It’s an asymmetry that may determine the election: in contradistinction to the Democratic nominee, Donald Trump has hammered away at the electorate with a few controversial ideas. These ideas have been castigated, ridiculed, and discussed so much that the main 3 or 4 of them are easy to reel off. Trump has a gimme cap that says ‘Make America Great Again.’ He ‘wants to build a wall.’ He favors: 1) establishing inviolable national borders and radically altering US immigration policies; 2) ending ‘unfair’ trade deals; and 3) radically reducing US commitments overseas.
Trump has been careful never to disavow these ‘unpopular’ ideas. He has articulated them with intense discipline for more than a year, through countless interviews, debates, speeches, and rallies. No matter how odious, these are the main ideas he stands for. To the mainstream of both parties, any one of these goals is anathema. So, American politics has been furiously warring over Donald Trump’s ideas for almost two years.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has run a far more sophisticated and decorous campaign. Suddenly, though, commentators and allies are noting that her campaign is singularly empty of goals and ideas. The bland sameness she offers is meant to be reassuring, premised on the assumption that most of the country ‘feels okay.’ But what does Clinton stand for? Where would she lead? What, in a nutshell, is her vision of our future?
Public intellectuals friendly to Clinton are prodding her to zero in on something. But the asymmetry already established may continue to weigh heavily on her campaign.
Image: Aerial of Florida,
© 2016 Susan Barsy
Albert R. Hunt, ‘Hillary Needs a Better Slogan’ (Bloomberg View)
Very thoughtful post, as always. Part of what has been lacking is a clear theme or set of clear themes, something the Sanders campaign had and what made it so attractive and generated such enthusiasm. It is difficult to inspire people with what amounts to a “platform,” which is always a good and responsible thing to have, but not for generated excitement. Trump by contrast has no platform. We know more or less what HRC would try to do if she wins; Trump is a wild-card and could do almost anything.
Yes, interesting the distinction between a ‘platform’ and ‘themes.’ Trump is an ideological ‘standard-bearer’ of sorts but he isn’t actually bearing the GOP’s standard. And I agree with you about Sanders: his ability to stay on message was remarkable, too. His supporters didn’t care what his proposals would cost: they valued him for his brave authenticity. I believe something similar is at work in some of the support for Trump, too.
If you could formulate a set of themes for Clinton, what would they be? Has she avoided pointed commitments because whatever she might declare for would limit her just-barely-large-enough coalition of support? This short post by Tyler Cowan is thought-provoking:
The media has avidly covered the disarray in the Republican party but given less attention to the ways that the Democratic party is riven.
Lawrence Lessig has argued that Clinton should promise to reform the establishment, but it’s too late for that, and I doubt many people would deem her suited to that role.
Yep, you hit the nail on the head exactly as to why Trump is doing so well. His ideas and themes are odious and dangerous and wrought with hate. Yet they are easy to recall and can be rattled off by anyone over the age of seven. Plus, he says them with SUCH fervor, strength, and “fire in the belly.” Much of the voting public likes it. . . . Hillary is–well–the “stable and straight” candidate, but boring! I tune into the nightly news and see clips of her giving stump speeches here and there, but she lacks Trump’s dynamism. I think that the very best speech she gave was at the Democratic convention. It was strong and powerful, plus well delivered. . . . Excellent post.
I wonder what you think of the two candidates’ performance in the debate? I’m interested in hearing the impressions of my readers.
Thanks for writing in!