With six months to go, the US election campaign has boiled down to an unprecedented contest that could transform America’s role in the world. Democrat Hillary Clinton, a fixture on the political stage for a quarter-century, is set to face Donald Trump, a brash billionaire real estate mogul who has never held elected office.
The story so far has been one few could have predicted, in which a TV reality star reviled by the Republican Party establishment now has a clear shot at the presidency against the Democratic heir apparent. It promises to be a bitter and unpredictable contest between candidates with starkly different visions for America and its international relations. The future of US immigration laws, military posture and trade policy are at stake.
Here’s a look at key questions about the campaign and how the Nov 8 vote could affect the world:
How did Trump become presumptive Republican nominee?
Few gave Trump a chance of success when he declared his candidacy last June. Rivals for the Republican nomination underestimated his appeal and spared him attacks. Yet as Trump’s over-the-top persona and outrageous commentary attracted blanket media coverage, he quickly emerged as the front-runner. He was the most entertaining of the 17 candidates, and appealed to Republican voters disaffected by Washington politics. He tapped into popular anger, particularly among working-class white Americans roused by his blunt talk on stagnant wages, illegal immigration and terrorism. His appeal has not been dented by his disparaging remarks about women, or by international condemnation of his proposals for a wall along the Mexico border and a ban on foreign-born Muslims from entering the US
Is Clinton destined to win the presidency
This is Clinton’s second presidential bid after losing the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama in 2008. If she secures the nomination, which seems near-certain, she would enjoy significant advantages over Trump. An Associated Press-GfK poll last month showed that while 55 percent of Americans said they had a negative opinion of Clinton, 69 percent said the same of Trump. The Republican’s populist message may appeal to some blue-collar workers, including some Democrats, but he has offended many and polls badly among female voters and Hispanics.
Clinton has her own problems. The anti-establishment sentiment that has fueled Trump’s rise goes beyond Republicans. Long seen as a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination, she has struggled to shake off a challenge from veteran lawmaker Bernie Sanders, who has had surprising success for a socialist candidate in the US He has attacked Clinton’s ties to Wall Street and previous support for free trade deals, winning a passionate following, especially among young voters. A controversy over Clinton’s use of a private email server when she ran the State Department has added to perceptions that she is untrustworthy.
The electoral math favors Clinton. US presidential elections are decided not by the popular vote, but by a state-by-state count of electoral votes. Most of the 50 states are predictably Democratic or Republican, so the race can turn on the results in a dozen or so “swing states,” that are less predictable. Democrats had the advantage in those states in the past two elections. Trump maintains his candidacy can shake up the political map, although he lacks solid backing of his own party for fundraising and getting out the vote. Still, few thought he could win the nomination, so it shouldn’t be assumed he can’t win the presidency.
How do Trump and Clinton differ on foreign policy?
Clinton served as Obama’s first secretary of state. She was an architect of administration’s strategic push in Asia, and instrumental in bringing Iran to the negotiating table to rein in its nuclear program. The world powers that most challenge US global pre-eminence, China and Russia, have become more assertive during Obama’s second term, and chaos in the Mideast has intensified. Clinton is seen as more hawkish than Obama, but is unlikely to deviate significantly from current US foreign policy. One area where she publicly differs with Obama is on trade . Candidate Clinton has opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact that she promoted when she was top diplomat.
As with domestic policy, Trump is a wild card. Presidential candidates routinely talk tougher on the campaign trail than in office - and Trump is notoriously flip in his remarks - but his proposals could cause ructions. He has threatened punitive taxes on Chinese imports which could set off a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies. He says TPP is a “disaster.” More controversially, he has questioned long-standing US alliances in Asia and Europe. He says Japan and South Korea don’t pay enough for US military protection and has suggested they could get nuclear weapons so they rely less on America for defense. He’s also said that the NATO alliance is obsolete and he’d have no problem if it broke up.
Will a Clinton-Trump contest be as angry and confrontational as the Republican primary campaign has been?
Trump’s rhetoric and tough positions on hot-button issues have had shock value, and fueled confrontation at his rallies. But the most indelible mark he’s made on the campaign has been his put-downs of political rivals. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the brother of former President George W. Bush, was tagged as “low-energy.” The arch-conservative Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was labeled as “lyin’’’. The trash-talk has often been outlandish. Last week, Trump floated an unsubstantiated claim that Cruz’s father appeared in a 1963 photograph with John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald - citing a report first published by the freewheeling tabloid the National Enquirer.
Trump has already taken at aim Clinton. He branded her husband, former President Bill Clinton, as a sexual predator, and labeled Hillary Clinton “disgusting” for returning late from the restroom during a commercial break of a Democratic debate. He’s repeatedly charged that she lacks “stamina” - although she traveled nearly 1 million miles while secretary of state. Most provocatively, he contends that she’s relying on “the woman’s card” for her presidential bid.
There’s little reason to expect that Trump will ease up on the insults. How the more cautious Clinton responds is unclear. She’s likely to drill down over Trump’s suitability for office. She has called him a “loose cannon” and a “blustering, bullying guy.” She has also said his anti-Muslim statements make him the “best recruiter” for the Islamic State group.
What happens next in the election campaign?
Both parties formalize their presidential nominations at conventions in the second half of July. The last of Trump’s rivals bowed out last week, leaving no contest, but the Republican convention will be closely watched to see whether party leaders will swallow their pride and rally behind him. Clinton has yet to see off the challenge from Sanders, but she’s virtually assured of securing the majority of Democratic Party delegates who determine the nomination. She’ll have to win over Sanders’ supporters but faces a far easier task than Trump in unifying her party. Each candidate must also choose a vice presidential running mate before the conventions.