The Democrats’debacle: some lessons from Donald Trump’s triumph and Hillary Clinton’s humiliation

In no particular order, here are some initial reflections on the lessons the Democrats ought to take on board when they conduct their post-mortem on Hillary Clinton’s flawed campaign for the American presidency.

* Don’t let your opponent dictate the agenda. Everyone knew exactly what Trump was promising to do if he became president. It is doubtful whether anyone could remember the policy planks Clinton was pushing other than helping women to “break through the glass ceiling”. Trump won because he constantly fed the media with the one thing it craved — the outrageous which fueled outrage. Clinton, in contrast, was extremely cautious and took no risks. Her tactic of not holding press conferences only succeeded in shutting her out of the campaign, whereas closer contact with the media have provided her with far more opportunity to push her policies. She needed to put some fizz in her campaign to get people excited about what she was going t9 do when she made it to the Oval Office. Confident Trump would self-destruct, she sat back and did not do enough to show how she would make a difference as yet another Democrat in the White House.

* Be cautious about how much you ridicule your opponent when someone like Trump makes it very tempting to do so. In doing so, you are ridiculing the people who are thinking of voting for that candidate. You risk making those people even more determined to do so. Hillary Clinton ‘s belittling of Trump during the televised debates between the pair might have gone down a treat with liberals. For those conservatives in Middle America who were leaning towards Trump, her performance in those debates exuded the very arrogance which made them so angry with the Washington establishment.

* Be careful who you get to do your dirty work. Both Barack Obama and Michelle Obama made cleverly-written and impassioned speeches during the campaign defending Clinton and attacking Trump. Those speeches had two effects. They made Clinton look as if she could not handle Trump on her own. It sent another message that a Clinton presidency would not be much different from an Obama one. That was a fatal image to project in what looked to be a “change” election. In that regard, a president whose power is about to fizzle out is best only seen but not heard.

* Ditch the practice of celebrity endorsements. Such mutual admiration societies are seen by voters for what they are — people who do not know each other using each other for self-promotion. But the major problem with such endorsements is that voters silently bristle at the implicit message that they are wanting if they fail to back the candidate being endorsed. People don’t like being told how to vote by someone enjoying their 15 minutes of fame and who probably understands less about politics than they do. Such endorsements look even more self-serving when there is a vast difference in age between the politician and the celebrity or artist endorsing him or her. There are not a lot of things which qualify as being more embarrassing than watching someone who is not far off turning 70 trying to look funky and dancing on stage as if Woodstock had only ended yesterday.

*It’s the economy, stupid. The maxim coined by James Carville, the campaign strategist behind Bill Clinton’s victory in the 1992 battle for the keys to the White House still remains as relevant as ever. In spite of Trump’s whale-sized ego, his narcissism, his racism, his misogyny, and his never having held public office at any level, he was the only candidate was on the same wavelength as the great bulk of middle America. He may have been an unreconstructed populist. But when he spoke he was saying what people wanted to hear. And what they wanted to hear was someone offering solutions to the loss of jobs and drop in real incomes. Those two things are fundamental when it comes to winning any election anywhere. Trump’s message of hope struck a real chord in the Rust Belt, where companies which were household names closed down, having been unable to compete with the cheap labour enjoyed by Asian conglomerates. In this part of America, globalisation meant only one thing  — the  death of small town America and inner-city urban decay. Those states which could no longer maintain even the pretence that they could satisfy their citizens’ aspirations to live the American Dream include Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. Trump’s wins in those states were crucial in his securing the presidency.
* Never take for granted those who have supported your party through thick and thin. Wisconsin was considered by Hillary Clinton’s strategists to be so safe for the Democrats that she did not stump in the state during the whole campaign. There is no better measure than that of just how much the Democrats were out of touch with one of their traditional constituencies — white working-class males. They flocked to Trump. He was speaking their language. Clinton did not. A scathing critique by an anonymous Democrat contributor which appeared on Huffington Post after the election described Clinton as “card-carrying member of the global elite who helped usher in this era of inequality” and “who seems most at ease in a room of Goldman Sachs bankers”. The article went on to say her shortcomings had been obvious from the start to those who “bothered to open their eyes”.
The article went on to say the party had thrown its lot in with “the shiny world of corporate professionals, Wall Street financiers, and Silicon Valley gurus.”

