A bat­tle­ground fit for a bigot

CityPress - - News - RAPULE TABANE in In­di­ana rapule.tabane@city­press.co.za

It is fit­ting, per­haps, that bil­lion­aire Don­ald Trump could seal his nom­i­na­tion as the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in the state of In­di­ana, a con­ser­va­tive state that last year le­galised the right of busi­ness to dis­crim­i­nate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans­gen­der (LGBT) peo­ple. In­di­ana is the bat­tle­ground this week as vot­ers get a chance on Tuesday to start seal­ing their choices for the fi­nal Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates.

Ev­ery­one is in town this week­end, breath­ing life and colour into a quiet, non­de­script state.

Repub­li­can ri­vals Don­ald Trump and Ted Cruz, and for­mer pres­i­dent and hus­band of Demo­cratic can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton, Bill Clin­ton, are speak­ing at events through­out In­di­ana in a bid to win over un­de­cided vot­ers.

The gath­er­ings are much like party man­i­festo launch ral­lies in South Africa.

Each can­di­date tries to score a psy­cho­log­i­cal vic­tory but of­fers lit­tle sub­stance as he or she en­gages in a lot of razzmatazz.

But no venue could be more suited to a political con­test than In­di­ana.

Last year, the state passed the con­tro­ver­sial Re­li­gious Free­dom Restora­tion Act that al­lows busi­nesses to refuse to serve LGBT in­di­vid­u­als and to cite their faith as a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for their ac­tions. The law has been con­demned and ef­forts have been made to soften it, but it re­mains in place in this deeply Repub­li­can state.

John Zody, the chair­per­son of the In­di­ana state Demo­cratic Party, which un­suc­cess­fully op­posed the bill, said it had cost the state as much as $250 mil­lion (R3.5 bil­lion) in in­vest­ment, as com­pa­nies now refuse to do busi­ness there. In­di­ana could lose out, too, on host­ing ma­jor sports events as the back­lash through­out the US takes root.

Mean­while, the names of the two con­tes­tants for the US pres­i­dency could be clear by Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

The strong favourites are Don­ald Trump on the side of the Repub­li­cans, and Hil­lary Clin­ton for the Demo­cratic Party. They are likely to con­sol­i­date their po­si­tions in what has turned out to be an ex­cit­ing race that gal­vanised in­ter­est among peo­ple who have never voted.

The big­gest talk­ing points have been just how un­ex­pect­edly well Trump has per­formed, as did Clin­ton’s ri­val, the 74-year-old Bernie San­ders.

San­ders, a so­cial­ist not sup­ported by the Demo­cratic Party hi­er­ar­chy, has sur­pris­ingly at­tracted ma­jor sup­port from young vot­ers and first-time vot­ers. He could hurt the party by not en­dors­ing Clin­ton if he does not win the nom­i­na­tion.

Mo­tor­mouth Trump was also not con­sid­ered to be a se­ri­ous player when he first raised his hand to en­ter the race.

But the re­al­ity television celebrity’s shock tac­tics of speak­ing his mind with­out a care for who he of­fends have won him mas­sive sup­port.

He is well ahead of Ted Cruz and John Ka­sich, who have en­tered into a pact not to op­pose each other in or­der to de­feat Trump.

The pop­u­lar­ity of Trump has cre­ated a dilemma for the party hi­er­ar­chy – many more vot­ers are par­tic­i­pat­ing in the elec­tions be­cause they are drawn to him, but the Grand Old Party is wor­ried that it could lose not only the pres­i­dency, but the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives (con­gress) which they con­trol, be­cause of him.

Repub­li­can polls show that Trump has alien­ated fe­male vot­ers with his reck­less com­ments. This week, he ac­cused Clin­ton of re­ly­ing only on the “women card” to win the elec­tions.

“Frankly, if Hil­lary Clin­ton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5% of the vote,” he said.

“I think the only thing she’s got go­ing for her is the fact that she’s a woman. She is play­ing that hard, like I have never seen any­one play it be­fore. And the beau­ti­ful thing is that women don’t like her.”

Trump’s cam­paign­ers de­fend him by say­ing his un­com­fort­able truths are what have earned him cred­i­bil­ity among peo­ple fed up with dis­hon­est, main­stream politi­cians. They say that if he tones it down to act more “pres­i­den­tial”, he might lose his sell­ing point and at­trac­tion.

But sev­eral polls show that while that might be at­trac­tive for Repub­li­can vot­ers, it could cost the party sup­port in the gen­eral elec­tions.

Trump is al­ready un­pop­u­lar among AfricanAmer­i­cans and Latin Amer­i­cans (His­pan­ics), af­ter he ac­cused Mex­i­cans of be­ing rapists and threat­ened to build a large wall to stop them from en­ter­ing the US.

Re­search, con­ducted by the Pew Re­search Cen­tre, showed that His­pan­ics were grow­ing as a vot­ing bloc, in­creas­ing from con­sti­tut­ing 7% of the elec­torate in 2000 to 12% of vot­ers this year.

The Repub­li­cans have al­ways re­lied heav­ily on white vot­ers, but the pro­por­tion of white sup­port­ers in the US has de­clined from 78% of the elec­torate in the 1970s to 64%.

How­ever, Repub­li­can vot­ers are more likely than the younger gen­er­a­tion of vot­ers who sup­port the Democrats to turn up and vote.

Repub­li­can spokesper­son Sean Spicer said that once the party had con­cluded its in­ter­nal process of choos­ing a nom­i­nee, they would all rally around the can­di­date and make sure they pre­sented the con­ser­va­tive agenda in a pos­i­tive way.

Both par­ties have brought for­ward their con­ven­tions by a month to give their can­di­dates more time to pro­mote their re­spec­tive bids.

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PHOTO: AARON P BERN­STEIN / REUTERS

REPUB­LI­CAN Don­ald Trump at a cam­paign event in Evansville, In­di­ana, this week

PHOTO: MATT ROURKE / AP

DEMO­CRAT this week Hil­lary Clin­ton at a pri­mary elec­tion rally in Philadel­phia, In­di­ana,

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