Odds are strong that Hillary Clinton will be the 45th President of the United States. Odds were even stronger that voters in the United Kingdom would choose to stay in the European Union. The Brexit vote this past week was not even close and once again this year the pundits and elites have been dead wrong.
The Brexit results do in fact shed some light on the United States Presidential election. I (and others) have written extensively about the distinct advantages that the Democratic nominee most likely has going into the fall campaign. Democrats have been assured of 242 electoral votes (of the required 270 majority) over the past six elections. The “poorest” performer during this time span was John Kerry who received 257 in 2004. And demographics are certainly a strong point for the Democrats, too.
But the biggest risk factor that Democrats face is Hillary Clinton herself and this week’s UK vote suggests to us how we probably should be looking at the frontrunner. Voters over there said a resounding “NO” to immigration, loss of national sovereignty, to government from outside elites, and to a weak currency. They were stirred up by demagogues who tapped into their anger, but both dominant parties in the UK were tarnished by both the status quo and by the sense that they were no longer in control of their nation’s destiny. June 23 was a bad day for elites in government, in the media, in banking and in business.
Enter Donald Trump, who just happened to be in Scotland to dedicate a new golf course. Trump has based his campaign on “Making America Great Again”, a return to national sovereignty, military strength, diplomacy from strength, and a focus on the forgotten middle class – the sort of things that fueled Brexit. The obvious question is how does a billionaire who has manipulated the system for his own financial benefit speak for the troubled working men and women who have lost ground over the past two decades? The answer is that he at least is what he is and you get what you get. Translated: he has indeed avoided taxes and has avoided releasing his files that could show exactly how he has done this. He has taken advantage of every possibly bankruptcy law by filing bankruptcy four times in order to avoid paying debts from reckless business practices. To voters who have been steadily losing ground, he is seen as someone who exposes the corruption of the system that has betrayed them by his very acts of cheating that hated system. Who better to stick a needle in the eye of the elites than someone who has proven first hand that he could break those very laws which benefit elites? He is unabashed, even proud, and says he alone is the one who can fix it. Make no mistake about it, I find it scary and I find him troublesome – but I find him more authentic than Mrs. Clinton.
That is her problem. The Clintons are indeed the elite of the Democratic Party and the Beltway. They are the “system” that many in the middle class are railing against. When Trump calls her “crooked Hillary”, he has a point for millions of voters. Going back to making $100,000 in one day on an alleged insider trading scheme and overbilling clients from her Rose Law firm days, she has had a “bad Hillary” side to her that troubles voters. Trump openly talks about cheating the system, Clinton makes a fortune speaking to Wall Street groups that she claims she will rein in – but refuses to tell voters what she said to them. Trump breaks the rules and laughs – Clinton violates the law by setting up a private email server in her home, distributing classified messages in the system, and then claims it was all legal. She touts her huge speech about the rights of women and plays a major role in shutting women up who have complained about being abused (allegedly) by her husband. She claims that once again she is being hounded by the media (“you are the only ones asking me about these things”) and by the “vast right wing conspiracy”. But she can’t seem to shake this reputation. Sixty percent of voters do not like her and Trump’s steady barrage charges will not make undecided voters like her any more.
Two damaged candidates, but Trump reminds me of a personal story: I was once shooting a television commercial for a law firm and the CEO of the video company told me that all clients had to pay upfront because of a lesson they learned early. One of their first clients was a prominent law firm who stiffed them and when they tried to collect, the law firm sued them. So their only recourse, they thought, was to expose the law firm to others. But everyone they told had only one question: “What is the name of that law firm? I may need them some day”. Trump is apparently that law firm.