Last night Donald J Trump officially clinched the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. While his two remaining competitors, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, dropped out weeks ago (meaning he has been the presumptive nominee for some time) the milestone is significant nonetheless.
Whatever you think of Trump – and likely many of you think very little – it would be ignorant to play down the decisiveness with which he won this internal party race. Just as it was ignorant of his foes to underestimate him.
The loud-mouthed billionaire has come a long way since his ill-fated run at the White House in 2000 as the candidate for the fringe-dwelling conservative Reform Party.
With sixteen years to learn from his mistakes, Trump knew he needed to join the big leagues as the nominee for one of the two major parties. Watching Obama’s popularity drop, and no doubt in possession of the knowledge that the electorate usually swings every eight years or so, he knew which of the two organisations he had his sights on (the fact that he had donated to the other for decades a mere detail).
Announcing his candidacy on 16 June 2015 for the GOP ticket, few serious analysts gave him much of a chance. To the pundits (myself included), he was facing an insurmountable challenge: a line-up of more than a dozen of the Republican Party’s supposed best and brightest – senators and governors, policy wonks and champion debaters, veterans and valedictorians and even a Bush. Over the course of one of the most heated, if entertaining, primary elections in recent memory he not only attracted more votes but destroyed them all, one by one.
He left them pathetic and lifeless in his wake, these comparatively rigid people that had spent every moment of their lives trying to become President, only to be bested by a reality TV star property tycoon.
He is on track to receive more GOP primary votes than anyone ever in the history of the Republican Party. He therefore not only beat his sixteen or so 2016 rivals, but arguably also Eisenhower, Nixon, both Bushes, even Reagan.
And now he is doing the unthinkable once again, methodically going about the process of uniting the party, reaching out to the think-tankers and conservative figures who said “Never Trump” and extending an olive branch, while Hillary and Bernie still scrap like alley cats.
Of course, he is still a long way from the Oval Office. 56 per cent of Americans have an unfavourable view of him, according to the latest Fox News poll, and he now needs to win support from a very different electorate – the one that went for Barack Obama twice.
Still, he has a very loyal and lively base and has been successful as casting himself as the outsider in this anti-Establishment climate. Should Clinton become the Democratic nominee (as is likely, if not certain) this will be a huge advantage for Trump, up against someone who has been in politics for forty years and has lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue already.
To be clear, I personally wouldn’t vote for Trump. While he is free to say as many sexist or xenophobic things as he likes, it’s not what I look for in a leader of the free world. More worryingly, I think there is a chance (albeit perhaps a small one) that he is an out and out tyrant in the making. He decries compromise and diplomacy as weak, rails against free trade, praises dictators and has seemingly little love for the US constitution. But then, as a foreigner and, even worse – a journalist – what I think really shouldn’t matter.
And that is the point for any international observers. You might not like his bluster or temperament, you might fear his presidency (and perhaps with good reason), but his victories so far are undeniably a win for democracy.
The blue-collar, God-fearing, oft-forgotten folks of middle America have made their choice, and they don’t give a flying fuck what coastal, city-dwelling elites think of it – let alone people overseas.
The cynic in me says their choice (while bold) will not be enough to stop the Clinton political machine, not once Bernie is out of the way and Hollywood, the mainstream media and maybe even Wall Street fall into line.
But, if the past year is anything to go by, anyone betting against Donald Trump is more foolish than the GOP nominee himself.
“If you can’t beat them, join them”. Halloween 2015, Dallas, TX.
Published on 27 May 2016