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Why the Race to the White House Is Hard to Predict

Jul 27, 2016

On July 21, the real-estate mogul Donald Trump was officially ratified as the presidential nominee of the Republican Party. The general election kicked off in the after mess of the GOP Cleveland convention. In the coming contest between Donald Trump and the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, the result bears unpredictability, although the latter seems to enjoy some advantages.

First, the contest between Trump and Clinton is a record-making event in the U.S. history and can be characterized as a race between male and female. The year 2016 witnessed the rare situation when a female presidential candidate raced into the final stage, and approached very near the White House. If Hillary Clinton finally became the first female president of the U.S., it will certainly promote the liberalism and feminist movement in an unprecedented way. Donald Trump is regarded as one of the most unpredictable nominees in party politics. However, as a successful businessman who has challenged the political establishment, no matter what the result will be, he deserves a chapter in U.S. history.

At the same time, both candidates try to appeal to both genders, while the result is quite different. It is obvious that Trump enjoys more male voters’ support when the Grand Old Party is drifting towards an Old White Man’s party. The candidate also alienated himself from female voters with extremely disrespectful words towards this most important voting group. As for Hillary Clinton, she regularly cites her potential for making history as the first woman president and reiterates her new role as grandmother to appeal to female supporters

Second, the contest can also be characterized as a race between the white and the black, as the former is mostly supported by the middle and lower white working class, while the latter is backed by the vast majority of minority groups. According to the U.S. demographic trend, the white is increasingly becoming the minority group, and the growing number of African-Americans and Hispanics is a positive signal for the Democrats in the long term. In 2008, it was the minority groups’ support that sent the first African-American, Barack Obama, into the White House. Obviously, Hillary Clinton would very much like to copy the miracle. In Cleveland, Trump also made great efforts to win support from the minority groups, by emphasizing that 4 in 10 African-American children are living in poverty, and promising to stop massive refugee flows entering the U.S. and provide jobs for African-American and Latino workers.

Third, the domestic policy contest between the two can be described as a fight between big-government and small-government principles. Judging from the campaign slogan “America First” and the acceptance speech on Thursday night, Trump would like to invest more into domestic affairs, including repairing the “Third World condition” transportation infrastructures, enforcing responsible fiscal policy to reduce the skyrocketing budget deficit, and strengthening the immigrant policy by building the controversial great wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. On the Democrats side, Hillary Clinton will continue playing the middle-class card, as President Obama began to do at the beginning of his second term. She will try to raise the minimum wage to increase income and benefit for the middle class, so as to consolidate support from this group.

Lastly, in foreign and security policy, the two sides’ positions can be distinguished between isolationism and internationalism. Generally speaking, Trump opposes free-trade agreements, illegal immigrants and external interventions, which collectively can be described as an isolationist policy. In fact, such policy resulted from the relative decline of U.S. hegemony and the strategic retreat it caused. Therefore, the newly released Republican party’s platform requests that “we need better negotiated trade agreements that put America first”, “we must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism”, and “the countries that we protect, at a massive loss, will be asked to pay their fair share”. Even Hillary Clinton, who supports engaging the world, will be more cautious when using military forces abroad, and continue with President Obama’s “Don’t do stupid stuff” principle.

On China policy, both will turn to “tougher” positions, and the difference will be in which areas they will project toughness. Trump will emphasize China’s “unfair” economic and trade practices: As he said in the acceptance speech, he wants to stop “China’s outrageous theft of intellectual property, along with their illegal product dumping, and their devastating currency manipulation”. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton tends to criticize China on so-called democracy and human-rights issues. She will definitely continue with President Obama’s Asia-Pacific rebalance strategy, which she helped to craft and implement. However, China policy has never been the centerpiece of past presidential campaigns, and the voters rarely decide their vote based on the candidates’ foreign-policy positions.

For both candidates, their personalities’ merits and weaknesses are quite clear. Trump’s negatives are even higher than Clinton’s, reaching 70 percent. Meanwhile, many people do not think Clinton is honest or trustworthy; they believe she is somewhat well-prepared for the job but eager for power. The FBI has officially closed the Clinton’s email case without indictment recently, but many people were not convinced that she is innocent. The outspoken businessman’s frankness and bluntness also draw many fans for him, as one supporter said Trump is just like his old daddy!

So far, the presidential campaign has reflected a major political reality: that the gap between the establishment and the grassroots is widening, which is well elaborated by the prevailing of the anti-establishment sentiment and the surge of non-traditional and political-outsider candidates in both parties. The anti-globalization and populist sentiments all over the Euro-Asian continent also complicated the U.S. presidential elections. As one famous foreign-policy expert and former State Department official, Richard Haass, said, the Brexit is a warning for Hillary Clinton, because the rise in populism and nationalism could well undermine Clinton’s White House dream. No matter how Clinton denies it, in this presidential contest she is still the authentic representative of the establishment, which is the target of the political force that has propelled Trump to where he is now. That is why the result of the race is so difficult to predict.

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