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Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump – An Idiot’s Guide

November 7, 2016

07 November 2016

Amazing that in a country as vast as the United States of America that you could end up two candidates as flawed and unpopular as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. To think that Trump emerged from a field of 16 other candidates, of which many were successful governors and senators, while Clinton was so much her party’s anointed one that she scared all serious contenders away. Even worse than that, to finally win the nomination, they had to beat off even greater extremists – in Trump’s case it was the snarly ultra conservative Ted Cruz while for Clinton it was a little known socialist who wasn’t even a Democrat. It confirms the recent trend that while Americans get the president right, they don’t get the candidates right.

Part of the blame there is not only the primary system that favours extremists or establishment favourites, the protracted process means issues can change. You only need look to 2008 when both Barack Obama and John McCain were nominated primarily on their Iraq War stances. By the time the election came around, the Iraq War was mostly resolved and the issue became the economy. Both were clueless in this field, failing to even recognise the parlous situation. Yes, Clinton would have been the far better choice in 2008, with Obama more suited to 2016.

This time the blame for the sordid Clinton and Trump goes to the parties themselves. The Republican governors and senators were more eager to fight among themselves than go after Trump, believing his candidacy would only ever attract a fringe mob. The turning point in their primaries was the debate just before the New Hampshire primary where Chris Christie smashed Marco Rubio for being robotic. Rubio’s momentum out of Iowa collapsed and he never really recovered. With the Democrats, Bernie Sanders famously refused to grill Clinton over her email woes, nor even the unsavoury elements of the Clinton Foundation, preferring for the FBI investigation to handle the situation. Suffice to say had the Republicans attacked Trump and Sanders attacked Clinton right from the start, we’d have at least a different Republican – either Marco Rubio or John Kasich – standing for President of the USA today.

Republican vs Democrat

THE ISSUES

Immigration

Even though Trump created headlines with his talk of banning Muslims from entering the USA, his major cause was illegal immigration. He wants a wall and an end to “anchor babies”, or birthright citizenship (originally instituted to grant citizenship to slaves), while the Democrats want amnesty for the estimated 11 million people living illegally in the country. In truth, the Republicans are open to some sort of legal status for them too (refer to the “Gang of Eight” bill), with the exception that the border is secured first. This was the mistake made under the Ronald Reagan amnesty of 1986 and Republicans don’t want a repeat. Suffice to say the Democrats won’t have a bar of any secure border, much less a fence, so expect little action. In truth, both parties are probably happy with the status quo: Democrats get their open borders and Republicans get cheap cash-paid labour for their businesses and farms. Most of all, it’s such a popular wedge issue. Despite promises, Obama did nothing about immigration reform during the two years the Democrats had full control of congress. Little did he know such inaction would deliver Trump as the Democrats’ 2016 opponent. Both sides have also disgraced themselves with the wedge politics.

Trade

Trump’s other big issue. Much like illegal immigration, the constituency here is the traditional American worker that feels their country is leaving them behind. While Trump’s plan to renegotiate some deals has merit, the idea of reintroducing massive tariffs against countries “ripping America off” like China and Mexico is all bluster. Times have changed anyway, and those old industries won’t return. Sanders also agitated in this area, dragging Clinton to his and Trump’s position. Suffice to say the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which involves Australia, is dead. In a philosophical sense, these massive multi-country deals are a mess and difficult to ensure every country plays fair. You saw some of this play out with Brexit, so look to a future of bilateral deals and less globalisation in general.

Rigged System

Trump and Sanders were all over this, and both were right. Sanders never had a chance because of the Super Delegate system in the Democratic Party, while Trump was constantly at odds with the Republican party for their lack of support. Lately Trump has targeted the media with claims of bias and unfair treatment. While there might be some validity there regarding the overwhelming negativity and the curious late release of the Access Hollywood lewd tapes, he’s quickly forgotten all the free media he received during the primaries.

Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)

Essentially it’s a law that subsidises private health insurance companies and individuals on a low income. It’s a messy law and probably designed to fail so the nirvana of a public healthcare option and then a nationwide single payer system like Australia’s Medicare starts. The ACA fails because for insurers to provide the coverage demanded to be in the government exchanges, they need everyone – particular the young and healthy – buying insurance. Too few have so that’s created a “death spiral” of higher premiums, more people dropping out, and more insurers leaving the exchanges. The fine (or “tax” as was the deciding vote in the Supreme Court over the law being constitutional) to force people to buy insurance is too small to have effect. Since insurers can’t deny those with a prior condition anymore, most people will pay the fine and buy insurance only when sick. If the fine is raised enough to make buying insurance almost compulsory, then you may as well have a public option anyway! The ACA is not much of a vote winner because the vast majority of people get their healthcare either through their employers, Medicare (the elderly) or Medicaid (the poor). The other problem is the Republicans don’t have an alternative anyway.

