Howard is a third year PPE/Law Student with a passion for international affairs, politics and economics. He writes about all of these things in such profuse amounts normally, that he felt it best to channel into something constructive, like a Woroni column.
What was most interesting about Trump’s acceptance speech wasn’t how much he deviated from the old course, but how little.
In some ways, the Donald Trump speaking at the close of the RNC convention was unrecognisable from the gaffe-prone amateur who entered the Republican primaries more than a year ago. The 70 minute-long speech was both well-written and well-delivered, and also kept faithfully to the script and utilised a teleprompter, two things that Mr Trump is hardly known for.
Despite the refinement in style, however, the substance and focus of the speech was quintessentially Trump, a summary of his campaign to date. It was a speech that reaffirmed Trump’s four essential pillars: anti-globalist protectionism, mass tax cuts, anti-Illegal immigration with a general “tough on crime” position, and aggressive policies for confronting domestic and external terrorism.
All the normal Trumpisms were on display; from the slightly disconcerting praise for authoritarian governments (this time Egypt), to improbable claims of expertise. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it” – a claim that sits somewhat awkwardly with Trump’s apparent unawareness of how many articles the US constitution contains.
It was a speech heavy on diagnosis but light on treatment, one which (perhaps better than any before) embodied the national fear and insecurities that have driven the Trump campaign. It painted a bleak and violent image of an America in decline, with only Trump capable of saving it. It was a speech that offered promises and assurances of future success, with only the vaguest of ideas about how to get there.
This was not the speech of a nominee attempting to unite a fractured party. Traditional Republican bugbears were only briefly mentioned, if at all; Obamacare got all two sentences at close to the hour mark, the Second Amendment half a paragraph a few minutes later, and of the 4,500 or so words that made up Trump’s speech, ‘Constitution’ only appeared once.
Trump’s thanks to the Evangelical community, and an accompanying promise to appeal the Johnson Amendment (which forbids tax-exempt religious organisations from endorsing or opposing political candidates) stood out, because it was the only such gesture Trump made to the factions within the party that had once been opposed to him.
By and large, this was a Trump who was unapologetically trumpeting the same message that had won him the nomination.
And this is arguably more interesting, because while the convention is in some ways the pinnacle and sum of the primary process, it’s also its conclusion, and the beginning of the general election season proper.
Conventional wisdom dictates that Trump will, like every previous Presidential nominee, begin to tack towards the centre as the electorate changes from partisan enthusiasts to the general population – a process that should have begun as soon as he secured the presumptive nomination some months ago. The fact that beneath the polish, Trump has done no such thing, suggests one of two things:
First of all, that Trump is both unwilling to compromise (likely) and has a resolute, authentic belief in his current positions. Given the weathervane of Trump’s political allegiance and stances historically, this seems, mildly-put, unlikely.
The second possibility is that Trump believes that his current position and current rhetoric will be able to win the election with no, or at least little, moderation.
This is disconcertingly possible. 2016 has already reshaped Western politics by drawing battle lines between the winners and losers of globalisation in developed countries. Trump has entirely, explicitly and skilfully portrayed himself as a voice and champion for the “forgotten” working and middle class, who have fared worst over the past two-and-a-half decades economically – a particularly impressive feat for a plutocratic New York billionaire whose name is a byword for opulence.
In Britain, a very similar sentiment and demographic carried Brexit, a prospect that had been viewed as similarly improbable to a Trump presidency half a year before the fact.
If Clinton is to be President, then she will need to present an alternative to Trump’s narrative, and win not just the minds but the hearts of White Middle America. So far, she has not.