Tag Archives: trump

Buckeye bellwether

Cleveland, Ohio

The Chicago Cubs might have narrowly beaten the Cleveland Indians to clinch the World Series last night, but it will not take Ohioans long to become distracted from the pain.

For as long as the Cubs have dwindled towards the bottom of the Major League Baseball ladder, Ohio has been what is known in as a “bellwether state” – home to voters that know which way the wind is blowing when it comes to presidential politics.

Like the Australian seat of Eden-Monaro in southwest NSW, Ohio has an uncanny knack of accurately predicting who the next US president will be. Indeed, in 25 of the 27 elections that have been held since 1904, the candidate that won Ohio also won the presidency.

Given there are only a few swing states in the country– with the vast majority being either safely blue or red – and that there is plenty of superstition surrounding Ohio ballots, both campaigns have been frequent visitors to the ‘buckeye state’ of late.

Earlier this week, I joined a couple hundred Clevelanders and fifty or so roving reporters to welcome the former Secretary of State to town. No stranger to the stump, Mrs Clinton gave a polished speech that took more than a few cues from Bernie Sanders’ campaign, focusing on her student loan debt reduction plan and the shortcomings of her opponent.

But while her supporters probably left buoyed – even inspired – by the up close and personal event, there is no doubt their enthusiasm paled in comparison with that of a different political crowd gathering across town.

About a mile out from the iX Center – Cleveland’s largest convention centre – the Republican nominee’s unmistakable head became visible, glaring down from a giant neon billboard alongside the five letters of his global brand: TRUMP.

Having been knocked back for a media pass (itself a telling difference between the two campaigns), I donned a ‘Make America Great Again’ cap and cautiously joined the 5,000-strong throng, paranoid I would be exposed as a pernicious, foreign journalist at any moment and ripped limb from limb.

I stood silently towards the back, fighting the urge to take notes and hoping no one would be offended by my lack of raucous cheering. The crowd whipped itself into a frenzy as the billionaire’s thick Queens accent began to boom from the stage, vigorously waving signs with slogans like “Women for Trump”, “Hillary for Prison” and “Deplorable Lives Matter” – a response to Clinton’s derogatory characterisation of Trump fans.

Partly the disparity in size and style between the two events has to do with the mundane fact that Trump’s event was primetime, Hillary’s in the afternoon.

Trump’s obvious showmanship is also a factor. I wasn’t the only one refraining from hooting and hollering, with a few other attendees likely more interested in glimpsing the candidate than voting for him (assuming they weren’t similarly cast asunder members of the press).

However, it can’t be denied it may also be a sign that Ohio is leaning Trump. In fact, Real Clear Politics has him leading Clinton by 2.7 points in the crucial state, according to the average of a number of polls taken in the past week, as do most others. Even the Huffington Post‘s poll has Trump up by half a percentage point – a publication likely to be read by very few Trump fans.

Once the global headquarters of the rubber tyre industry, in more recent times headlines about Ohio have told a sad story of economic stagnation and the decline of manufacturing (alongside occasional and very welcome sporting success).

Some have suggested this post-industrial malaise, and the joblessness it entails, is at least partly responsible for the Trump phenomenon, meaning it is no surprise he has a few natural supporters here.

Trump’s pledge to “renegotiate” the trade deals he says are responsible for factory jobs relocating overseas, as well as his more general mantra to revert national life to a previous era, resonate especially with these recently down and out folks.

His lead in Ohio heading into the final days of the campaign is all the more remarkable considering the state’s popular Republican governor John Kasich thinks so little of his own party’s nominee that he essentially donkey-voted, writing in the name of 2008 nominee John McCain instead of ticking the Trump-Pence box.

If the polls stay steady and Ohio stays true to its bellwether reputation, then there is a good chance Trump will be the next president.

But as the Chicago Cubs and their fans will be very happy to remind you, history does not always repeat itself.
Image source: Wikipedia Commons.

Published on 3 November 2016

Context in Colombo

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Between 1983 and 2009, as much of Asia cast off colonial and communist shackles and began relentlessly pursuing peace and prosperity, Sri Lanka was engulfed in a civil war that claimed more than 100,000 lives.

