By this time next week, one can but hope, the 2016 US election will be over. Barring a black swan event — which is to say one as improbable as that creature — Hillary Clinton will be president-elect. Then what?
Much may depend on the decisiveness of her winning margin. The race appeared to be narrowing in the final furlong. This is not unusual. FBI director James Comey has helped, perhaps unintentionally. News that his agents had come across a fresh trove of emails that might contain some sent by Hillary via her private server while she was Secretary of State perked up Donald Trump’s flagging campaign like a line of cocaine.
With any luck, the lift will prove equally short-lived. If the polls are to be believed, Trump may come close in the national vote next Tuesday but still lose fairly decisively in the electoral college. He has refused to say whether he will accept the result, asserting that the system is rigged. As, indeed, it is. The Founding Fathers rigged it to reduce the risk of the teeming North electing a president who might try to outlaw slavery in the agrarian South.
What would be dangerous in the present instance would be a replay of the 2000 election in which the Democrat, Al Gore, won a popular majority while failing to assemble a majority of the electoral votes awarded by each state on a winner take all basis. He lost when the Supreme Court awarded Florida to the Republican, George Bush, on the basis of still disputed recount. Gore conceded gracefully. Trump has offered no grounds for believing he would behave in a like manner. There could be blood.
A result that is clean and clear will test Trump’s ability to brand defeat as triumph. Branding, an art that has quite a lot in common with lying, is his peculiar forte. A protean character, he should have no trouble finding a formula if he wants one and, as it happens, there is a claim he can legitimately make. He has performed a useful service. He has turned over the rock of American politics and exposed what lies beneath.
Trump may be the Republican candidate, but by no stretch of the imagination has he been running as a Republican. Previously of no fixed political address, he putsched the Grand Old Party with rhetorical techniques that will sound uncannily familiar to readers of Volker Ullrich’s excellent new biography of Adolph Hitler.
He has come within sight of the winning the White House because a significant percentage of American voters, predominantly white working and middle class men, feel betrayed by the GOP of House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, not to mention the lengthy menu of presidential alternatives initially on offer.
Where will the okes go if and when Trump goes back to being a property developer and reality TV star?
Clinton is convinced that, for the sake of the country, she must make a play for their allegiance as profoundly as many seem to hate her. “If we don’t get this right,” she told the New Yorker’s George Packer in a recent interview, “what we’re seeing with Trump now will just be the beginning. Because when people feel that their government has failed them and the economy isn’t working for them, they are ripe for the kind of populist nationalist appeals that we’re hearing from Trump.”
“Getting it right” will be easier said than done unless the Republicans chose to draw similar conclusions from the Trump phenomenon and see their way to cooperating with the new administration. That seems unlikely unless Congress also changes hands next week. The best Hillary can hope for is a tenuous majority in the Senate while the GOP retains a lock on the House.
Things could get ugly. Doug Schoen, who worked for Bill Clinton as a pollster but has taken Rupert Murdoch’s shilling to be a Fox News talking head, drew attention to himself on Monday by announcing he had made “one of the most difficult decision of my life”: while he could not vote for Trump, he would not be voting for Hillary either. His reason: fear that the Republicans would try to turn the email affair into a new Watergate to bring down her administration or at least limit her to a single term.
“I am now convinced that we will be facing the very real possibility of a constitutional crisis should Secretary Clinton win the election…There will be no goodwill or honeymoon period for Clinton. Her…agenda will take a back seat to partisan division…with little chance on constructive legislative action.”
It is hard to see how withholding his vote from Clinton might rescue the country from Republicans bent on her political destruction through the criminalisation of political difference. But Schoen’s prediction of gridlock worse that anything Washington has yet experienced is not beyond the bounds of possibility.