 2008) failure to name a single newspaper or magazine that she had read, instead answering: “Um, all of ’em, any of ’em that, um, have, have been in front of me over all these years.”

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In an interview during the 2008 Presidential Campaign, Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin infamously failed to name a single newspaper or magazine that she had read. 

 

Similarly, during the 2012 Republican Primary debates, Rick Perry could only remember two of the three federal government departments that he was pledging to scrap, one of his keynote policies.

 

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During the 2012 Republican Primary Campaign, Rick Perry (left) couldn’t remember one of his keynote policies. 

So Gary Johnson’s ‘brain freeze’ is just the latest in a long line of similar moments during Presidential campaign.

Both the Palin and Perry incidents were famously satirised on Saturday Night Live, and one would expect that comedians will have similar fun at the expense of Gary Johnson over the next few weeks.

For Sarah Palin, the interview in question proved to be the spark for her loss of public support and descent into caricature, whilst for Perry it signalled the beginning of the end for his Presidential ambitions. What is interesting in the case of Johnson though, is that his poll numbers haven’t yet been hit as a result of his latest mistake. This perhaps points to the strangeness of this Presidential race. We’ve seen it time and time again with Donald Trump, candidates seem to be given far more leeway to make mistakes (unless you’re considered to be part of the Washington elite of course), and perhaps this is why Johnson is yet to haemorrhage support. Either way, this election just gets stranger and stranger.

Hillary Clinton’s pneumonia shouldn’t preclude her from becoming President, but it has certainly handed Donald Trump a real chance.

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton’s doctor revealed that she had been diagnosed with pneumonia on the previous Friday, leading to speculation that she may have to drop out of the race.

There are many on the side of Republican nominee Donald Trump who say that Clinton’s illness has proved that she is not fit to serve as President, and that she should therefore withdraw herself from consideration. However, an illness such as this should not preclude a candidate from consideration in a Presidential race.

There is a long history of ill health amongst individuals serving as President of the United States, and so it should not really be seen as such a problem.

Some of the most celebrated individuals to have served as President suffered from serious health problems during their time in office. Woodrow Wilson suffered a serious stroke whilst in office, and became permanently paralysed on his left side. He continued to run the country whilst keeping his condition a secret from his Cabinet and the general public. John F. Kennedy was diagnosed with Addison’s Disease in 1947, which caused him to suffer from an array of health problems, fourteen years before becoming President. He kept this secret from the electorate whilst projecting an image of youth and vitality during the campaign. And, perhaps most importantly for the Republicans calling on Clinton to drop out, Ronald Reagan, who became the eldest first term President in 1981, was also plagued by an array of serious health problems during his Presidency. This included having to relinquish Presidential power to the Vice-President for a period of eight hours during 1985 whilst he underwent surgery to remove cancerous tissue from his colon. The suitability of these individuals wasn’t questioned in the same way as Hillary Clinton’s is being today.

As long as a candidate can demonstrate the skills and experience to serve as President (and we know that Hillary Clinton certainly can) then their health shouldn’t be a significant problem, and therefore Hillary Clinton should not be perceived negatively as a result of being diagnosed with pneumonia.

On the contrary, she should be applauded for continuing with her heavy schedule despite the onset of illness.

However, although Clinton’s pneumonia should not preclude her from becoming the President, it has handed Donald Trump a significant opportunity. The problem is not the illness itself, but rather the way in which it was handled by the Clinton campaign.

Although Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday, this wasn’t revealed by the campaign until Sunday. Prior to this revelation, aides stated that the episode which saw Clinton collapse at the 9/11 commemoration in New York was simply a case of “overheating”.

Now for most candidates, this shouldn’t be a particularly big deal. Although the campaign can be accused of a lack of transparency, candidates on the Presidential campaign trail have historically become ill because of the hectic schedule and have not been expected to disclose their illnesses.

However, the problem for Hillary is that she is already seen to be lacking in honesty. Polling by numerous organisations has suggested that the vast majority of the American electorate do not believe that she is honest and trustworthy. For there to be another instance which allows this accusation to be levelled against her is the last thing that the campaign needs.

This incident only serves to remind the electorate of the Clinton family’s reputation for dishonesty. A reputation perhaps unfairly gained but, in the context of a Presidential campaign, what is fair or unfair doesn’t really come into it. This incident will only serve to remind the electorate of the problems with Clinton’s emails, or of the accusations levelled against her husband during his time as President.

It would be surprising for this incident not to further hit Clinton’s poll numbers, and with only a couple of months until the election, this is the last thing she needs.

If Clinton is to be sure to win this election then she needs to end her lack of openness, described by former Obama strategist David Axelrod as, “an unhealthy penchant for privacy that repeatedly creates unnecessary problems.” Remember that prior to Thursday, the Clinton campaign hadn’t held a proper press conference for around nine months. This lack of transparency hasn’t gone down too well with the press, and is also likely to play into Trump’s hands. Over the course of the campaign Trump has criticised Clinton for looking as though she lacks energy, and this incident is simply going to provide him with another opportunity to do the same.

In any democracy around the world, the electorate do not generally take kindly to having the wool pulled over their eyes. When you take into account the fact that the Clinton campaign already has a reputation for lacking transparency, then failing to disclose the extent of her illness could be an error of great magnitude.

Ultimately, although the illness itself should in no way prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming President, the campaign’s handling of the issue has been poor. Particularly at this late stage in the campaign.

This definitely gives Trump the chance to cash in and gain the momentum once again.

If Clinton is serious about winning the Presidency, then the errors needs to stop. She has had ample opportunity to put the Presidential race to bed, but little slip-ups keep stopping her in her tracks.

If she is going to defeat Trump in November then these errors need to stop, and she needs to open her campaign up to more press scrutiny in order to dispel the views of those who call her dishonest. If she fails to do this, who knows what will happen come November, what is certain though, is that Trump will have the edge.