Tag Archives: GOP

Credit where due

Orlando, Florida

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.

av trump

“If you can’t beat them, join them”. Halloween 2015, Dallas, TX.

Published on 27 May 2016


Celebrity heads (of state)

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

This morning the American news cycle has taken a brief respite from the now mind-blowingly heated GOP primaries to reflect on Hollywood’s night of nights.

Leonardo Di Caprio won his elusive Oscar – one that those of us who are Baz Luhrmann fans think is long overdue – thereby giving media consumers a more appealing alternative to Trump’s spray-tanned and surly mug.

He used the spotlight to call for action on climate change, describing it as the “most urgent threat facing our entire species”, in a speech warmly welcomed by zika mosquitos, cancer cells and violent Jihadists.

Musician Sam Smith fumbled a shout-out to the LGBT community by falsely declaring himself to be the first openly gay Oscar winner and host Chris Rock peppered the whole evening with (often hilarious) references to the #OscarsSoWhite melodrama.

The tireless foray of actors and singers into the world of legislative advocacy can often be cringe-worthy (if not downright hypocritical), but it’s understandable that those in show business take an avid interest. After all, what is the use in power un-wielded?

The ties between art and politics are as old as time itself. While this year’s Academy Awards were perhaps a little more pointed than ceremonies past, it is Hollywood’s influence on politics (and not the other way around) that is the more noteworthy trend.

Oprah Winfrey’s backing all but clinched Barack Obama’s nomination in 2008, taking the wind of out the sails of the Clinton Machine just as endorsements of Bernie Sanders by stars like Will Ferrell, Danny DeVito and Spike Lee have done  again in this race (although admittedly not to the extent of the Queen of TV, who is so far staying Mum on the 2016 election).

Republicans have also taken a few pages from the winners’ playbook, with a battle emerging early for the endorsement of the Robertson Family, stars of a popular reality TV show about duck hunters in Louisiana (Trump got a nod from Willie Robertson while the patriarch Phil went for Cruz).

And then there is the ‘Orange Menace’ – Donald J Drumpf – as anyone who follows social media is now calling him.

As I write, his face and hairpiece have once again reclaimed their rightful spot on the television screen above me here in the Fort Lauderdale airport.  He has just received an endorsement from a bunch of NASCAR drivers – there go poor Leo’s chances of a climate action groundswell.

Celebrity culture is in large part why Trump is experiencing so much success (for those that are tuning into US politics only peripherally right now, he is killing it in the recent primaries, with a CNN poll now putting his support at more than twice his closest competitors Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz).

Yes, he is tapping into some deeply-held fears and anxieties of the working masses. Yes, he is demonstrating an unexpected political talent, outmanoeuvring the apparatchiks and controlling the news cycle. But he is also just really famous.

Before living here, I didn’t realise quite how famous Trump is. The Apprentice was NBC’s highest-rating show after Friends in its early seasons and his brand is more widely recognised than that even of fellow hopefuls with names like Bush and Clinton.

In a country where voting is voluntary and party primary elections open to the general public, the importance of name recognition cannot be underestimated.

While this is arguably more democratic than the Australian system for example (where candidates are still selected in the smoky backrooms of Chinese restaurants) it also allows for high profile people to attain positions of power with very little policy experience or party support, able to mobilise and motivate large throngs of voters.

Let’s not forget that it was a public primary system that saw Arnold Schwarzenegger elected as Governor of one of the world’s largest economies, and fellow former actor Ronald Reagan before him.

Trump doesn’t have Arnie’s affable nature or The Gipper’s old school charm, but he does have a comfort with the medium of television and, more importantly, a direct relationship with voters that the others cannot emulate.

Even when candidates come from a more traditional politico background, the 24-hour press and a voting public with ever-diminishing attention spans demand they become celebrities overnight, condensing inspiration into 10-second soundbites and selling out stadiums to build precious ‘momentum’. Once considered beneath the prestige of the office they seek, appearing (and getting roasted) on the late night talk shows is now mandatory for presidential candidates.

Had he chosen a different path in life it’s not hard to imagine Obama, for example, making a teary plea for social justice while accepting an Oscar. His telegenic coolness was undoubtedly a factor in overcoming his more experienced but less likeable primary opponent. He mastered Hollywood-style campaigning and by all accounts, it’s here to stay.

Many pundits and GOP elders are up in arms that Trump has ‘hijacked’ their party and the campaign. They claim his newfound adherence to conservative principles is all an ‘act’, the latest ego exercise of a reality TV superstar.

Should he not occupy the White House this time next year (and we all have to acknowledge there is now a chance he will) there’s always the 2017 Academy Awards.

trump oscar

Published on 29 February 2016


Cuban missiles

Washington, DC

When it comes to America’s icy relationship with Cuba, all signs are pointing to a thaw. The Obama administration seems hellbent on accelerating the reunion many have speculated would follow the death of the Castros (apparently they’re both still alive).

Just this week, secretary of state John Kerry hoisted the stars and stripes over Havana for the first time in over 60 years, signalling the first step in the ‘normalisation of diplomatic relations’.

Given the scandals surrounding Hillary’s email server and the ongoing Trump show, this historic event has perhaps not been given the media attention you would think.

But despite being overshadowed in the cycle, two recent media-blitzers are unlikely to have missed the news: Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. 

cruz rubio

Rubio and Cruz. Source: Breitbart

In my not-so-humble opinion, these are the two presidential contenders that made the most strides in last week’s Fox GOP debate in Cleveland.

Sure, Trump managed – predictably – to steal the headlines, and pundits have suggested the stock has risen for fellow non-politicians Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson (and I agree).

But of the truly plausible contenders for the nomination (i.e. those palatable to the Republican Establishment that will ultimately decide the party’s candidate) the two Cuban-Americans and longtime Castro critics stood out.

A handsome, smooth-talking Floridian, Marco Rubio has what it takes to win elections in the modern game. While he is a traditional ‘Reagan conservative’ – tough on crime and sceptical of government – he is the candidate that is most like Obama (in a good way). 

He has charisma in bucketloads, a positive message and the potential to reach out to non-traditional Republicans, including the youth vote that had such impact in 2008’s ‘hope and change’ campaign. One old school DC operative I spoke to described him as “lightning in a can”. 

Compared with Trump’s divisive and ugly description of Mexicans as rapists and thugs, Rubio’s immigrant story and seemingly genuine intention to ‘give back to America’ is refreshing and reeks of authenticity – a priceless attribute in a politician (despite so many of them having tried to buy it).

He is even an NWA fan, which could potentially warm him to some Democrats and independents, though is hardly a plus with the Republican base. It makes me like him more anyway.

Cruz is the Rubio for those that criticise Rubio as too inexperienced, too Obama-like, even too liberal (despite the latter’s opposition to abortion even in the cases of rape and incest). 

While he has a similar ethnic background, Cruz invokes his father’s staunch Christianity – he was a Baptist preacher – more than his Cuban roots. Cruz is hoping he can muster enough Tea Party support and disaffected Trump fans (once The Donald’s momentum inevitably collapses) to ride into the nomination. In the debate the other night, the former Texas solicitor-general showed he has the eloquence and crowd-raising skills to potentially get it done.

With the unpopular nuclear deal with Iran in the backdrop and the word ‘appeasement’ being thrown around, the normalisation of Cuban relations is sure to rear its head more prominently in the campaign as time goes on.

If their debate performance is anything to go by, the raising of the US flag on Cuban soil may just be the beginning of a new era between the two neighbours, and one of the island’s sons may be headed for the Oval Office. 

flag raising havana

Source: Associated Press

This article was published on 16 August 2015