Money matters in American politics. It’s not enough to win – as Mitt Romney will tell you over a non-alcoholic beverage – but it does buy oxygen and influence.
Money – and lots of it – explains why Donald Trump is able to present himself as a candidate for the world’s most powerful, and most sought after, political office, as the rest of the world looks on bemusedly (except maybe the Italians, who are used to Trump equivalents running the place).
But it doesn’t explain the poll results, which at the latest counting actually had Trump a number of points ahead of the rest of the GOP field. According to Fox News, if an election were held last week, Trump may actually have been the Republican nominee – a scary thought, especially for those of us that are not Hillary fans.
Now, before you start yelping about the credibility of a Fox poll (especially 18 months out from the final vote), the point is that Trump is being viewed by many Americans, at least at this stage, as potentially plausible.
Like many of society’s ills, we in the 24-hour media cycle are partly to blame. Journos love nothing more than a candidate that requires no introduction, particularly if they are strong on spicy rhetoric and weak on policy. Trump is a win, win, win in the age of the 10-second soundbite.
If I was to be slightly conspiratorial about it, the more left-leaning media in the US and elsewhere (i.e. pretty much everyone not owned by Murdoch) loves the clownish candidates even more when they come from the Right. Trump makes the whole GOP field look unprofessional and forces them to bicker among themselves in a fashion more appropriate to Trotskyists than conservatives.
In the past few days Trump’s positive numbers may have taken a hit. Describing the entire Mexican citizenry as ‘rapists’ didn’t seem to water down his popularity (worryingly) but calling out former presidential hopeful John McCain’s military service record has been universally slammed.
But Trump’s opponents would be foolish to assume his campaign will simply fizzle out, and Australians have the perfect piece of evidence to act as a cautionary tale.
Besides perhaps his inflammatory comments about Wendy Deng and his brief cameo alongside Al Gore, most Americans will probably not be aware of a bloke called Clive Palmer.
They should google him ASAP.
The similarities with Trump are many: both are self-funded (and well-funded at that); both seem more interested in making the headlines than making any real contribution to the public policy process; both know that wooing the media is the key to campaign momentum and both pay little heed to hairdressing conventions.
Many Australians ruled Palmer out as an unelectable buffoon, but he was able to get a motley crew of Senators elected under his name in the previous Australian parliament and even scored himself a seat in the House of Reps (no easy task in the major party-dominated world of antipodean politics).
Two years on, Palmer’s political capital has all but expired – and his ironically named Palmer United Party has disbanded into a collection of rogue independents – but not until after he was able to make a dangerous and demonstrable impact on policy.
From financial and environmental regulation to the nation’s tax code, a billionaire with seemingly no principles or convictions (who had already been expelled from a major party’s membership) was able to hold the legislative system to ransom, taking sides with an almost willy-nilly populist approach, aiming to help no-one but his own vast (though apparently diminishing) business empire.
All it took to achieve this powerful position was a few outspoken remarks and media-aimed stunts, like rocking up to Parliament House in a Rolls Royce. Oh, and a truckload of cash, of course.
If the American people don’t want to see the White House turned into a Comedy Central roast, they would be well advised to tune out and ditch Trump faster than you can say ‘bad hair day’.
Published on 23 July 2015