After a jaunt to Tennessee and Texas to drink my sorrows away, I arrived back in London with a sore head and a depressed outlook.
America is the next domino to fall to the anti-globalism, populist backlash, fuelled largely by the discontent of predominantly white Americans based around the Midwest. This group was the one that made the difference: Trump’s energy likely earned him greater support among some minority groups than Mitt Romney, and he enjoyed traditional Republican support in red states, but the tipping point was the Democratic collapse in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
Political commentators had speculated for months that 2016 wanted to be a ‘change’ election. Despite President Obama’s considerable popularity, anger at ‘the system’ was rife. Clinton, the consummate insider focused on practical work, could not effectively communicate her vision of fixing criminal justice, fighting gender inequality, and building bridges of inclusivity in a climate that demanded backlash.
And so angry vagaries defeated measured progress. But in their anger, voters across America embraced a candidate with zero experience of governing, little understanding of the Constitution, and a worrying tendency towards the behaviour of dictators. In their anger, they fled to an un-American nightmare.
I do not believe Bernie Sanders would have won. Young adults and those in Europe must understand how off putting the word ‘socialist’ is to Americans, even if qualified by the word ‘Democratic’. He would have yielded too much centre ground to Trump, who would be able to spread his change message from a more respectable podium, while dubbing his rival ‘Crazie Bernie’ and turning of millions of sceptical voters.
No, instead it is Joe Biden who I wish had run. Growing up in the industrial Midwest, with a knack for cutting through bullshit and a compelling personal narrative after the death of his son, Joe Biden may have retained the Democratic hold on the Midwest and resurrected the Obama coalition of 2008.
There is little comfort in hypothetical debates. Just as the election of Obama in 2008 was in itself a positive step in American history, the rise of Donald Trump represents a nasty regression of public debate. The democratic forces that brought him to power should in no way be forgotten, but it is a sad irony that Clinton, the wiser and more considered candidate, might have been able to do so much more for those voters in declined towns than the narcissist, attention seeking Trump.
Returning to the United Kingdom, there is little solace to Trump’s election; only a heightened sense of urgency to mobilise voters who do not conform to his brand of politics to reject them in two years and four years time. In a very real sense, we are living through a crisis of democracy.
Update Election Day
It started with a nervy excitement, a feeling of optimism and hope that this long, laborious election would finally come to a positive fulfilment.
We scrambled out to some of the more affluent Miami suburbs, knocking on our final doors to make sure voters knew where the polls were, what issues were at stake, and to answer any questions. Our interactions were positive, encouraging ‘lean HRC’ voters to get to the polls before 7pm.
It was a perfect Florida day. Canvassing was going well, though I had a conversation with a voter who had always voted Democrat, but was unsure if he would vote in this election because he saw Clinton as corrupt. He acknowledged that he thought Trump was far worse, and understood that Clinton would essentially be continuing Obama’s platform for four years, but he was difficult to sway and I left him unsure of whether he would vote.
In the taxi on the way back to downtown, I was struck by the extent to which this election is a question about the soul of America. Could Americans overcome personal distaste for a flawed candidate, embrace her optimistic vision and plans for America, and reject the bigotry, divisive demagoguery of the wannabe strongman Trump?
The first warning sign was Florida. Her early vote lead should have given her a more substantial bump above Trump in early reporting, but it didn’t. The race remained tight through until the end, but the turnout in Democratic heavy areas in Miami Dade and Broward Country could not push HRC over Trump.
The real problem was the Midwest. As I said on the 8th: A potential warning sign for the Democrats is Michigan: on the day before the election Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigned in this conventionally solid blue state. The 16 electoral college votes of Michigan would be a serious loss for Clinton, and is central to Trump’s theoretical run at the industrial Midwest.
This is exactly what happened, and in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania too. The polls were accurate in some states, and nationally Clinton’s popular vote lead is closer to national polling. But in these Midwestern states the pollsters dramatically underestimated the turnout of poorer white Americans.
Trump’s Rust Belt strategy had worked. By about 10pm I saw the map in full and did some quick maths to see if Hillary could withstand a loss of Michigan and Wisconsin. She could, but everything else would have to go her way, including Arizona.
I worked through the numbers with a friend on the trip, and we both looked at each other as the seriousness of the situation dawned on us. She needed to hold Michigan, but her late gasp recovery fuelled by urban Detroit, could not offset his monumental strength in rural areas.
So, after an hour or two we knew it was coming. I stepped out, and walked around downtown Miami for half an hour. Having devoted countless hours to writing about this election, and now with my feet sore from canvassing the various parts of Miami, it was a hollowing, sickening feeling to think that this man, this spoiled bully, this utterly un-American tyrant, could be elected.
I came back to our hotel room to watch the final results pull in and another friend rammed home the reality of a Republican White House and Congress. Overturning Roe V Wade? Ending Obamacare? International relations going to hell? All these and more suddenly streamed into my consciousness and I started to do the unthinkable: picture Trump in the Oval Office.
World markets tumbled at the thought, too. The world instantly felt less safe, because white voters in the Midwest had been lured by a bully with easy answers to complex problems.
Friends in the United Kingdom sent me messages of support and consolation; anyone who knows me, and understands my passion for U.S. politics, knows this hurt. Hard. Some suggested that even though the result was dreadful, at least I was in the middle of an historic moment in U.S. history.
It was true. But for this terrible moment in American and world history, I can’t help but feel I would rather have been a million miles away. However, as people began to cry and channel their anger into their drinks, I knew that despite my terrible sadness at this result in 2016, that I would be back in two or four years time to do anything I can to right this wrong.
After countless controversies and debates, slurs and adverts, rallies, rumours, and revelations, election day is here.
