The first rule for Canadians in following a U.S. Presidential contest is to state at the outset—“it’s up to the Americans to choose.” If anything, the neighbor to the north should be discreet and let America choose. The current U.S. Presidential election has attracted more attention than any other in recent memory. As an analyst with Canada’s public broadcaster (French sector), I have covered the primary seasons, the political conventions and the Presidential debates since the turn of the century (the Bush-Gore campaign 2000). Never have I observed so much interest nor so much concern.
The unpredictable Donald Trump leaves no one indifferent as the campaign enters its final days.
Since the JFK assassination in 1963, Canadians have expressed more affinity with politicians associated with the Democratic Party largely due to similarities in our respective progressive politics. Over the years, however, Canadian governments have also collaborated successfully with Republican administrations. The Eisenhower and Reagan years were generally seen as productive. Free trade, the environment and security have been at the center of our interactions with Republicans in the White House.
The current campaign ranks as the most unconventional election season ever. Donald Trump, contrary to early predictions, has upset all the key pundits and prognosticators by defeating sixteen candidates, most from either the establishment-Republican field or from an array of outsiders trying to upend the establishment. Trump not only surprised but he won decisively and should be coasting with the bulk of his party behind his candidacy. With less than three weeks before the November 8 election day, however, Trump is far from coasting and is actually facing some serious headwinds both from within his party and beyond.
Hillary Clinton, arguably the best known and possibly one of the most qualified candidates for the presidency since the post-world war II era, underwent a contentious primary season against Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders where her victory was achieved late, contrary to early predictions. The expected “coronation” morphed into a close and exciting race where Clinton won the formal delegate count. However, the fervor of the Sanders supporters has been slow to transfer to the Clinton candidacy.
Since the summer conventions, the American electorate is condemned to choose between the two most unpopular candidates on record for the White House. If anything, this campaign has only reinforced each candidate’s unfavorable ratings.
The Trump campaign has drawn the greater attention. Much of it is due to the candidate himself. He has this innate ability to draw attention to himself, dominate successive news cycles, and provoke controversies with his outlandish and often offensive interventions. Mocking a disabled New York Times reporter and making bigoted statements against Mexicans come to mind.
Unlike previous presidential contenders, Donald Trump seems to be both “candidate” and “campaign manager.” While he is now on his third campaign manager, no one doubts that Trump calls the shots. His early morning tweets often set the tone of the news day. While he claims to have policies to “make America great again,” he spends more time settling accounts, insulting fellow Republicans, contradicting running mate Mike Pence and arguing that the election is rigged and he is a victim of the “corrupt media.”
Politically correct he is not! And he seems to want to make “political incorrectness” his brand. He portrays himself as the “outsider” against the Washington establishment and his core supporters relish it.
As a result, there are very few policy discussions on issues in this campaign. It seems to be all about personality—Trump’s—and his charges that Hillary Clinton is #crookedHillary. And since the second debate, he has affirmed that his opponent should be in jail.
Meanwhile, the polls are reflecting the erratic Trump campaign strategy. He is trailing both in opinion polls and Electoral College count. Ever since the first debate, Trump has also been on the defensive. The Access Hollywood video divulged on October 7, where he is heard uttering lewd and disgusting comments about women that were seen as condoning sexual assault, has only widened the gap with women.
If any one political group will determine the election outcome, it will be the women voters.
Most editorialists (even pro-Republican newspapers) across America have begun endorsing Hillary Clinton, despite her obvious shortcomings. The controversy over her private email servers and the latest WikiLeaks emails would have certainly be more central to the campaign if her opponent were not the unconventional Trump. Imagine the more moderate and conventional Jeb Bush or Ohio’s John Kasich as an opponent.
Divisions within the Republican Party have never been so intense. No former living GOP President has endorsed him, and with the exception of Bob Dole, no living ex-GOP candidate is voting for Trump. Speaker Paul Ryan no longer wants to be seen in public with his party’s nominee. Many running for Congress have un-endorsed him since the recent tape incident.
As Canadians, we are observing this with alarm and, for some, with amusement. However, choosing the future president of the U.S. is serious business. America is the strongest nation in the world. Unlike what Trump says, America is still a great nation with the strongest and most innovative economy and the most powerful military on the planet. America remains a leader and a beacon for hope.
The next President will have to cope with an aggressive Russia, an unstable Middle East and an increasingly belligerent North Korea, greater terrorism and security threats, important challenges at home dealing with immigration and Supreme Court nominations, issues of great importance such as climate change and nuclear proliferation, to mention a few.
For Canada, it is rare that a presidential candidate has taken aim at issues directly affecting our economic, commercial and security relationship. Trump’s desire to either unilaterally change NAFTA—which he has referred to repeatedly as the “worst deal ever”—or scrap it entirely is very concerning. It would upset the supply-chain economy as we know it. The U.S.-Canada Auto pact is also a Trump target. Finally, Trump’s views on NATO and Canada’s financing obligations run counter to basic tenet of the alliance regarding security and defense solidarity. If there is one nation-to-nation relationship that has been a model in history, it is ours.
As a Canadian, I must admit that this campaign has been the least inspiring that I have observed since the Kennedy-Nixon contest. This being said, Americans will exercise their democratic duty, but this time it’s difficult for many in Canada to be discreet: many are hoping that Hillary Clinton will be the choice come November 8.