What is wrong with this US presidential election?
By Dr. Anil Sigdel, political scientist and columnist based in Washington DC
Mareeg.com-As 2016 American presidential race approaches its final phase after one and half year of the razzmatazz of the political campaign, many Americans are increasingly disappointed. Apart from policy-related grievances, personal attacks between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have added to the confusion of many Americans. Donald Trump has gone to such an extent in his strategy of demonizing and defaming Clinton, messing up the whole process with his false claims about election rigging, and denying his own wrongdoings outright that the election campaign has become more and more bizarre. There is hardly any discussion about policies. The US media for its part has only exacerbated these aspects given that it runs political campaign news literally 24/7.
The presidential election in America is a lengthy, costly and complicated process. Candidates have to raise funds, get more delegates/party representatives in their favor, do exceptionally well in debates, win primaries and caucuses (independent citizens and party representatives either vote for or are pursued to endorse a candidate), and clinch party nomination in national party conventions. Therefore, unlike elections in most party system countries, in the US it is bottom-up method system in which people choose candidates, not parties. This is exactly where a candidate’s charisma and policies come into play. But there is also the demerit that influential candidates become more successful than others, and even more importantly, it can be tactically used by the populist candidate as Trump did. He stoked up anti-establishment whim to advance his campaign further.
This election campaign also looks disappointing because candidates have not convincingly spoken about the challenges America is facing right now. Large sections of the US population – both liberals and conservatives – are dissatisfied with how things play out in Washington, especially its extreme partisan politics. For its part, the Republican Party is perceived as having been unable to adapt to the changing nature of American society. This relates, in turn, to a broader issue of minorities’ representation in various sectors – even President Obama’s National Security Advisor argues that minority views are not adequately represented in its foreign policy. The international arena has become so complicated that there is no clear answer on the continuity of US foreign and security policy. Besides, the country is still recovering from the 2008 financial crisis.
In such context, the real estate mogul Trump, who flirted with the idea of running for president for a long time, seized the moment and launched his populist campaign. Trump had gradually been making inroads into the Republican Party via donations and relationship building. Contrary to general expectations, he succeeded to get ahead of several other standard Republican candidates. His strategy of flaunting his wealth, announcing of spending his own money on the campaign which would presumably make him independent from any subsequent influence, criticizing the establishment, claiming to bring jobs back from the international market, and defaming other candidates, captured the imagination of those who were disenchanted with the system and got him the party nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, despite of the fact that some republicans put up a frantic effort to stop him.
For its part, Democratic Party witnessed an unexpected campaign by Bernie Sanders with anti-Wall Street slogans, and free college education and inward looking policies, which put up a cut-throat competition with Clinton. Especially the liberal young voters and minorities felt that Sanders spoke to them. The major issue between Sanders supporters and Clinton is that for them she will most likely be the continuation of Washington policy that has gone increasingly away from people’s concerns, and they believe that the progressive (helping the marginalized) candidates have often lied to them. Besides, the fact that she is wife of Bill Clinton has been both her strength and weakness due to several reasons. And when some leaked emails bolstered Sanders camp’s claims that the party had favored Clinton, it stoked up Sanders supporters’ grudge against her.
Clinton with a long and accomplished political career and the prospect of becoming the first woman president of US was the best fit Democrat candidate to compete against Republicans. She has been so far the only candidate who is taking a balanced-approach on both domestic and foreign policy issues. But since the political campaign in America is so that the media dig out every little piece of information about a candidate, either personal or professional, her email controversy has undermined her campaign, and her populist competitors have built upon that to boost their own campaigns. Her opponents succeeded to the extent that young woman voters themselves turned against her.
However, as Clinton looks well ahead of Trump at this phase, he is getting grumpier. Now the onus lies on Trump that how magnanimous he can be in accepting the election outcome.
（Source: People’s Daily）