A week is, as they say, a long time in politics. Events are moving so quickly at the moment for Donald Trump and the Republican Party in the US presidential campaign that, by the time you read this, they could have substantially shifted yet again. In all, however, Trump’s presidential campaign has begun to implode.
Though 11 years old, Trump’s boorish and misogynistic comments about using his celebrity to take sexual advantage of women has pushed many Republicans over the edge. Trump’s vice-presidential running mate, Mike Pence, is being openly considered by the Republican National Committee as Trump’s replacement. The RNC have already cut off funds to his campaign.
Should Pence be nominated, the Republicans will remain split, with Trump’s populist-driven voters seeing it as yet another cynical ploy from exactly that political elite they do not trust and that drove them towards Trump in the first place. Yet Pence’s nomination could be the Republicans’ best chance at securing the presidency, given his decent performance in the vice-presidential debate and the widespread — if largely unearned — distaste for Hillary Clinton.
What has been so odd about this circus is that statements and behaviour that just a few years ago would have been laughed out of the room have, on the whole, worked well for Trump. Even his more offensive remarks, of which there have been many, have not caused the type of political damage one might have previously expected.
Trump is adamant he won’t quit and if the Republican Party machine manages to dump him, which they’d have to do quickly to have any chance of success, Trump could still run as an independent. This would then split the Republican vote. With a large and growing list of senior Republicans now openly opposing Trump’s candidacy, there is no scenario now in which he can have a clear run to the elections.
That Trump had been trailing in the polls, more so since the first presidential candidates’ debate, meant that he faced an increasingly difficult challenge in any case. During the past two weeks, the “swing states”, which could have handed the presidency to either candidate, have firmed as voting in favour of Clinton. Today’s debate was fascinating to watch.
It all makes compelling, if somewhat voyeuristic, viewing. But what it reflects, and what we should all be concerned about, is just what is happening with the United States that it could have gotten to the point of a rich clown being a serious contender for the country’s highest office.
That there is an anti-elite backlash towards the political classes in most developed (and some developing) countries is not new. But ordinarily, one might expect a focus on issues, such as immigration or Brexit, or around an individual, such as the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte.
Trump may limp, bleeding and broken, towards the finish line. But with even his former party colleagues closing in for the kill, as one former international electoral official noted: “It won’t be long before they have to poison the Alsatians.”
* Damien Kingsbury is professor of international politics at Deakin University.