Aside from tea and its national cricket team – the ever-determined Lions whom I think it’s fair to say most Aussies have a soft spot for, particularly when they beat India, their giant rival to the north – the island formerly known as Ceylon rarely grabs international attention.

But while it might not have dominated headlines, the decades-long conflict between the native Sinhalese population and the separatist Tamils – who emigrated from southern India during the Middle Ages (hardly recent imposters) – has left visible scars on this otherwise tropical paradise.

Its cities and townships clearly haven’t developed at pace with geographical neighbours and though the Sri Lankan people seem industrious and hard-working, few seem to be enjoying the spoils of economic growth that so many Asians have now come to know.

A disastrous tsunami and earthquake in 2004 made the already-precarious situation notably worse. I was shocked to see the state of the Galle International Stadium, one of cricket’s most storied grounds. Aside from an oddly-placed washing machine and the occasional faded advertisement, its rooms and stands were bare and crumbling, the musky stench of water damage still lingering.

Here to give a speech on the US election, a comparison between the two nations could not be avoided.

Having laid out my assessment – as I do throughout this thread – that the world’s superpower is at historic levels of division currently, some audience members could not help but be cynical.

Dr Sarath, a smiley Sinhalese economist living in Shanghai, was quick to respond.

“Yes I agree, this election is very interesting and a Trump win would have a profound effect on global financial markets,” he opened diplomatically. “But to a Sri Lankan, America doesn’t seem quite so divided.”

I was about to retort that the number of US gun murders between 1983 and 2009 would dwarf 100,000 but thought the better of it, not wanting to get into a tasteless size-up between two atrocities.

Moreover, the good doctor’s point was well made: America might have its problems, but overall its citizens are still richer, healthier and safer than most places on Earth.

It was the kind of important perspective that so often accompanies travel in the developing world.

In his autobiography, the brilliant writer and raconteur Christopher Hitchens explained that he liked to spend some time each year in a country less fortunate than his own, in order to come by these kinds of contextual epiphanies. Upon reading that – in Africa at the time mind you – I was inspired to emulate Hitch’s maxim, something I’m happy to say I’ve more or less achieved so far (thanks mainly to a worryingly laissez faire attitude towards credit card debt).

And having seen a fair bit of the third world in recent years, the one thing that seems to separate those that are flourishing from those that are yet to find their way in the post-colonial age is the strength of institutions and rule of law. Wherever politicians can get away with more, and can more readily intervene in the affairs of the people without accountability, the worse the state of its economy and lower its standards of living I have generally found.

Sadly, this has been the case for Sri Lanka. Too many of its leaders have succumbed to the divisive rhetoric that has postponed reconciliation between the Tamils and Sinhalese, whether out of genuine xenophobia or, more likely, as way of mobilising the masses. Others have stuck their fingers deep into the communal honeypot, plundering without the inconvenient fear of being brought to justice.

Even the man credited with ending the war, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, is now under suspicion of corruption and this morning I picked up the local English language rag to see that his son Namal has been arrested on charges of fraud. He will likely be let off scot-free, but even the fact that the police took action against such a VIP is promising.

Every country has its developmental issues, but the notion that rule of law transcends the power of any man (or woman) is central to its ability to grow and provide peace for its people.

That’s why so many Americans are worried about their current presidential prospects, whether it is Hillary Clinton’s lax treatment of confidential emails or Donald Trump’s shock claim that the constitution may “take a back seat” if he occupies the White House.

They would be wise to brush up on recent Sri Lankan history. Or maybe take a little trip to somewhere less fortunate.

sri lanka

Image source: Agence France Press

Published on July 18 2016

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

 

Teflon Don

Austin, Texas

John Gotti was known as ‘Teflon Don’ for his ability to evade criminal charges, but compared to Donald Trump the notorious mob boss looks more like quicksand.

Trump embodies an unprecedented political phenomenon.  The 24-hour and increasingly hysterical media cycle has made most elected officials overly cautious, condemning them to weasel words and what Orwell called “newspeak” for fear of slipping up and derailing their career.

And yet, the new rules of engagement – where a gaffe could be fatal and the outrage police are always on high alert – seemingly don’t apply to Teflon Don.

Consider a select few of the gems from this campaign:

He inferred that all Mexican immigrants are “rapists”. Regardless of your views on border security, this is vicious and unwarranted description of the grandmothers, children and upstanding citizens – not to mention rape victims – that are no doubt included among the millions of Mexico-born American residents.