Supreme Court

The Republican Party has probably given up the presidency (even if Trump wins!) and their key concern is holding the senate. Defending 24 of the 34 seats up for grabs this cycle, they only have a buffer of five (or four if the Democrats win the presidency). The Democrats are almost certain to pick up 3 seats and are the slightest of favourites to regain control. With probably two, possibly up to four, Supreme Court justices going over the next four years, it’s a crucial time. Sadly, the court has become political, with many major decisions finishing 5/4 on party lines. There are exceptions like Obamacare and Gay Marriage where the two swing conservative justices helped those cases succeed. With Obamacare, the way out by Justice Roberts of calling a fine a “tax” was to absolve the court of a final decision and push the issue back onto the people for the 2012 election. With the current court 4/4 after the conservative Justice Scalia died earlier in the year, a Democratic president and senate will see the court go left. The fear for Republicans is that it will become even more activist in nature than its original intent of being guardians of the constitution. Note: the constitution can be changed by the states, has been done so many times before, and so should be the process in future.

Hillary Clinton’s Emails

All Clinton had to do was hand over the server. Instead she lied about its use, lied that she was given permission to set it up, lied that it was for convenience, lied that no confidential emails were sent through it, and lied that she handed over all the work-related emails to the FBI. Subsequently it’s been revealed she didn’t want some emails going public, particularly personal ones. One problem: these “personal ones” would include those associated with the Clinton Foundation and possible “pay to play” while Secretary of State, and these are the ones all along she wanted to keep hidden. Most people have factored this scandal into their decision, so the FBI’s reopening of the case just over a week ago and then closing it again this week won’t matter much. The only damage that can come now will be during a Clinton presidency if there’s discoveries of corruption within the Clinton Foundation.

The Presidency

Little do most people realise the role of the president is over-stated, with their role primarily being head of the executive branch of government and the commander-in-chief. Other than in foreign affairs and being a figurehead for their country and their party, they have little real influence. They can’t make laws; that’s the role of congress. They are there to sign or veto bills, and even if they veto a bill, congress can still pass it again with a veto-proof majority. As much as Obama whinged about congress being obstructionist, they can easily say he’s obstructionist. The house of representatives is the people’s house, and the senate is the house of revision for the states. It really is more a character test, and it’s this reason that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump should have no right to even be this close to the presidency.

THE RACE

The only way Trump will win is if there’s this much vaunted “shadow vote” out there. These are people that have never voted before, and provided false voting intentions to polling companies or were not polled at all. They are mostly white, male working class voters, and potentially many former Democrats. Otherwise, there’s no reason not to believe the polls. Things like margin of error and over-sampling certain demographics are irrelevant when looking at long term trends. Clinton has consistently been in front, particularly in the states that matter. Trump also must overcome a huge discrepancy in ground operations, advertising and positive media coverage. If he somehow wins, it will be one for the true believers. Personally, I’d probably laugh and look forward to the chaos. Imagine the Donald addressing the United Nations? The mischievous side of me is rooting for him. Of course, Hillary would be an interesting president too. I’ve always liked her and as the first woman she’d be a tangible change in the White House whereas Obama was only a symbolic one. Considering my main interest in US politics is it’s the best reality TV around, it’s been a fascinating election season and the result either way is a win.

usa1

This is the current state of the Electoral College. Under the US system, each state is worth a certain amount of electoral college votes based on their population. California has the most with 55 while the smallest states only have 3. There are 538 votes in total and it takes a majority, or 270, to win the presidency. If no candidate reaches 270 the house of representatives – likely to be retained by the Republicans – decide. Suffice to say, for Trump to have any hope of becoming president, he must hold all the states Mitt Romney won in 2012. The only state of concern is North Carolina, where he’s level or just behind. The close race between Trump and the independent in Utah doesn’t matter because if a loss there prevents Trump reaching 270, he will be elected by the house anyway.

