It’s fair to say that US Presidential campaigns can be broadly divided into two camps: momentous or forgettable. The earth-shattering contests that distinguish the first category are akin to Hollywood blockbusters: Kennedy vs Nixon; Bush vs Clinton; Hoover vs Roosevelt. It seems inevitable, even at this early stage, that Trump vs Clinton will be welcomed into this esteemed company.
Trump vs Clinton encapsulates not just a cultural and economic rupture in America, but rather one that has engulfed the western world. And, regardless of the victor, the 2016 Presidential race will have profound, lasting consequences. Indeed, despite the characteristics they share – vast wealth, the aged whiteness of their skin and their unremitting desire for power – never before have two candidates been further apart politically. Trump – now a one-man political party – is an ardent protectionist, who believes in strengthening economic and cultural borders (whilst savaging a morally bankrupt media and political establishment). On the flipside of the political spectrum, Clinton is the personification of establishment liberalism: a pro-diversity, internationalist outlook that seeks to adjust, rather than reverse, economic globalisation.
The 2016 Presidential contest is therefore a clash of two incompatible worldviews; two divergent philosophies that will soon wage an acrimonious war unseen by none. And with just under three weeks until their first head-to-head debate, both candidates have been scaling-up their operations.
On Monday 5th September – Labor Day – Clinton and Trump descended on Ohio, a key swing state. As their planes sat side-by-side at Cleveland International Airport, the scene was reminiscent of an Olympic contest – with two titanic competitors garbed in their respective flags, poised to hurl every ounce of energy into the sprint ahead.
On the cold tarmac of Cleveland airport, surrounded by an army of reporters, the pressure of the race will surely have dawned on Clinton and Trump. Notwithstanding sporadic media appearances and the odd trip to Mexico, both candidates had been operating in their comfort zones prior to Labor Day. Clinton had been touring around illustrious homes in the Hamptons and Beverly Hills – cosying up to wealthy donors – whilst Trump had been parading on a shock-and-awe rally tour (even speaking in states that he has very little chance of winning).
In Cleveland, Ohio, things were a bit different. Trump and Clinton met with union leaders – each claiming their allegiance to the downtrodden American worker. “If you want more happy Labor Days, you know who to vote for,” Clinton remarked to a posse of journalists aboard Clinton Force One (or whatever her plane is called). At chowtime, Trump and his running mate Mike Pence spent a working lunch with ordinary Cleveland voters at Goody’s Family Restaurant. Trump, clad with a showman grin, shook hands and took selfies with inquisitive diners. One diner in particular caught Trump’s attention – Maria Hernandez, who said she was supporting the Republican candidate. “Mexican-American supports Trump,” he noted. “It’s so nice.” He then turned towards nearby reporters and quipped, “Make a note of it, guys.”
Trump meets voters at Goody's Family Restaurant, Cleveland
However, for all Trump’s pumped-up posturing, the billionaire businessman knows that he is on the back foot in Ohio. For a series of endless months, Trump pummelled the Republican establishment in an acrimonious primary contest. And now, many of his victims are enacting petty retribution. In Ohio, Republican Governor John Kasich is hampering Trump’s ground campaign by refusing to loan his staff to the White House wannabe. Michael Hartley, who ran Kasich’s field offices in Ohio during the primary told the New York Times: “You’re a family, and if somebody attacks your family and says awful things about your family, are you inclined to help that person? The answer is no. To be honest, Trump’s people did this to themselves.”
As a result, Trump currently boasts 70 organisers in the state of Ohio – 110 fewer than Hillary Clinton. Trump may believe that his transcendent personality will patch over the gaping holes in his campaign, but there is rarely an election where local organisers, with the ability to mobilise an army of doorknockers, do not have an impact. And, worryingly for Trump's team, a lack of ground troops is not the only substantial cavity in their campaign. The property magnate, who so often boasts of his imperious financial management, is being annihilated by Clinton in the contest for campaign cash. As of 31st July, the former First Lady had amassed just short of $700 million, whilst Trump had raised just $346 million. When questioned by a reporter on his relative deficit of resources, Trump curtly replied, “I understand money better than anyone.” If that is true, then Trump must realise that he is slowly being buried by Clinton’s money.
Clinton speaks to reporters aboard her campaign plane.
However, an equal concern for team Clinton will be that their candidate is not surging ahead in the polls. Hillary’s waltz towards the White House has been impeded by resurgent poll numbers for her coifed competitor. After leading Trump by over 8 percentage points following the Democratic convention, Clinton is now only a few points ahead. Commentators are also questioning whether pollsters can accurately predict the make-up of this year’s electorate, given the exceptional circumstances. People like Nigel Farage have prophesised a Brexit-style shock, whereby millions of non-voters cast their ballots for the anti-establishment candidate – leaving pollsters red-faced.
This hypothesis is not out of the question. Trump has a 2-1 advantage over Clinton among non-college educated white voters (precisely the demographic that tipped Brexit in favour of Leave). It is estimated that the Republican nominee would need to mobilise between three and eight million non-voters to make up for Clinton’s lead amongst non-white voters and the college educated. Considering that almost two million fewer white voters turned out in 2012, due to Mitt Romney’s lack of working-class appeal, it would be negligent to dismiss Trump’s chances.
That said, all the indicators still point towards a second Clinton era. Nate Silver – the polling guru who accurately predicted every state in 2012 – believes that Hillary currently has a 70% chance of winning. Moreover, according to Silver’s forecasting model, Clinton is ahead in 13 out of 15 swing states, and tops Trump in the seven states most likely to tip the election: Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Virginia. This exceptional Presidential battle has produced many notable quirks, not least subterranean approval ratings for both candidates. Clinton’s saving grace is President Obama, whose sky-high personal popularity is surely likely to benefit Hillary as he becomes more involved in the race. In fact, if the electorate had to pick between Obama and Trump, polls indicate that the Don would be routed by 15%.
Yet, even if Clinton wins, it will be a solemn victory for liberal America. Even if Clinton wins, Donald Trump – a professional egomaniac turned fascist sympathiser – will have come close to toppling the Democrats’ ‘inevitable’ candidate. After Trump wrapped-up his publicity pit-stop at Goody’s diner on Monday, he spoke to crowds at a town fair. Blaring his pigeon English through a bullhorn outside the Mahoning County Republican tent, Trump declared, to the glee of the assembled masses, that he would bring their jobs back. Indeed, Trump is an anti-establishment demagogue, propelled towards Washington by a swarm of angry voters who are desperate to enact vengeance against a self-serving elite. This election is a war between a positive vision of America and a negative vision of America; between Hillary Clinton’s American Dream and Donald Trump’s American Horror Story. The American Dream will likely emerge victorious, but it will have lost the sheen of its glorious past.