US presidential election 2016: Trump battles collective charm of Clinton, Obamas - Firstpost

US presidential election 2016: Trump battles collective charm of Clinton, Obamas


Most elections are about candidates with the 'X-factor'. So it is this American President election. You need to have that something extra to win toughly contested primaries to then battle it out for the White House residency for the next four years.

But as Americans get set to vote in the 2016 election on 8 November, you realise that this contest is more about the 'XX factor'. This is not just because of the women vote which is 53 per cent of America's population — it will most likely decide by itself whether President Barack Obama will hand over the baton to Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. They are fighting over issues that women voters largely care about in America, distinct from male voters which makes it important for either candidate to mind the gap.

If Hillary wins the election, America would get its first woman president. If Trump wins the election, America would get its first President of 'locker room chatter' fame.

That has been the big contrast. Even though most agree that the US could not have got a worse choice of candidates, the fact remains that Trump with his misogynist and highly inappropriate remarks about women in general has repulsed a lot of women voters. Allegations by women about his behaviour have also cast a long shadow in Trump's prospects at the ballot box. Polls have shown that an overwhelming majority of the 'XX vote' would go into the Clinton kitty, helped also by the aggressive campaign the Obamas are doing for Hillary.

Which is why I think this election is more between Trump and Obama, especially when it comes to the woman vote. The divide between the two could not have been more stark.

The importance of the woman vote for Obama was evident right through the 2012 campaign, when the President was running for a second term. I was covering the election as part of an exclusive group of 25 journalists from 25 countries, selected by the US State Department. We had travelled through different battleground states covering the election campaign. At an election rally at the Ohio State University in Columbus, a lady from the audience shouted to Obama "I love you".

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, center, is joined on stage by President Barack Obama left, and former President Bill Clinton, right, after speaking at a rally at Independence Mall in Philadelphia. AP

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, center, is joined on stage by President Barack Obama left, and former President Bill Clinton, right, after speaking at a rally at Independence Mall in Philadelphia. AP

"I love you too but I need you voting," replied Obama, turning on the charm.

The role of women in his successful presidential campaign was emphasised by Obama soon after his triumph. At the McCormick Place in Chicago, we were about 30-odd feet from Obama that victorious 6 November evening as he responded to the cheering from his supporters.

In his acceptance speech, he said, "I wouldn't be the man I am today without the woman who agreed to marry me 20 years ago. Let me say this publicly. Michelle, I have never loved you more. I have never been prouder to watch the rest of American fall in love with you too as our nation's First Lady."

The emphasis on love, affection, family values, respect, could not have been overstated by Obama. And that is the contrast that has played out in the American electoral theatre with Trump not coming across as someone who respects women. Hillary may have a thousand other faults including the lack of a squeaky clean image but put her against Trump, and she ends up looking better.

Even in 2008, that Obama won, 10 million more women than men voted, making women power the critical factor in the 8 November election, especially in battleground states. In most states, more women are registered than men. That coupled with a higher female voter turnout, can swing the election decisively.

Dr Wendy Smooth who is an expert on Gender and Sexuality studies at the Ohio State University in Columbus told me that women voters usually like candidates who are 'easy on the eye'. Obama fit that analysis, Trump does not.

Empathy is another huge factor. Trump has come across as brusque, almost bordering on being boorish, with no respect for the woman or her body. His lewdness came through with comments like "If you are a star, they let you do it."

I would contrast that with the image of the 2012 election in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy that hit the east coast of America just a week before polling day. Obama hugged and comforted an elderly lady in New Jersey on 1 November and the picture that went viral had tremendous impact. It reinforced the image of a leader with compassion and kindness.

Not just that. Women voters have always been concerned about issues such as health care and abortion. In 2012, Mitt Romney as the Republican candidate lost out because the party was not seen as reflecting the women's views on abortion as well as the Democrats. With a Trump as its face this time, the support for the Republicans on such issues is likely to go down further among women.

In less than 24 hours, the world would know who will be the next most powerful person. And if Trump loses the election, he will know it was an unequal battle. Trump versus Clinton + Barack Obama + Michelle Obama was always going to be an uphill task. And Americans, Trump would realise, did not exactly vote for a President. They merely chose who would be a comparatively better successor to Barack Obama.

First Published On : Nov 8, 2016 16:17 IST

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