In the second of a series entitled U.S. Election Notebook, Athabasca University professor Paul Kellogg asks if there is a comparison between the 2016 campaign of Donald Trump, and the 1964 campaign of Barry Goldwater. Read the first in the series, which discusses the late summer crises of Donald Trump’s campaign for president of the United States.
Trump’s early August controversies did serious damage to his campaign. July 28, the day Humayun Khan’s father made his moving appeal to oppose Trump at the Democratic National Convention, Trump was leading in national polls by 1.2%. July 31, the day after Trump’s callous rejoinder, he was trailing by 2.6%. August 10, the day after a thinly veiled incitement to violence against his opponent, Hillary Clinton, Trump trailed her by 6.4%. Perhaps we had finally arrived at Trump’s “Goldwater moment”. Barry Goldwater was the Republican candidate in 1964 whose views were so right-wing and outrageous, that many Republicans temporarily moved into the Democratic Party camp, leading to an overwhelming majority for Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson. Johnson received more than 43 million votes (61% of votes cast) to just 27 million votes (38% of votes cast) for Goldwater.
When a campaign goes into free-fall, there is often a shake-up at the top. And in fact, Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sidelined during Trump’s August slump, tendering his resignation August 19. Manafort was not a gentle soul. Until 2014 he had been a political consultant for Russian-backed Ukrainian strongman Viktor F. Yanukovych. In the face of a revolutionary uprising against Yanukovych, Manafort “bolted the country” and “found sanctuary in Russia … as his patron, President Vladimir V. Putin, proceeded to dismember Ukraine”.
But Trump’s step away from Manafort was followed, astonishingly, by moves to even less gentle souls. August 17 we found out that Roger Ailes, “the former Fox News chairman ousted last month over charges of sexual harassment” was advising Trump. Ailes had left Fox News in disgrace after host Gretchen Carlson had filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him. The day after we learned of Ailes’ role in the Trump campaign, the new campaign chief was revealed – Stephen K. Bannon, chairman of the Breitbart News website. That website “recently accused President Obama of ‘importing more hating Muslims’; compared Planned Parenthood’s work to the Holocaust; called Bill Kristol, the conservative commentator, a ‘renegade Jew’; and advised female victims of online harassment to ‘just log off’ and stop ‘screwing up the internet for men’.”
Bannon comes with other controversies. His former wife, Mary Louise Piccard said that while married to Bannon, he “grabbed her wrist and at her neck. As she tried to call 911, he grabbed the telephone and threw it, she alleged. She also said there were past instances of disputes that became physical.” Piccard also said that Bannon did not want their daughters to attend Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles because of “the number of Jews that attend.”
Here’s the problem. If the Khan and 2nd amendment controversies were associated with a steep drop in support for Trump – and dreams of Barry Goldwater – Trump’s subsequent move to the even-further right has seen his poll numbers slowly creep upward.
August 16 the day we learned of Ailes’ new role, Clinton’s lead had slipped to 6.2%. August 19, when Manafort resigned, her lead was 5.5%. By September 6 it was just 2.1%. Most commentators still had Clinton on her way to a substantial victory. There are many states in the Northeast and West which will almost always vote Democrat. There are many states in the old Confederate South and a great swathe in the middle of the continent from Texas to the Dakotas that will always vote Republican. Every recent election has turned on results in the swing states – most famously Ohio and Florida – and here, Clinton still held substantial leads in the first week of September.
But win or lose, Donald Trump will capture tens of millions of votes. Clinton has little chance of trouncing Trump to the extent that Johnson trounced Goldwater. The question we will all have to confront is – how is it possible that politics as toxic as Donald Trump’s could have the ear of millions in the world’s most powerful country? What does this tell us about politics in the second decade of the 21st century?
In the next post, entitled The calculus of ‘misspeaking’, Paul Kellogg suggests that Donald Trump’s extremist rhetoric cannot be dismissed as just ‘misspeaking’.
U.S. Election Notebook #1: Grief of the Parents
U.S. Election Notebook #2: Memories of Goldwater
U.S. Election Notebook #3: Calculus of ‘misspeaking’
U.S. Election Notebook #4: Birther origins
U.S. Election Notebook #5: Memories of George Wallace
U.S. Election Notebook #6: The Colour Line
U.S. Election Notebook #7: Glass ceilings & backlash
U.S. Election Notebook #8: Slaves in the White House
U.S. Election Notebook #9: Locking up the vote
U.S. Election Notebook #10: The New Jim Crow
U.S. Election Notebook #11: Not a dime’s worth of difference?
U.S. Election Notebook #12: ‘A sort of public and psychological wage’
U.S. Election Notebook #13: Political futures
Paul Kellogg (Ph.D. Queen’s, M.A. York) is an Associate Professor, Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies, Master of Arts – Integrated Studies Program, Athabasca University. Among his courses at Athabasca is POLI 345, “American Government and Politics”. He is the author of Escape from the Staple Trap: Canadian Political Economy After Left-Nationalism (University of Toronto Press, 2015). His teaching and research interests are political economy, social movements and global governance.