Noel Whelan: President Trump could actually happen

There will be no clarity on the actual state of the race until after the early September Labour weekend

A man holds an "I Love Trump" sign along the perimeter walls of the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 27, 2016.  REUTERS/Adrees Latif

A man holds an "I Love Trump" sign along the perimeter walls of the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

 

Last January Donald Trump was the subject of a cover feature for the New Year edition of Time magazine. The story was headlined “How Trump Won”, which seemed premature at the times.

He was interviewed for the story on his plane late one night when travelling between states after a major rally. Stretched out on a couch, winding down from the adrenalin rush of that day’s campaigning, Trump was flickering through TV channels while chatting to the reporter. All of the channels he scrolled were covering his speech or some other story about him, including Fox News which was running a report about how media organisations all over the world were covering the Trump phenomena.

“Covering: that’s the important word,” Trump told the reporter. It mattered not whether that coverage was positive or negative, the important thing and the reason for his success was that so much of the media were covering him.

It seemed surreal reading the story then but it is all very real now. He is now the Republican Party nominee, and one of the two people capable of wining the most high-profile political office in the world next November.

The Trump candidacy is compelling. The media cannot get enough of him. Even usually sombre political programmes have played a part in enabling the real estate tycoon and TV celebrity to become a political mega-star.

The traditional rules of campaigning have been turned on their head. The candidate is in control.

Contenders for the US presidency usually have to spend millions of dollars on advertising and employ armies of media handlers to attract mass media coverage. Trump has required none of that. He has the media feeding out of his hand.

He is a massive magnet for viewers. He is a click-bait colossus. In an increasingly competitive, cluttered and vulnerable media market, newspapers and broadcasters need Trump more than he needs them.

They are the ones courting Trump for attention. His face on the cover sells millions of magazines. The TV debates or political programmes in which Trump participates get audiences which are exponentially greater than those without him. His every utterance becomes an international story.

Trump also dominates in new media. More than ten million follow him on Twitter, with whom he communicates directly up to a dozen times a day.

Whenever he or his campaign feel the need for more attention, Trump tweets something outlandish and is rewarded with dominance of mainstream media news programmes for several news cycle. The more outlandish the more coverage he gets, the more his supporters lap it up.

Airways

Even this week, as the Democrats sought to deliver a boost to Hillary Clinton’s campaign with a star-studded convention in Philadelphia, Trump successfully butted in on the airways and Twitter sphere by suggesting that maybe Russian intelligence, which many suspect of being responsible for hacking and leaking emails from the Democratic National Committee, should find the 33,000 emails deleted from Clinton’s personal server. It sounds like a crazy suggestion from a candidate for the US presidency but it got the attention back on Trump while pointing to Clinton’s vulnerabilities on trust issues.

From abroad friends of the US and fans of US politics watch the rise of Trump with a heavy heart.

US visitors ask us in worried tones how bad we think it would be for the US if Trump were to win. Delicately we have to break it to them that even when just a candidate for the nomination Trump has done much harm to the standing of the US in the world.

In the 13 weeks between now and polling day he will attract even more international attention, all of it damaging for his country.

International concern would turn to horror if Trump actually looked like winning. The polls on his prospects are currently confused. Some in the last week suggested he is very close to Clinton. There will be no clarity on the actual state of the race until after the early September Labour weekend, when the bounces from the conventions have worked through and voters focus more intensely on the choice.

Electoral college

Those who understand the intricacies of the US electoral college keep saying that even in the unlikely event of Trump winning the popular vote there is no realistic scenario in which he could actually win the presidency.

This week at the Democratic convention the day-time TV host come local politician Jerry Springer said to BBC Newsnight: “I am telling Europe don’t panic yet.”

More significant figures in the US political media, which is somewhat biased towards Trump, keeps saying it won’t happen and that “common sense will prevail”. That sounds very like what many British experts were saying in the weeks before the Brexit referendum.

It may be time to recognise that President Trump could actually happen.

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