Path A

usa2.jpg

The simplest path for Trump is to win Florida (FL) in the south east, and Ohio (OH) and Pennsylvania (PA) in the mid-east. His problem is he’s never been close in PA. In FL, he’s currently 50/50 or just behind while in OH he’s just ahead.

Path B, Step 1

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While Trump looks unlikely to win Pennsylvania, he’s likely to win Iowa (IA). That only brings him to 259. The swiftest path to victory from there would be to pick up a state in the rust belt, or “The Blue Wall”, of Minnesota (MN), Wisconsin (WI) or Michigan (MI). MN or WI will take him to 269, while MI takes him to 275. He’s not polling well enough in any of those states, so he needs another option. Remember, a candidate needs 270 outright to win the presidency.

Path B, Step 2

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This is the more likely path and involves picking up Nevada (NV) in the mid-west for 6 electoral votes and New Hampshire (NH) in the upper north-east for 4 electoral votes. He’s an increasingly stronger chance in NV and is closing the gap in NH. At 269, he’s still one vote short of winning the presidency outright. If he misses either or both of those states, his last remaining hope would be Colorado’s (CO) 9 votes. That would push him over the line if losing either NV or NH, or leave him on 268 if losing both. Polls are showing CO is more likely Democratic.

Path B, Step 3

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Look to the bottom right corner of the map for a legend representing Maine (ME) and Nebraska (NE). These are the only two states that divide their electoral votes. With Nebraska safe Republican, the target here is Maine. They award one vote for each of their two congressional districts and two votes for winning statewide. While the Democrats will win statewide and one of the districts, Trump is after that loan vote in the southern district that borders with New Hampshire. He’s been campaigning heavily there and is a chance.

Remember, these paths only work if Trump holds all the Romney states. If he loses North Carolina, he must pick up one of the Blue Wall states as cover. If he loses Florida, it’s all over. He’d need 3 Blue Wall states as cover. The thing is, Florida is somewhat a predictor, so unless this election goes really crazy on the day (no surprise given everything that’s happened so far), if Trump is failing there he will fail in the remaining battleground states. Polls begin to close from 11am Wednesday Australian eastern time. Those polls include the Florida peninsula and, at 11.30, North Carolina and Ohio. If Trump is doing poorly in any of those states, conceivably by midday we’ll know if the election is heading towards a Clinton victory. Otherwise, hold on to your seats until 2pm when Nevada closes its polls. The election won’t be officially called until after 3pm when the west coast states close their polls.

CNN or FOX?

Despite being so maligned in this country (no doubt primarily by people that never watch it), Fox News does provide a professional, slick and comprehensive news coverage and analysis. You only need look at Chris Wallace moderating the third presidential debate as evidence, and I can confirm he’s as tough and fair like that on his weekly show. There’s also Megyn Kelly, who might even be more tougher, and made headlines over her public stoush with Trump. It’s Fox’s opinion shows that skew right, particularly the morning show Fox & Friends and Hannity, the active Republican party supporter, at 10pm. Despite Trump labelling CNN the Clinton News Network, they play it straight too, and have the excellent Anderson Cooper. Australia gets CNN International so the only opinion/talk shows generally seen are Fareed Zakaria GPS and Amanpour, which do skew left. I’m an avid viewer of both channels and generally flick between both during elections. If history is a guide, CNN will have a better presentation and graphics, while Fox has better analysts. CNN has too many analysts to begin with, and their guests are often too shrill or partisan. While you do need a biased perspective from both sides, it should not be at the expense of rational thought.

MY VOTE

I have warmed to Trump’s political incorrectness. His crap about banning Muslims was effective in the fact he was prepared to say such things, not that it was a rational or realistic policy. Frequent readers of this blog or my twitter will know I’m sick of elitists telling us how to behave, act and even think, with particular emphasis on our egregious nanny state. Trump’s big disqualifier was the third debate when he wouldn’t commit to accepting the election result if he lost. As a firm believer in democracy, that shut the door. If I was American and could vote, it would be Clinton. Call me sexist, I’d vote Clinton partly to be part of history (much like Julia Gillard here), and also that I believe she’ll make a decent president. She won’t be partisan like Obama and will be prepared to work with congress. As for down the ticket, I’d go Republican. That’s primarily because the nation needs another four years to sort itself out and that neither party, after their recent miserable records, deserve to be rewarded with unfettered power. I’ve come to accept these days that government gridlock is better than government action.

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