Hillary Clinton is pretty much a slam dunk to become the next US President
Another Democrat in the White House looks nearly inevitable at this point ‘if professional electoral political skills still prevail’
President Ronald Reagan was known as “The Gipper” after a previous acting role. The next President may be known as “The Groper” if Donald Trump beats all the odds and finally succeeds at the ballot box.
Trump has broken all the rules of professional electoral politics and yet is still riding high in the polls. Conventional thought is that to succeed you have to be popular but inoffensive. You must have no skeletons in the closet; fleshy or financial. You have to have a long and clear career – no illegal hiring of maids, no intemperate words after a few beers.
You must be boring in dress and lifestyle and be nice to people you don’t want to spend time with. A previous career is especially dangerous as it can expose behaviour acceptable in a schoolboy football team but not, in the cold light of dawn, for a professional politician.
In recent years, we have seen the rise and rise of the amateur politician. Neither Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi or Rodrigo Duarte in the Philippines were elected with career-long political skills. They succeeded by trumpeting a populist message that obscures a determined drive for personal power. Berlusconi, the businessman, led Italy to 10 years of recession. Trump’s candidacy is another test of whether you need political skills to win an election.
Trump is the antithesis of a professional politician. He willingly boasts that he avoids taxes. He will tell a barefaced lie in front of the fact checkers. He bluffs and bullies, but this is not important to his supporters who bask in the sunlit uphills of hope in a populist candidate. His list of political gaffes is so long that it is difficult to remember his attack on an army veteran’s family, usually fatal to a political career.
He insults with impunity; not just Mexicans and former beauty queens, and shockingly threatened to use the machinery of state to jail his political opponent. Yet he betrays the weakness politicians most fear - a thin skin. In politics, you need a hide like a rhino to take unfair abuse, for if there is no dirt, the other side will make it up. You cannot negotiate peace treaties or trade deals if you can’t resist your opponent’s barbs. Professional politicians understand that game.
Businessmen think being ruthless is a political skill – but in reality politics is the practice of the art of the possible. You have to compromise your principles to get anything done. Politicians are not ruthless; they are merely extremely selfish. It is about targeting a goal, negotiating, compromising, making enemies and forming alliances with them, passing the checks and tilting the balances, divide and rule, carrot and stick – moving your position ever so slowly forwards to the next campaign.
Bill was the consummate politician’s politician. He had bags of charisma and would spend half an evening trying to convince someone who didn’t like him, to do so. He had his trouble with small furry felines too but only a little mud stuck to his Teflon suits. He needed a lot of luck, calmness, and intense internal resilience in the face of lengthy and hostile inquisition. Politics is more than just having a skillful turn of phrase.
Many American voters get angry at the very mention of Hillary Clinton’s name – she is judged by inches, where Trump is given miles. Her track record of competence in office, experience, and loyalty to her marriage is disregarded. This is because electors think they know her, so she will never be good enough. She has been around forever; without sexual peccadillos, unreported income, and attackable scandals, despite her opponents (assisted by Russian hackers and Wikileaks) doing their best to find some.
Electoral longevity depends on the support of an unquestioning pack of workaholic, sycophantic volunteers and spin-doctors who apply the gloss, rebut criticism and set up the next attack. Skillful politicians do not expose themselves as Trump has done – there should always be another person down the food chain willing to sacrifice their own careers.
These lessons could be learned in Government House. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has displayed little political savvy, seeming to have sacked his spin-doctors. A small (Bill) Clintonesque “I feel your pain” would have cut Occupy Central short. Electoral political skills have a lot to teach autocratic governments.
I mused five weeks ago that Trump might be “impeached before he is elected”. If not, my call is that, if professional electoral political skills still prevail, Hillary Clinton will defeat Donald Trump by a roaring landslide.
Richard Harris is Chief Executive of Port Shelter Investment Management and a former U.K. Parliamentary Candidate