Americas - Issue 97 - Magazine | Monocle

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View from the campaign trail

Interminable Trump

By Sasha Issenberg

Just a few weeks after the Republican convention, as his poll numbers began to sag, Donald Trump did the unthinkable: imagined himself as a loser. “At the end it’s either going to work or I’m going to, you know, I’m going to have a very, very nice, long vacation,” he said in a CNBC interview.

It’s hard to envision Trump leaving the scene for very long and the scenario that presents itself in November leads to a jarring conclusion. The only thing more dangerous than Trump winning the presidency may be Trump losing the presidency.

As a candidate he has demonstrated little care for what he would actually try to do while in office. His boldest suggestions – a wall along the Mexican border and a ban on Muslim visitors – have never graduated into proposals. Trump may have the intuition of a strongman but he lacks the attention span to be an accomplished autocrat. He manufactures grudges with alacrity but is not able to hold them. He is too eager for love to enforce a Nixonian enemies list.

If elected president, Trump would find himself limited by his office’s institutional constraints, able to do little without bumping against Congress and an independent judiciary. (The exception is the immediate response to a national- security crisis, which would be especially worrisome given Trump’s flippant attitude towards nuclear weapons.) Congress would likely be alert from the outset to any impeachable acts, with Democrats joined by Republicans who would prefer to see a President Pence and spare themselves another election with Trump on the ballot. Oddly enough, it may be easier to remove an incumbent president than to displace a candidate who has won his party’s nomination.

Already Trump appears to be adjusting to his role as a former candidate and in doing so has shown himself willing to pre-emptively question the legitimacy of the results; this is something that even Al Gore refused to do after the Supreme Court handed the election to George W Bush in a partisan vote. “The only way we lose is if there’s cheating going on,” said Trump in mid-August. His allegations about a “rigged” election are sure to dominate cable news for months beyond November. In defeat his instinct for conspiracy theory will be unbounded. The few occasions when he has shown restraint have come when he finds himself briefly under the spell of party greybeards. Once they cut him loose, what will constrain his natural inclination towards provocation?

It was once bizarre when Fox News asked Trump about geopolitics – in 2011 he was invited to muse on Pakistan-China relations – but it will make sense once he has been a major party’s standard-bearer with 50 million votes to his name.

At least until 2020, Trump will be as plausible a spokesman for the US right as anyone. It would be fair for news organisations to ask what he thinks of the next trade deal negotiated by President Clinton, or an immigration compromise she strikes with Speaker Ryan, and if he thinks his supporters should back it. To ensure his airtime Trump will have to toy with another run for president. As long as he’s threatening a rematch with Hillary how will any other Republican leader emerge from his shadow? When one’s goal is mere exposure, the cycle never ends.

Three roles for Trump if he loses:

Opposition leader: He could become the US’s loudest critic of the Clinton administration.

Media mogul: With campaign chief Steve Bannon of Breitbart, former Fox News boss Roger Ailes and son-in-law Jared Kushner, publisher of the New York Observer, Trump’s team looks like a right-wing media business waiting to launch.

Candidate: Will he dally with another campaign? New York elects a mayor in 2017.

Election watch


Splitting hairs

Date: 9 October
Type: Presidential
Candidates: Jovenel Moïse, an influential businessman representing the beautifully named Haitian Party of Bald Heads, came out on top when this election was originally run last year. His opponent Jude Celestin disputed the results as fraudulent and the view was upheld by a commission established by interim president Jocelerme Privert.
Issues: This election itself has become emblematic of every issue Haiti has: chaos, corruption and inept governance. This is the run- off round of last October’s election and was supposed to have been held last December. Several other suggested dates have come and gone.
Monocle comment: Every moment Haiti is denied a functioning government is another moment wasted. A clean, orderly election would be a good start but just the beginning.

Rapid ascent


Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri is set on improving the country’s airline connectivity. Step one: a new terminal that’s just opened in second city Córdoba’s airport.

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