Can Trump get to the White House?


Ev­ery­one on the planet, it is of­ten sug­gested, should get a vote on who gets to be Pres­i­dent of the United States – mainly be­cause we’re all af­fected by the poli­cies of the White House in­cum­bent.

He­len Clark said as much when she spec­u­lated that the Iraq in­va­sion wouldn’t have hap­pened if Al Gore had won the 2000 elec­tion. While she quickly apol­o­gised, the point was valid.

To­day, New Zealand troops in Iraq are still try­ing to cope with the con­se­quences of that in­va­sion de­ci­sion made 13 years ago, by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush.

This year, the rise of out­siders – Don­ald Trump on the Repub­li­can side, Bernie San­ders seek­ing the Demo­cratic Party nom­i­na­tion – has made the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign even more com­pelling for for­eign­ers.

While their styles and so­lu­tions are dif­fer­ent, Trump and San­ders are tap­ping into a pop­ulist rage and frus­trated ide­al­ism at a sys­tem widely seen as cor­rupt, and seem­ingly in­ca­pable of meet­ing the pub­lic’s core needs.

Even non-Amer­i­cans can re­late to that feel­ing, much as they might de­spair at the so­lu­tions that Trump in par­tic­u­lar, is of­fer­ing.

In New Zealand, we’ve had pop­ulists of our own.

Cer­tainly, Win­ston Pe­ters’ stance on im­mi­gra­tion taps into the same re­sent­ments that Trump is feed­ing.

Robert Mul­doon, who was prob­a­bly the near­est equiv­a­lent to Trump in this coun­try’s re­cent his­tory, rode a sim­i­lar wave of con­ser­va­tive pop­ulism to power.

As Trump has done, Mul­doon bril­liantly ex­ploited the pub­lic’s hos­til­ity to the in­tel­lec­tual and me­dia aris­toc­racy ranged against him.

Both San­ders and Trump are rid­ing the wave of pub­lic anger at eco­nomic forces that have vastly re­warded a tiny elite, while the in­comes and liv­ing stan­dards of or­di­nary vot­ers have stalled, or de­clined.

San­ders has been com­pet­i­tive with Hil­lary Clin­ton in the early con­tests, but the cam­paign cal­en­dar of pri­maries is weighted against him.

His last bat­tle­ground is likely to be in the Ohio pri­mary on March 15, but by then Clin­ton should have the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion all but sewn up.

What San­ders has shown is that Clin­ton is not much liked by the elec­torate at large.

The Repub­li­can con­test has been more volatile, and far less po­lite. It has been dom­i­nated by Trump, and con­stant pre­dic­tions that his bub­ble will burst have not yet even­tu­ated.

Talk­ing pol­i­tics What San­ders has shown is that Clin­ton is not­much liked by the elec­torate at large.

So far, it has largely been a race for se­cond place. Even there, the strong­est per­former (Texas sen­a­tor Ted Cruz) is an out­sider.

Cruz may be fer­vently ad­mired by evan­gel­i­cal vot­ers, but is hated by party in­sid­ers for his habit of pub­licly turn­ing on his col­leagues for per­sonal ad­van­tage.

The so-called ‘‘mod­er­ate’’ al­ter­na­tives – no­tably, the Florida pair of Marco Ru­bio and Jeb Bush – have ei­ther self-de­struc­ted (Ru­bio) or, in Bush’s case, have failed to in­spire pub­lic en­thu­si­asm.

Can the Trump cir­cus take him all the way to the White House?

Again, the pun­dits tend to as­sume that a Trump v Clin­ton stand­off would fa­tally ex­pose Trump’s flaws. That could be wish­ful think­ing.

As New Zealand’s long re­la­tion­ship with John Key has shown, when the pub­lic likes a politi­cian, the pol­icy mis­giv­ings or dis­ap­point­ments can be read­ily for­given.

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