Clinton has enjoyed a slight rebound, seeing a 3-5% lead in most national polls, which is particularly encouraging on the back of FBI Director Comey’s letter denying any criminality in Clinton’s latest email scandal.
A potential warning sign for the Democrats is Michigan: on the day before the election Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigned in this conventionally solid blue state. The 16 electoral college votes of Michigan would be a serious loss for Clinton, and is central to Trump’s theoretical run at the industrial Midwest.
If the Midwest holds, Clinton needs only to win Colorado and Pennsylvania to secure her victory. Both states have shown robust leads for Clinton, and together can form an effective wall against Trump.
For Trump, even if he wins the batch of toss up swing states – Nevada, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, and New Hampshire – he still falls short of 270 electoral college votes needed to win. If, for example, Clinton takes Florida then Trump’s path to the White House will rely on a catastrophic Democratic collapse across the Midwest.
But no one is taking this election for granted.
On the ground, people are geared up for the vote. Even those who initially appear less enthusiastic about the election are making plans for how they will get to the polls. It is almost impossible to avoid election day.
The campaign in Miami has been making its final push to ensure Democratic voters turn out, even organising lifts for those who are unable to get to the polls. Turnout is key in Florida; in a state whose margin is expected to be razor thin, every additional voter feels like an achievement in the Miami HQ.
At the campaign office there was a palpable excitement in the air, and not simply because we were treated to a visit by the undeniably charming Cher. It is a strange atmosphere, though: on the one hand full of excitement at electing Hillary Clinton, but also one of dread that the moment of Trump’s reckoning has finally come. The stakes are too high.
Down in Miami there is a real sense of being on the frontline of history, and that the future of the nation truly hangs in the balance through these streets and driveways.
Here we go.
Knocking on doors and calling phones. The Clinton campaign in Miami is making its final push, marshalling its volunteer army to hit the pavement and phonebank. They’re focused on eking out any final votes, and frequently recall the 537 votes that decided the state in the 2000 contest between George W Bush and Al Gore.
To myself, Florida feels like an opportunity, rather than a risk. It is a chance for Clinton to put the race to bed, if she can win here. Polls show a toss up, however data on early voting and hispanic turnout looks promising for the Democrats.
I have been focusing on targeting voters who are likely to vote Democrat, enlisting them to volunteer with us or get a firm commitment for a vote. At this point of the race, the challenge is not to convince Trump voters to change their minds but maximise Clinton’s turnout. The undecided voter almost feels like a myth.
So far I have encountered only three Trump voters. With our undeniably British accents, these interactions can be tricky; one man linked our canvassing in his neighbourhood to the Clinton email scandal. I’m not sure how he managed that, but he went home even more convinced of a rigged election.
Yesterday we went to a Clinton rally just north of Miami. The Florida rain decided to upend our plans, meaning her speech was cut short after ten minutes. But in the crowd I met a young hispanic girl, far too young to vote, who was shaking with excitement to see Hillary Clinton in person. It was her first rally, and her mother could barely contain her wriggling forward to the front. We often hear or read about an enthusiasm gap around the presidential election this year, with voting being dictated by a preventative mentality concerning the opponent. That’s why meeting someone like this girl, with her wide eyed optimism and hope, truly feels refreshing.
Two days to go.
I have now been working for the Democratic Party in Miami for two days, and we are 4 days from election day.
Polls have shown the race to be significantly tightening across America, fuelled by large numbers of Republicans ‘coming home’ to Trump in the dying days of the election. It appears the prospect of a Clinton presidency, and the inability of anti-Trump incidents to break his core following, has consolidated what was thought just three weeks ago to be very patchy support.
However, more attention needs to be placed at the state level.
In short, Trump needs to win Nevada, Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, and Ohio, as well as flipping one Democratic leaning state to win. His chances in Iowa and Ohio are relatively strong at this point. But Florida, North Carolina, and Nevada are essentially toss ups.
On the ground in Miami, field organisers are focused on early voting and galvanising volunteer support over the weekend. Some Democratic field captains seem encouraged by the early vote numbers, but others are sweating turnout in specific suburban, hispanic districts of Miami.
The focus on hispanic voters is huge, but the messaging to target these voters is imperfect. One field organiser lamented the fact that the Democrats were essentially using the same communication tactics for African Americans on hispanics, especially considering that ‘hispanic Americans’ covers individuals who trace their heritage to varied nations like Cuba, Puerto Rico, and a host of Central and Latin American countries. Each of these groups themselves have different experiences with America, and yet are treated by the media and political system as one bloc.
There is some anxiety in Miami. Hillary needs a big turnout in the urbanised south of Florida to outweigh the conservative, rural north. The good news is that if we can mobilise enough voters over the next few days and win Florida, Trump’s path to victory is finished.
Four more days.
I started this blog over a year ago, from the earliest pre-primary rumours. Sixty-plus posts later, I’m heading to Miami as part of the ‘45 for the 45th’ scheme. The idea is to volunteer on one of the campaigns and observe how young Americans are engaged in politics so we can take some lessons back to the United Kingdom.
Over the past year I have not sought to hide my preference for Hillary Clinton. An experienced, tough, level headed woman, I think it is a pity that the current maelstrom of personality politics has distracted from her exciting proposals: reforming the broken criminal justice and immigration systems, developing Obamacare, fighting for equal pay for women, advocating for minority rights, appointing Justices to repeal Citizens United, supporting paid family leave, taking action on climate change, and perhaps more importantly, providing a steady hand in international affairs.
So I’m off to hit the trail for Hillary Clinton: #ImWithHer etc. In fact, I’m going to Florida: a make or break state for Donald Trump. I’ll be there in the final week of the campaign, volunteering for her office in Miami.
Any updates from my time on the trail will be posted here. Hold tight; we’re only a week away from election day.