When this seemingly endless US presidential election is finally over on Tuesday, a huge swathe of America will draw a collective sigh of relief. To follow every twist and turn of this campaign has been emotionally draining. Yet whatever the result, US politics will not return to normal: something fundamental has changed.
There has been a huge emphasis on the personal failings of both candidates. Indeed, many commentators believe this to be the worst choice ever to be offered to the electorate. With Trump the absolute low point was when secret recordings were released from comments he made back in 2005 in which he boasted that he used his fame to pick up – some would say even molest – women.
The impression given is of a powerful, rich alpha male who takes what he wants. And with Hillary, the recent announcement of an FBI investigation into her use of a private email server for messages, some of which may once again be confidential, is just the latest in a long series of scandals that shows she has been too close to power for too long. I still find it incredible that she has used 13 separate mobile phones during her time as secretary of state. Such practices I would normally compare to pay-as you-go drug dealers on Britain’s council estates.
The second presidential debate in St Louis was an event that many would like to forget. As Trump defended his words by producing four women who have made sexual allegations against Bill Clinton, I felt like a child watching through splayed fingers. It was awful but irresistible. One thing that is for certain is that this election has exposed a genuine ideological divide in an increasingly polarised country. Hillary believes that the EU is a prototype for a greater global union and is cheered on by her friends in the Wall Street banks. Indeed, she is so politically correct that when she is challenged about concerns over Islamic terrorism, she cannot even mention the term.
On the other hand, Trump believes in nation state democracy and proper border controls. Including the building of a “big beautiful wall”. He also sees Islamic terrorism as the greatest threat to our way of life and says he will beat it, though it is not quite clear how. The whole Trump campaign sees Brexit as an inspiration. And no day goes by when he does not refer to it. This is why I was pleased to appear on a platform with him in Mississippi some weeks ago. The battle against the big business and political elites is very similar.
There may be differences on issues such as trade, but the basic conviction that change is needed as the current system is failing ordinary people is a mirror reflection of so much that caused the upset here in June. Indeed when I went and spoke in Mississippi it was clear that Trump’s supporters are inspired by our referendum. They saw the people here rise up and defeat the establishment, defying the pundits and the polls. In the same way that we saw so many in this country become re-engaged in the political process, I met supporter after supporter backing Trump who either hadn’t voted for many years or who had never voted at all. It is this factor that caused the polls during the referendum to be proven inaccurate, and if Trump does win, it will be because so many new voters have joined his movement with massive enthusiasm.
Just as in the UK many have grown tired of the little fundamental change offered by establishment politicians, millions of Americans have been excited by Trump’s promise of a tougher stance on border controls and illegal immigration, while taking on a political class committed to a corporatist agenda that helps the big banks and big business, as living standards for ordinary citizens have declined. He speaks to the ordinary American in a way that Clinton and other Washington insiders have long failed to do.
What may be difficult for a UK audience to understand is just how hated Hillary is by millions of Americans. Yet Trump has been deserted by most, if not all, of the upper echelons of the Republican Party. In name, ‘the Donald’ is the Republican Party candidate. But it is in name only. In effect he is now really running as an independent. All of which makes an unpredictable result tomorrow all the more remarkable.
What is absolutely certain is that, even if he loses, the Ukip-style passion of the average Trumpite will not go away. Nigel Farage
Within this strange story there is one surprising twist. The strongly anti-establishment candidate now has significant establishment support. Nearly every police officer I have met on my frequent recent visits to the US says they will vote Trump. Over 200 former generals and admirals now support his campaign. Who can doubt that last week’s FBI announcement was little other than a declaration of war on the Clinton campaign? The forces of law and order and the military now believe that Trump is the safer option. It is all extraordinary stuff.
There is no doubt that the result of this contest will be tight. I still believe that non-voters desperate for genuine change will tip the result in favour of Trump. What is absolutely certain is that, even if he loses, the Ukip-style passion of the average Trumpite will not go away.
If the Republican nominee does not win, do not doubt the possibility of a genuine third party emerging in the US. I say this because I don’t think the Republican establishment will ever fully accept Trump – rather like the way the Conservative Party here feels about me. What is clear to me is that, imperfect though the Donald may be, he is the agent for change in this election. And, importantly, he likes our country. Either way, things can never be the same again.