The most divisive election in US history

Dr Munish Raizada

Dr Munish Raizada

US presidential elections are hardly 3 months away. Voting will take place on Tuesday, November 8. Tuesday after the very first Monday in November is observed as Election Day in USA.

USA is a Presidential system of Democracy unlike India which follows Westminster or parliamentary type of democracy.In USA, President is elected every 4 years and each President can hold maximum 2 terms. Weird but true, in the strongest democracy of the world, i.e., America, the President is not elected directly by a popular vote.

A citizen casts the vote for an ‘elector’ and the latter in turn elects a President. Out of 538 electors, a presidential nominee needs 270 votes to be the winner.

Another interesting contrast between Presidential system of democracy and Parliamentary democracy is that in USA, President constitutes the executive branch and the Congress functions as the legislative branch.

In the 2 party system of American democracy, the presidential nominee from each party is not thrust upon by so called “High Command” (in fact, there is no high command in parties here). A presidential aspirant has to seek a win through primary contests (called primaries or caucuses) within his own party – a form of inner party democracy that is missing in India.

In India, one party that came close to preaching this concept (they named it Swaraj) was Aam Aadmi Party but as soon as Arvind Kejriwal came in to power in Delhi, he bluntly took a U turn and systematically killed this concept. Today AAP symbolizes the most lethal form of High Command culture where 3-4 sycophants are running the whole show (this merits another topic of discussion).

Thus after mazonths of rigor, virulence, theatrics and political rhetoric, we now have 2 Presidential nominees in the fray: Donald J Trump is the Republican (or GOP- Grand Old Party) nominee and Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party nominee. It does not mean that no one else can contest.

libertarian Party has nominated New Mexico former Governor Gary Johnson as their Presidential nominee and Green Party last week announced Jill Stein as their nominee. Libertarian Party – an extreme champion of individual liberty, limited governance and pro-market economy is hoping to entice voters dissatisfied with Trump and Clinton.

This is one of the most divisive elections in US history. Credit goes to Mr. Trump for running an unconventional campaign characterized by ‘politically incorrect’ views on several issues that USA faces today.

Donald J Trump is a multibillionaire businessman. Although, politically inclined since years, he never jumped into active politics prior to this. He is trying to use tag of being an outsider from the political establishment of Washington to his advantage by championing that things need to change and they must change NOW.

A successful businessman, Trump has been maintaining that the country needs a politically incorrect perspective on various pressing matters. His pet refrain is that the country needs a man outside of Washington establishment who can look at the problems from a common man’s perspective.

He has struck the right chord with the masses by venting out his feelings on issues like illegal immigrants, Islamic terrorism (it may be noted that President Obama has steadfastly refused to link terrorism with Islam) and why the USA is trying to be the chieftain of the world rather than taking care of its own pressing issues at home. His priority for job creations in USA is also finding echo in the public.

Even though a highly polarizing figure, but Mr. Trump was truly able to arouse mass mobilization of voters across the country during the Republican primaries. He amassed as many as 13.3 million votes in the GOP primaries, the highest so far. This is unprecedented despite the fact that he chose not to focus on a cadre based party mobilization and decidingto spend less on advertisements.

Trump is not a typical Republican candidate and thus to compensate this, he has chosen Indiana Governor Mike Pence who famously declared: “I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.”

Hillary Clinton on the other hand had tough primaries too. Although, she always seemed like in a winner in Democratic Primaries, the avowed “socialist” democrat Bernie Sanders gave her a protracted competition. Bernie was able to mobilize the youth of the country by playing socialist tunes before finally sitting down in support of Hillary Clinton.

The Republican opponent Trump pounced upon this by stating that Bernie had been a victim of electoral maneuvers of Democratic primaries and should contest as an independent rather than sitting down in support of Hillary.

Hillary Clinton carries big name as well as a baggage of liabilities. Having been the first woman of the country due to her husband serving as President, Hillary also served as Secretary of State during first term of Obama. Trump has been constantly calling her ‘Crooked Hillary’ due to her alleged involvement in email server scam and the fact that she must carry accountability for the failures of American intervention in the Arab world and ISIS becoming so powerful in last several months.

Who will win? The National Polling Average on New York Times website, as of August 8, shows Hillary Clinton grabbing 46 % votes and Trump 39 %.

One of the major determinants of Presidential election outcome is how much funds you can generate. In the previous month of July, Hillary campaign raised 80 million USD compared to 72 million raised by Trump. On that aspect, Trump may be lagging behind. But to be fair to billionaire Trump, he never seriously sought donations until last couple of months.

American political pundits say that Trump is not only lagging behind on the money trail and but also on organizational mobilization that it is not possible for him to catch up with Hillary.

But on ad spending also, Trump’s approach has been careful. His campaign is in no mood to spend too much when the ‘media is already paying him great attention anyway’.

In addition many feel that Trump has also alienated women voters, Black and Hispanic voters. How much can he woo middle class white voters will largely decide his outcome.

In addition, he cannot imagine a victory without winning Swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. It may be noted that Pennsylvania has never voted a Republican candidate in last 28 years and Ohio has the sitting Republican Governor John Kasich who lost out in the Republican primaries and has refused to endorse Trump thus far.

I had written in another article that Democratic Party is more heterogeneous in terms of social, racial and ethnic representation, and Republican Party represents supremacy of whites and Christianity. Thus, Clinton will continue to rant usual Democratic Party ethos and woo Hispanic and Black voters and talk of middle path.

In Republican domain, the discussion this time is not happening on abortion and gay rights, thanks to the uncharacteristic Republican Party candidate Trump who is talking of jobs, ‘making America Great again’ and his vigorous outbursts on illegal immigration, and radical Islam.

The possibility of Americans having a first ever female president does not seem to have ignited passions. Hilary cannot count on this alone!

Trump is a wild card candidate and that sums up all. Watch out!
The author is a Chicago-based columnist. Twitter @drMunishRaizada

Dr Munish Raizada