“The chief business of the American people is business.” ~ President Calvin Coolidge
As I write this the 2016 US presidential election is one week away and many commentators assume that Hilary Clinton will win. We shall shortly test the accuracy of their forecasting and perhaps the extent to which they indulged in simple projection, her opponent being profoundly unpopular among the mainstream media establishment.
Mrs Clinton’s campaign has been generally Orthodox in conception and execution. To obtain her party’s nomination she had to win the increasingly divisive primary campaign and then take steps to reunite all Democrats and build a national electoral coalition with which to defeat the Republican enemy at the general election. This she has done to a greater or lesser extent, just as all presidential nominees have done throughout my lifetime.
Mrs Clinton’s major problem is that she has become increasingly unpopular as her career in her husband’s administration, in the Senate and in President Obama’s cabinet has become increasingly mired in political and financial scandal. Just as Mr Trump is far from the best candidate the Republicans could have chosen, Mrs Clinton is not the best of the Democratic party and her greatest fear must be a low turnout of her own natural constituency.
The process of selecting a president is lengthy and noisy but has been generally stable since the end of the Second World War. However, during this electoral cycle things have changed and it remains to be seen whether this is a temporary glitch in the system or a more profound adjustment.
The role of business
Until now America’s elected officials, whether at county, state or federal level, have generally measured their effectiveness and success against their relationships with business. Although many Americans work for local, state or federal government, the national political and economic culture remains overwhelmingly private. Hence the continuing large scale opposition to what has become known as Obamacare. It costs a lot of money to stand for public office in the USA and much of the necessary funding comes from business leaders who expect a return on their investment in candidates.
Just as there are no free lunches, so there is no obligation-free funding from competitive business interests. That is why public policy conversion into legislation has changed surprisingly little in principle and execution over the past 50 years, and the system has not been effectively challenged. American business funds candidates, makes its priorities clear and expects its representatives to look after its interests when they are in power.
Donald Trump, though, is not a politician; he is a businessman and his campaign for the Presidency has been run as a corporate marketing operation.
The Trump market
For the primaries, Mr Trump identified his market and devoted all of his resources to maximising the impact of his brand on the segment/demographic known as “angry white folks”. These people feel that their vision of America has been destroyed by the liberal elites who tend to inhabit the east and west coasts. They live in the vast interior of the country in the “flyover states” and have seen their industrial and agricultural economy devastated by overseas trade deals and financial pressure from larger and larger federal banks. Mr Trump did the math, sold his brand entirely to his chosen market, became a mirror to their frustrations and anger and won the Republican nomination relatively easily.
Along the way his aggressive personality and daily bluster won him more free airtime on US national TV than any other candidate in US history.
The question for political commentators, not only in the US, was how could Mr Trump now build the customary broad electoral coalition to win the presidency, having insulted just about everyone except his targeted primary segment of voters? How could he diversify his business once he had saturated his initial target market.
The answer is that he didn’t even try.
The role of the Electoral College
The standard narrative runs that, again, Mr Trump did the math and obviously calculated that he could secure enough angry white votes to gain victory through the Electoral College. Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s personal miracle worker, explained the strategy in an article a few months ago. Mr Trump never had any chance of winning the popular vote. But it was possible that he could accumulate votes in the flyover states and defeat the liberals in the larger coastal states through gaining just enough seats in the Electoral College. Mr Rove even set out a list of states that Mr Trump could win.
The Electoral College is the mechanism through which States rights are protected during the election of a President. Let’s not forget that we are talking about the United States of America, a federation, not a unitary monolith. No president can be elected without a majority in the college even if he or she has a popular majority in the country.
However, new information has come to light which may change Mr Trump’s presidential narrative.
Building an audience for ‘Trump TV’?
In the United States a media institution has grown over the past twenty five years known as “talk radio”. Various individual commentators set up their own private radio stations and assail the airwaves with their mostly conservative and religious opinions. The most famous of these commentators is Rush Limbaugh, who has a huge following that he enlivens with his continuous attacks on liberal America, the coastal elites, the corruption in Washington, the Clintons, the Obama presidency and the general decline of the USA.
Mr Limbaugh is a staunch supporter of Donald Trump and speaks to exactly the same market segment identified by Mr Trump for his campaign. Mr Limbaugh’s audience has made him a wealthy and very influential man, facts that have not gone unnoticed by Mr Trump. It seems that the Trump organisation are seriously exploring the creation of a nation-wide “Trump TV” station, taking talk radio to the next level. This raises one important question and two possibly disturbing possibilities.
The question; has Donald Trump’s campaign for the White House been nothing more than a corporate business operation to build a market of subscribers for his proposed TV channel?
Talking over Congress
If that is the case it raises the following scenarios. If Mr Trump becomes President it seems likely that he will have to work with a Congress that is hostile to him. With the power and influence generated by his TV channel, he would be in a position to continually appeal directly to his many angry white supporters across the nation and continue to inflame the divisions that his campaign has exacerbated. There would be no post election healing. This would be seen by many as a subversion of the constitutional process of government.
If he loses the election, Mr Trump could continue to thrash away at the Clinton administration and all of the other enemies identified by his supporters. He could continue to challenge the legality of the election itself. In short, Mr Trump will simply not go away after the election. He and his followers will become a permanent and very active feature of America’s political landscape.
As I said, Mr Trump is a businessman not a politician. He chose not to fund a candidate for president, instead he became the candidate himself and has vigorously pursued his own business objectives with the election reduced to the level of a viable marketplace, not a purely political event. In effect, Mr Trump has removed the middleman from American politics on this occasion.
Now we must see if he has also changed western politics for good.
Ronnie Smith is a British writer. At present he is living in Languedoc, France.