I have seen every speech from the Republican National Convention (RNC) and primarily watched the Republican news channel, Fox News, this week for input on the election. As an avid Hillary supporter, I wanted to try and understand what the Republicans think. I have also talked to Republican voters over the past week, to learn and expand my horizon. It has been a very interesting week.
The RNC speeches portray a divided party with its own set of challenges. The plagiarism from Melania Trump´s speech, Chris Christies bashing of Hillary, Ted Cruz not supporting Trump, appointing Mike Pence as VP and all Trump´s children, are some of the high and lowlights.
Unlike Norway, the largest news channels are either Republican or Democrat. That means that you get a very subjective and selective coverage of the race to the White House, no matter which channel you watch. On Fox News, Hillary Clinton is portrayed as the devil incarnated. Donald Trump as a one-dimensional egomaniac on other channels. Neither of which are called for. In other words, the news channels strongly contribute to the polarization and have to take a lot of the blame for a divided USA.
The only thing the Republicans seem to fully agree on is that they don´t want Hillary Clinton, also because she is identified with Obama and the frustration pointed at him as the leader of the country. Many view her as Obamas third term. In addition to the general “a good guy, but all words and no action” perception, he is blamed for the heightened black/white race tensions, ironically.
The name Hillary was mentioned more often during the RNC than their own candidate. Republicans are more caught up in what they don´t want, than what they do want. The downside for the Republicans is that this is neither inspirational nor very presidential. After talking to multiple Republican voters here, they feel that they don´t have a choice but to vote for Trump. If the Democrats are able to do the opposite next week at their convention (DNC), and come across as one strong team, they are wise. That remains to be seen.
Still a favorite
There are several reasons why Hillary still comes across as the favorite, even if that can change depending on who plays their cards best going forward.
Americans have a tradition of choosing their president from the center, and Hillary is the center among the two.
Hillary Clinton is the most qualified presidential candidate in the USA in modern times. When her husband Bill was elected the first time, he arrived in Washington not even remotely close to the experience his wife now has. At the same time is it not given that the most qualified gets elected.
Her biggest challenge is that she is very controversial. Most Americans either love her or hate her. Fortunately for Hillary, her opposition is even more unpopular than she is.
She fights for values that represent progress. On the traditional values that divide the USA, she fights for the right to abortion and equality for women and LGBT. None of which are a given in today´s USA. Her long foreign policy experience has made her more open, listening and less prejudiced. Trump wants to take USA back to what it used to be “Make America Great Again”, by prohibiting abortion and only allow marriage between a woman and a man. By choosing Mike Pence as his vice president nominee, who says he is first a Christian, then a conservative and last a Republican, this is reinforced.
Hillary Clinton has a deep core knowledge, but lacks some charisma to connect to the general public. One of her key challenges as a candidate, is that she doesn´t create the same enthusiasm on stage as for instance Obama. Trump is also better at this. But few politicians in the world are more knowledgeable, well prepared and hard working than her. Just ask former Norwegian Secretary of State, Jonas Gahr Støre: “Clinton is professional, thorough and knowledgeable”, he said after a meeting with her.
As such, Hillary is more like the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the new British Prime Minister Theresa May and our Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg. They are very capable women that execute policy, but do not thrive in the spotlight or are particularly charismatic. No wonder Clinton is highly respected and admired in Europe.
All candidates have made mistakes over a lifetime. Very few, if any, have been attacked and investigated over 20 years as much as Hillary Clinton. The fact that she is still standing tall at 69 and also keeps fighting for what she believes in, is impressive as well as inspiring.
The antipathy many feel towards her can be surprising from a Norwegian perspective, but many Americans don´t identify with her. She is considered elitist. She also scores low on trust.
Careless use of classified emails is her most known mistake. In addition, she has gotten a lot of heat for the way she handled the terror attack in Benghazi In 2012, where four Americans where killed. Both could have been handled better. This is used by her opponents for all it´s worth. The nickname “Crooked Hillary” is used again and again as a rhetoric measure by Republicans to create an impression of a woman that cannot be trusted. However, when the media and others truly start vetting Donald Trump, we are likely to expect a lot worse than this.
Changes after eight years
What speaks against a victory for the Democrats and Hillary is that Americans have a tradition of choosing the opposite party after eight years with the same president. This holds true noting the frustration connected to Obama. This makes a Republican President more likely in 2017.
Yet, this statistic is less likely to stand, as the Republicans have not been able to nominate a mote electable candidate. They have even chosen one that divides the party. The republican Ted Cruz could not even give Trump his support in his RNC speech after Trump was elected, but said that everyone should vote her or his conscience.
Of course, Donald Trump should not be underestimated. After all he has succeeded in becoming the Republican nominee against all odds. He is smart enough to adapt to wherever the tide goes, but he must succeed in becoming more presidential this fall. If there is one thing Donald Trump is good at, it is closing deals. Will he close the biggest one of them all?
Trump seemed rather alone at the RNC outside his inner circle, which consists of his family and close friends. This can be interpreted in many ways, but clearly he doesn’t have a massive support in his own party. He only became a Republican a few years ago and many do not see him as a Republican, but as an opportunist. Saying that he chose the Republicans, because that´s where he considered his best chances of getting the nomination. And he sure did.
The fact that Trump is the opponent is in many ways a dream scenario for Hillary and the Democrats. It would be more challenging to win if the Republicans chose a more solid, politically experienced person with traditional values and a higher likability factor. Someone more like Hillary, but a man. That´s exactly why Hillary chose such a guy as her running mate, Senator Tim Kaine. That was a smart choice. He is not controversial, liked by most and considered a good guy. He is also ten years younger than her.
And yes, Hillary is a woman. She will write history if she becomes the next President of the USA. But Hillary is not going to or will win because she is a woman. If she wins, it is despite the fact that she is a woman.
History shows that nothing is over til the last vote is counted, and not headed for a recount. I´ll guarantee there are many surprises before Election Day November 8th. Still, as of now, it is most likely that Hillary Clinton will be the last person standing.
If Hillary is inaugurated in Washington DC in January 2017, we will have a very qualified president that sees the world without being self-absorbed. The fact that she is a woman is a bonus we take with open arms.
Going forward it will be interesting to see if the Democratic National Convention next week will strengthen or weaken that position.