Since Britain's – largely unexpected - Brexit vote, the UK's collective glare seems to have switched to the equally divisive US election. Endless news reports are looking at how a US presidential candidate who came from the left field, but is politically far right of centre, swooped in (in a campaign-branded aeroplane) with no political background and became so much of a contender that he actually won the election. President Donald Trump is America's, and the world's, new reality. But, on this side of the Atlantic, we only have some of the story. For the most part, we've depended on the media, which – as with Brexit - turned out to be somewhat out of touch with voters, to fill us in. We decided it was time to hear first-hand from people who have lived and breathed these campaigns, to shed some insight into the most historic upset in American political history.
Vin Weber, a former Republican Congressman from Minnesota and former member of the Republican House Leadership; Mike DuHaime, is a senior Republican strategist; and Morris L. Reid, a senior Democratic strategist, all Partners at high-stakes public strategy firm Mercury, came to Mishcon de Reya's offices to share their views on the nominees, the campaigns, the result and what we can expect from US politics next.
Since the new president was announced on 9 November, there have been many theories as to why Hillary Clinton, who was ahead in the polls, lost the race to The White House. Reid, a senior staff aide to the late Commerce Secretary Ronald Brown and then-Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo during the Clinton administration, focused on clarity of messaging and the need to clearly explain the impact on voters and their future. "It starts with the message. Hillary talked in the first person, rather than focusing on the implications for voters." He pointed out that she struggled to land on a message, ending up with 'I'm With Her' or 'Stronger Together'. This, he felt, left room for Trump's more aspirational 'Make America Great Again', which evidently struck a chord with many Americans. Trump came to be viewed by "disenfranchised voters" as a transformational figure - an agent of change.
Weber, who was one of the most senior Republicans in the House in his role as Republican Conference Secretary from 1989 to 1993 and a close ally of Paul Ryan, felt Trump had a "politically salient campaign". He believes that his success is, in part, because he was an outsider who was able to galvanise people, and the fact that "someone like that could win" is a powerful message in and of itself. It speaks to Reid's aspirational point.
There is a consistent mistake, Weber asserted, that the vote for Trump was purely white, working class men. DuHaime, who ran Chris Christie’s 2016 Presidential campaign and was previously lead strategist for his gubernatorial election, agreed. He also pointed out that people who showed up to vote for Obama simply didn't vote at all, which equated to plus points for Trump, who had impassioned and enthusiastic voters turning out for him, something which "mattered a lot".
Trumps rhetoric throughout his campaign made many Republicans uncomfortable, "but the desire for change was greater [than their discomfort]" according to DuHaime. "All of this was going on before Trump – he didn't bring it about, he just capitalised on it." This collective desire for change is where we are seeing the parallels with Brexit being drawn. Reid referred to it as a "generational protest", and said "anyone can win if they are opportunistic because people are hungry for leadership".
Now we know Trump is destined for the White House, thoughts have quickly turned to what he'll be doing from there. Will he actually be able to follow through with some of his policies which are – to say the very least – controversial? Weber thought not: "Sometimes a divided government works better. Not on this occasion. A full Republican government is what's needed to control Trump". DuHaime believes the U.S will be ok – that "Trump is pragmatic and he will compromise". Undeniably, his post-election speech saw him use unifying and conciliatory language for the first time since the campaigning began. Reid conceded that we are likely to see a "more measured" Trump: "there are pockets of hope. He is looking to do more exporting, which means there are likely to be more free trade opportunities." Ultimately, he said, "America is bigger than its president". DuHaime felt that this may present a "unique opportunity" for post-Brexit Britain and the US.
With so much scope for analysis, the debriefing and speculation could have continued long into the night. But the proof, as we say, will be in the pudding. Soon enough, we'll see for ourselves which policies come to fruition and the global impact they begin to have.