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.