Since I returned to the United States of America, I have had a hard time watching any news show without encountering one Republican candidate for President, namely, Donald J. Trump, for better or for worse, even when the show is about the Democratic candidates in the race. It all started like a joke. Before long, it became a little serious and then, more serious as more people began to show up at Trump’s campaign rallies. Now it is a political reality. Trump has been winning and he is now ahead in the delegates count and in the polls among the Republican candidates in the ongoing American presidential primaries. What started as a political joke is now keeping jaws apart, with some observers’ lower lips dripping with saliva.
Why is this so? Early in the campaign, Trump succeeded in energising a coalition of Republican voters often neglected by Republican leaders – a group of voters without college degrees and others who felt shortchanged in the struggle for the American Dream. These are voters who are angry at the political class and they are rebellious against the political establishment. Many of them have experienced job loss or falling wages and they blame the political establishment for not turning their fortunes around. These voters are attracted to Trump because he speaks bluntly to their anxieties, often blaming Mexicans, Chinese and other immigrants for their job losses.
“I will make America great again”, Trump tells his supporters. They believe him partly because he has been addressing their concerns, he is a successful billionaire with visible brand and he is a political outsider, who, like them, has challenged the establishment.
The problem with Trump is that he has leveraged on the grass roots anger against the establishment and their economic misfortune to say things that make not only the establishment, but many a right thinking American, unhappy with his candidacy. This is particularly true of his stance on foreign affairs. For example, there are genuine fears that Trump, as President, might start a trade war, or real war. He once backed a stiff 45 per cent tariff on Chinese goods; indicated he might bomb North Korean nuclear sites and has, more or less, declared war on all Muslims, thus reversing earlier assurances by both President Barrack Obama and former President George W. Bush that the U.S. is not at war with Islam.
It is not surprising, therefore, that Trump has attracted negative ratings abroad, which may spur a backlash on the image of the United States, should he be elected President.
That is why the unanswered question, now on most citizens’ lips, is: Will Donald Trump emerge the 45th President of the United States and by implication, the leader of the free world? I hope not. And I am not alone. Already, some of his party leaders and conservative thinkers are trying hard to prevent him from getting the nomination. They have two options: Either they convince his supporters not to vote for him in future primaries, thereby reducing his chances of getting the required 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination, or they change the rules before balloting takes place at the convention so as to unbound the delegates to him, should he win 1,237 delegates or more during the primaries.
Some retired service chiefs, conservative thinkers and some notable party leaders are doing just that. But there are problems with that approach. To start with, former Governor Mitt Romney, who led the campaign against Trump’s candidacy, was not credible enough. True, his message was quite clear and well-delivered, but he was not adjudged to be the right messenger, partly because he was the failed Republican candidate in 2012, a drop-out contender in 2008 and he sought and obtained Trump’s endorsement in 2012 when he praised the latter for some of the qualities he sought to condemn in 2016. This raises a moral issue, if ever there was morality in politics.
The second problem is the reverse implication of Romney’s verbal attack of Trump. Rather than discourage Trump’s supporters, it enraged some of them, thereby encouraging them to troop out to vote for him. “What business has Romney telling me who to vote or not to vote for?” asked one supporter. “I will vote for him now and in November, no matter what!” Besides, the attack came as a wake-up call to Romney himself to double up and get his troops out, leading him in one rally to request his supporters to take a pledge that they will vote for him.
What is playing out here is already larger than Trump. The Republican Party is fighting for its own soul. For eight years, the party has been engaged in serious in-fighting in which the Tea Party has engaged the party establishment. Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, resigned last October, in part because he could not resolve the conflict. Now Trump is deepening the conflict by turning many voters against the party. There is the deep fear among Republicans that they would lose their party should Trump become President and by implication, the leader of the party and its face to the world.
Another serious issue playing out in the developing stop-Trump movement is the soul of democracy. To what extent should the party elite be allowed to meddle with the process of electing a leader? Put in another way, should party leaders reject the people’s popular choice in an election? Remember the case of the Palestinian election in 2006? Hamas (under the name, Change and Reform Party) won 74 out of 132 seats and formed the government to the discomfiture of both Israel and the United States. But the election was allowed to stand. The Republican Party is trying to play it smart by preventing Trump’s nomination, in the first place, because they know too well that there is nothing they could do to stop him, once elected at the party’s convention.
It must be understood, however, that the move to stop Trump hides yet another fear by Republican leaders. They are very hungry for presidential power, which Democrats have held for nearly eight years. The fear that any of the two contending Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, could beat Trump can only spur Republican leaders to throw their support behind a candidate that could win the presidency for them. The momentum now seems to favour Senator Ted Cruz, who is running second behind Trump.
That is why the next few Republican primaries will be very interesting to watch. Should Trump eventually prevail in the primaries and get nominated at the convention, his chance of winning the presidency would have been seriously diminished by the Republican leaders’ move to stop his nomination. If nothing else, it would have armed the eventual Democratic nominee with enough negative things to say about Trump on the general election campaign trail. This in itself will go a long way in alerting the general electorate to Trump’s shortcomings. Accordingly, Trump may, after all, not be the 45th President of the United States.