Opening old fissures

  • Updated: May 31, 2016 09:34 IST

The Republican Party leadership’s last and always slender hopes of preventing Donald Trump from becoming their presidential candidate were killed off last week with the maverick tycoon’s securing of a majority of the party delegates who officially choose the nominee at the party convention in July. The leadership had hoped that a Trump who failed to secure a majority of delegates at the time of the convention, thus forcing the vote into two or more rounds, could be thwarted by procedural means and the promotion of another candidate. If anything, just discussing the idea played to Mr Trump’s image as the anti establishment outsider battling an out-of-touch metropolitan elite.

Mr Trump, the presidential candidate, has been paralleled by the continuing ability of Bernie Sanders, another outsider, to inflict electoral humiliations on the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. The two themes that seem to be emerging from the United States presidential campaign are two sides of the same coin. One is that voters are down on those who claim to represent the status quo or are even perceived to represent the same. With the race heading to a Trump versus Clinton battle, this would mean the latter will be burdened with a major handicap that she will find hard to get rid of. The other is that, in the case of Mr Trump and Mr Sanders, the US party system is starting to fissure. What makes Mr Trump’s candidacy most peculiar is that he does not adhere to most of the ideological principles associated with a Republican candidate. Ms Clinton is actually closer to the pro-trade, pro-immigrant, tough defence and foreign policy agenda that has been the hallmark of conservative candidates in the past. Mr Trump may prove to be the catalyst for a major shift in the political landscape of the US. His ability to combine leftwing economics with nativist ethnic politics is already causing fissures in the Republican ranks, especially between its socially conservative base and its free market elite.

The possibility that the combination of Mr Trump’s agenda and his abrasive personality could lead to the defection of a large portion of urban Republican voters to the Democratic camp cannot be ruled out. Something similar could happen on the Sanders side with many of his supporters seeing more in Mr Trump than they do in Ms Clinton. But it is not about Mexican walls or the dismantling of the Atlantic alliance. It is about shining a bright light on the Republican and Democratic parties and showing that they need to be restructured to keep up with the new realities of American society and polity.

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