Battle Royale

By Sam Stead, Lower North Island Chair

Being a Kiwi-American it’s safe to say a lot of my time and attention – probably too much in all honesty – has been spent watching the 2016 United States election. It is a clash of two titan parties, and their nominees, to take on one of the world’s most demanding and pressure-driven jobs: The Presidency of the United States.

The US primary system is an intriguing one and here’s my take on this cycle’s primaries:
For the Democrats, a majority of the Party base was happy with the Obama administration and their establishment’s vision. They wanted a continuation of this, and as such, picked the ex-Cabinet and establishment member that is Hillary Clinton.

The Republicans are another story. As the opposition for 8 years, their base is fired up and angry, demanding change. This sentiment gave rise to candidates such as Cruz and Carson with the ultimate outsider, Donald Trump, clinching the nomination with increased voter turnout. Many disenfranchised Americans wanted change and they viewed Trump as the means to that end.

Since the primaries, scandal has plagued both nominees. For Trump, a failure to release tax returns has spurred allegations of dodgy dealings and tax avoidance, and the leaking of a ‘hot mic’ recording put his treatment of women under the spotlight.

In Clinton’s case, an ongoing probe into Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation, and the sending of sensitive emails from non-secured servers has led to investigation from the FBI and calls for a wider investigation from various political leaders.

Although often sensationalised in the media, regardless of Party, these scandals have driven the election towards one of personality politics, not one which is policy or vision-driven. This is arguably not new in America, with Romney’s “47%” gaffe and Obama’s “you didn’t build that” mistake playing major roles in the 2012 election. That said, this is arguably the most scandal centred election America has seen in recent memory.

To me this is a real flaw of this election as both candidates, regardless of their views, do have comprehensive plans for America. They both have a vision and an idea on how to implement it, yet we rarely hear about their detailed platforms and have an increased focus on ‘he said-she said’ type politics. It creates an environment where voters don’t know what they’re getting at the ballot box and spurs even more political apathy.

This type of politics and electioneering has fuelled an oddly negative election; instead of voting for their favourite candidate, many Americans were voting for the candidate they disliked the least, or they believed would do the least harm.

This view has given oxygen to third party candidates across the country. With particular reference to Johnson and McMullin, some looked within striking distance of winning a State’s Electoral College votes for the first time since the 1960s. To me, this shows two things: one, a mistrust placed in the mainstream candidates; and two, a willingness to look elsewhere. From a political junkie’s view, this is an exciting break with the historically two horse race of American politics.

Predictions? I’d say it’s still too close to call. Early voting suggests a tighter race than commentators have suggested, and the Electoral College can give rise to unforeseen outcomes. Who knows, we may see a landslide victory or a repeat of Bush vs Gore 2000.

I’m a National Party member, but my views don’t line up perfectly with either party in the US, and this election has just solidified that. The broad-church nature of National exposes me to a range of political view points and allows me to see where I stand, all under the same roof. This election has, if anything, just renewed my belief in the stability and direction of the John Key led government that makes New Zealand a pearl on the world stage.