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Dr Ben Margulies comments on the US presidential race

Dr Ben Margulies, Teaching Fellow in the Politics and International Studies Department at the University of Warwick comments on the latest developments in the US presidential race.

Trump's tax revelations

"It’s hard to say whether Trump’s tax revelations will hurt him. A lot of Republican voters think the government is corrupt and thieving anyway, so they’ll applaud his getting one over on it. Some, however, will dislike the idea that he’s cheating – after all, Trump railed against Republican elites like Mitt Romney, who in turn paid little tax. Nor does it help that it makes him look incompetent.

If Clinton and the Democrats are smart, they will frame this as Trump breaking the rules – as him cutting in line. Remember, Trump voters rebelled not only against immigration, but Republican elites, too, the kind of people who game the tax code the way Trump has. (Mitt Romney is a good example.) If Clinton can portray him as a cheat, that might erode his support. Another obvious route is to portray him as a bad businessman.

Clinton is currently pulling ahead in polls, and this tax bombshell will tend to create a media narrative that Trump is doing badly. Whether that will change the outcome of the election is hard to say. A large majority of voters have probably made up their minds."

The Vice-presidential debate

“Vice-presidential candidates matter little to the electoral results - even in their home states. So this isn't hugely important.
But it seems media reaction gives Pence the win for presenting Trumpism in establishment tones. That might give Pence a platform for his own presidential run later on.”

Inappropriate tapes

"I don’t think the tapes change the fundamental dynamic of the race; his base is still loyal. Trump is haemorrhaging support from a) college-educated voters, b) women and c) the Republican Party elite, and these people weren’t his base anyway. They were Republicans by class interest, family background, or for contingent reasons (they detest Hillary). Trump was already struggling with them – that was a problem before these tapes. But this … how do I describe it? … vile vignette? … well, it has accelerated their flight from the GOP. And without the party elite, Trump loses Republican funds and ground-support staff, which are crucial given how weak his own campaign organization is. He needs the Republican Party and its other office-holders and candidates more than he may realize.

"The big question is why comments about groping, and not comments about Mexicans or Muslims? Jamelle Bouie at Slate argues that Trump’s angering white voters and educated voters by threatening them directly, but he’s denigrated and sexualized white women before. So it isn’t just that. Maybe it’s the specific suggestion of sexual assault. Most of Trump’s previous statements are a bit more ambiguous – when he referenced Megyn Kelly’s “blood coming out of her whatever,” he didn’t actually say she was menstruating, allowing voters on the fence to explain his comments away. Populists in general tend to build ambiguity into their statements for tactical reasons; Trump failed to do so here. There’s also the fact that most of Trump’s statements can be attributed to a sort of public persona, an act. Here, Trump was speaking privately, so it looks like a window into his soul.

"Will more tapes hurt him? Again, it will just sustain the exodus; he won’t be able to reverse it. His base will stick around; a lot of them don’t watch the sort of media that talk about Trump’s failings."

Dr Ben Margulies is available for interview or further comment on Skype, Globelynx camera or ISDN line.


Alex Buxton: Media Relations Manager, University of Warwick

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