He called out former presidential hopeful John McCain as a fraud, despite the Arizona senator’s distinguished record of military service including as a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton (a youth starkly at odds with Trump’s own pampered and perfumed Upper East Side upbringing).

And of course, just this week his latest thoughtful contribution to public policy: a ban on all Muslim travel to the United States – originally including Muslim Americans currently abroad – despite religious freedom being a fundamental theme of the founding documents and moderate Muslims and allied Arab heads of state being absolutely crucial to defeating radical Islam. Even Israeli PM Bibi Nethanyahu, who has spent his life fighting Jihadists while Trump was renovating apartments on Park Avenue, has decried the proposal as ill-conceived.

In all of these cases, and countless more, Trump’s game plan is the same: make a headline-grabbing announcement and then water it down – a flip-flop that would see any other candidate relegated to yesterday’s news.

Compare his treatment with that of Mitt Romney, who, despite being a far more suitable candidate for president, had his shot at the White House all but sunk when he (arguably accurately) explained that 47 per cent of Americans are dependant on government handouts and pay no income tax – a far less offensive and outrageous statement than Trump’s Gestapo-esque proposal that Muslims display ID badges.

The media’s complicity in the Trump freak show is astounding. As other – more serious – candidates are forced to fly around the country making their case to anyone who will listen and fighting for scraps of precious airtime, Trump descends the escalator in his palatial skyscraper and meets his fawning (or at least encouraging) press buddies in his own lobby.

Some of the more conspiratorial conservatives suggest the media pays so much attention because they are hell-bent on a Hillary win and know Trump is damaging the Republican brand.

While this may be true of MSNBC and other Democratic mouthpieces, a more likely scenario is that they are simply enjoying the much-needed ratings, as reality TV fans tune into cable news in unprecedented numbers.

One of the most common praises of Trump is that he ‘calls a spade a spade’. His political incorrectness appeals to many liberty-loving folks, not just in the GOP base.

I’m all for freedom of speech and don’t believe offending people should be a crime, but that doesn’t mean we should celebrate crass and piggish behaviour – like mocking a physically disabled journalist with base-level humour even the most insecure 12-year old class clown wouldn’t laugh at. You can rebel against PC orthodoxy without being an arsehole.

The other often-heard piece of admiration is that he is a “businessman and not a politician”. But this narrative is also problematic. Stacked up against other contenders, Trump hardly epitomises the American dream.

Carly Fiorina rose from secretary to CEO and beat cancer along the way.

Ben Carson was raised in the ghettos of Detroit, broke and fatherless, and became one of the world’s foremost neurosurgeons.

Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich all grew up in immigrant households and sought public office despite their foreign names in order to give back to the nation that has offered their families so much.

All of these stories are more emblematic of the American ethic – and the Republican message of social mobility through incentive and ingenuity – than Trump’s own life in an elitist Manhattan bubble, the son of a minted property developer who left him millions.

In some ways Trump is more representative of everything we hate about politicians than politicians themselves: he is a complete egomaniac, has no discernible or genuine philosophical beliefs, is obsessed with the media, out of touch with the everyday coffee-table discussions of Americans and will say whatever it takes to get his manicured mitts on the levers of power.

With all of this in mind, how the hell is he not only still around but leading in the polls?

The only reasonable conclusion is that the voters are not being serious, they are ‘taking the piss’ as we say Down Under.

Sure, there is a distinct group within the conservative heartland that like the ‘tough guy’ persona and the xenophobic message, but this group is not big enough to have him where he is, otherwise there would never have been an Obama presidency.

As I travel around the country I often hear everyday citizens lament the ludicrously extensive 24-month presidential election cycle, and the fever pitch reporting of it.

Perhaps Trump is the American people’s way of seeking revenge – a plaything they can throw to the media and postpone the serious debates between the likes of Clinton and Rubio and Cruz that will surely come.

Or maybe Trump is the real deal and it is me that is out of touch.

I am a dangerous foreigner, after all.

trump dragon

A roadside mural in western Colorado depicting ‘Donald the Dragon-Slayer’. Photo credit: AJ Stolte

Published 10 December 2015

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

The Trump card

Washington, DC

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.

trump palmer

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