After handily winning seven of 11 states in play on "Super Tuesday" on March 1, and then picking up delegate-rich states like Florida on March 15, Donald Trump has become the clear frontrunner for the 2016 Republican Party nomination. The New York City-based real estate mogul has currently won 673 delegates of the 1,237 needed to win the nomination. It was a state of affairs clearly not expected by party leaders, nor longtime political analysts.
For his part, Trump has described himself as a political outsider, tapping into the anger and cultural outrage simmering just below the surface of the American electorate.
Whether Trump is a racist and fascist reminiscent of the rise of Hitler as some critics say - or a tough-talking realist unbowed by the constraints of political correctness as some of his supporters believe--depends on which side of the political fence you belong. Undoubtedly, though, Trump presents a serious problem for the Republican Party. Unless the party's establishment can accept Trump as their nominee, a split convention looks ever more likely.
"This current politics seems to have baffled all of the pundits," said Allan Lichtman, a professor of American political history at American University, during a recent briefing at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, D.C.
"Republicans are angry at their own party," Lichtman continued. "They see their party in control of both the United States House and the United States Senate but not accomplishing anything in terms of their particular goals, whether it be cutting back on government spending, deporting undocumented immigrants, taking a tougher stand on ISIS [the so-called "Islamic State"]--they don't see government responding to their particular concerns." Trump also taps into a fear of foreign influences and uses Muslims as a scapegoat for discontent, he added.
Former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney minced no words in expressing his alarm at Trump's ascendency. Trump is a "phony" who is "playing the American public for suckers," he said in a speech at the University of Utah last week. The 2008 Republican nominee, a former prisoner of war and longtime Senator John McCain, also expressed his dismay, writing in an open letter that he has "many concerns about Mr. Trump's uninformed and indeed dangerous statements on national security issues."
The panic over Trump’s popularity is palpable. Republican convention delegates will be forced to name Trump as the official nominee or change their mind and cast their votes for a more palatable candidate. In any case, certainly a large number of Republicans will split from the party choice and Trump could decide to run as an independent candidate if he fails to gain the official party nod.
It's a situation that has not often occurred in American politics. The fracture of a political party and its downfall is a rare occurrence, and race is often at the crux of the split. In the 1850s, the Whig Party disintegrated over its refusal to take a party position on slavery. In 1948 the "Dixiecrat" party dissolved over the issue of civil rights. If the Republicans cannot unify over their standard-bearer, it will certainly be the biggest downfall of an American political party ever.
Belatedly, the Republican establishment has begun to organize a resistance to the Trump coup. Ted Cruz, for example, who is in second place, has become more organized and direct in his attacks on Trump. Trump’s assertions that he would deport more than 11 million illegal aliens, force Muslims to wear identification, and bomb the “suckers” in Syria until there is nothing left have also come under increasing media scrutiny now that Trump’s surprising popularity among voters has given him political legitimacy.
In fact, the very idea of Trump as the Republican nominee continues to bewilder political observers. If nominated, Trump would be unequivocally the least qualified presidential candidate. Only William Howard Taft and Herbert Hoover lacked background in major elective office or in the military before their election--and they both held cabinet posts. Trump has literally no experience in policymaking or political governance, and nothing to qualify himself as president other than a string of business ventures of mixed success.
Clinton fends off Sanders
On the Democratic side, the race for the nomination seems increasingly clear. Hillary Clinton dominated Super Tuesday with primary victories in Texas and throughout the south. Clinton hails from the Midwest but served as an attorney in and then First Lady of Arkansas, and although she has since become known as a New York Senator and Washington insider, she still enjoys support throughout the south, particularly among African Americans.
The former U.S. secretary of state also picked up four key contests on March 15 in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, and North Carolina, widening her lead of both pledged and total delegates over opponent Bernie Sanders. She has earned 1,237 pledged delegates to his 825; 2,383 are needed to win their party's nomination. While the margin seems surmountable, these numbers don't take into account super delegates, a system in which selected Democratic Party loyalists act as delegates, and they can personally choose who to cast their vote for. So far, Clinton has secured enough support from super delegates to bring her total delegate count to 1,606, while Sanders only stands at 851.
Clinton's success has pushed her to look beyond the primary and take aim directly at the presumptive Republican nominee. "Some people think Mr. Trump is entertaining, but I don't think it's entertaining when somebody insults immigrants and insults women. If you are going to run for president, then you should represent all the people in the United States," Clinton has said.
Clinton, often tagged as the "establishment" candidate and a moderate, may actually benefit from the rise of Trump as the Republican nominee. His success has come at a perfect moment for Clinton, when her practical, centrist positions could appeal to independents--and perhaps even disaffected Republicans tired of the drama surrounding their party's leading candidate.
Democrats who support Sanders could also end up reconsidering their choice as well, seeing Clinton as the best hope to defeat Trump in the general election. The backlash against Trump could be so great that some betting markets are now predicting a Democratic Senate as well.
Candidates on China
Both Clinton and Trump talk "tough on China," a common scapegoat for most of America's economic troubles. Clinton's track record and support of U.S. President Barack Obama's "pivot to Asia" strategy have not won her fans in Beijing. Her recent statements on China's economy also indicate that she may take more of a "containment" strategy than an "engagement" tack in responding to China's rise.
"Now that China's economy is slowing down we can expect even more bad acts from them," she said in a recent speech while campaigning in the manufacturing heart of Detroit, Michigan. "It'll look to dump products overseas to make up for lost demand at home. So we have to stop that right now."
Clinton has pledged to impose tariffs on China and other nations to deter exporters from dumping cheap goods on the American market and blamed currency manipulation for keeping "goods artificially cheap for years." Clinton also took swipes at China during her term as secretary of state, including accusing it of "new colonialism" in Africa and her outspoken criticism of China on human rights.
But if Chinese authorities were hoping for better treatment under a President Trump, they would be sorely mistaken. Trump has promised to place a 45-percent tariff on Chinese goods and regularly promises supporters that he will "beat China" and blames China for manufacturing job losses. He has also hinted that he would serve China with cease-and-desist letters to halt currency manipulation and accused China of "raping" the United States.
All of that is to say that capitals around the world--Beijing included--will be watching closely as the primaries conclude, the parties' nominees are formally selected at their respective conventions this summer, and the general campaign swings into full action ahead of the November election.
The author is a contributing writer to Beijing Review, living in New York City
Copyedited by Mara Lee Durrell
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