* Note who is pulling in the punters. Early on in the primaries, foreign television crews regularly vox-popped people in the long queues waiting to get into Trump’s rallies. Those reporters wanted to know why those people were backing Trump. Fair enough. But they missed the real story. The men and women in those queues were almost all white and looked to be dressed by Walmart. They did not look or talk like people who spent much time thinking about politics or politicians. That they were prepared to spend time queuing up to see one in person, rather than staying home, was more than a hint that there was a seismic shift in American politics under way.

Australia’s 60 Minutes; one long hour of tabloid trash

Let’s be blunt. The payment of at least $160,000 — quite possinly more — by Australia’s  60 Minutes programme to Gable Tostee in return for an “exclusive” interview is cheque-book journalism of the most sickening kind.

Tostee, of course, is the creep who was last month acquitted of murder and manslaughter following the death of Warriena Wright, the New Zealand woman who fell from the balcony of his 14th floor apartment on Australia’s Gold Coast.

No-one will have been surprised Tostee has flogged his version of events on that fateful night more than two years ago to the highest bidder.

That he has done so tells you all you need to know — and probably all you would want to know — about this low-life’s character.

It is worth recalling, however, that Tostee did not ring for an ambulance after Williams  plunged to her death. He instead called his father and then his lawyer and then left the apartment block and dunkenly wandererd around nearby streets in the early hours of the morning befor buying a pizza.

Australia’s Nine Network, which screens 60 Minutes, has said that Tostee,  who did not take thr stand during  his trial, saw the interview as a “chance to clear his name” .

He did not need to pocket the thick end of $200,000 to do that.

He had also declared that he would make a formal request to talk to Wright’s family.

Believe that when it actually happens.

Regardless, there is no pot of gold waiting for the family at the end of any rainbow.

To be fair, Tostee did rxpress regret regarding Williams’ fate in a lengthy post on a body-building blog some four months after her death. Against the advice of his lawyers, he gave a pretty detailed account of his version of what happened.

That only begs the question as to why he feels the need to spout it all again on nationwide television. The answer, of course, is that the sheer size of the fee negotiated with 60 Minutes makes it worth his while, even though he will be regarded with approbrium and detested and distrusted by his county men and women for the rest of his life.

All said and done,Tostee is cashing in on Williams’ death. That is obscene.  You would not expect anything better from someone so callous.

But you should expect current affairs programmes of the ilk of 60 Minutes to display at least a modicum of responsibility in deciding which stories to cover — and how.

If so, you thought wrong.

The likes of 60 Minutes have long preyed on human misery in all of its infinite manifestations. If  instances of that misery can only be accessed by forking out hard cash, then the only thing that will stymie an “exclusive” is the price being set by those who have a story to tell.

In paying 30 pieces of silver to Tostee, 60 Minutes and the Nine Network, which will screen the interview in Australia tonight, are as complicit as as he is in  exploting Williams’ death to boost ratings and advertising revenue.

This is, of course, the programme which arrogantly believes it can write its own rules  — as was the case earlier this year with its involvement the botched operation in Lebanon to snatch an Australian mother and her two children off a Beirut street.

That ended up costing the Nine Network a small fortune in legal fees and compensation. But in the warped world of tabloid television, the public outrage that followed that incident would have been seen as good publicity.

In Tostee’s case, the programme’s producers were probably likewise too busy congratulating themselves for beating Channel Seven, another mass audience channel, in the race for the “exclusive” to have even noticed they were now rolling around in the same gutter as the subject of the interview..

The feelings expressed on social media, radio talkback, and, most notably, by a very angry Queensland police, who prosecuted Tostee, shows that many people believe 60 Minutes has crossed a line into ethics-free territory.

The very programme which highlights bad behaviour by others is itself morally bankrupt.

That conclusion is reinforced by something else which really scrapes the bottom of this already putrid barrel.

Judging from the advance promo of the programme, Tostee’s replies to questions are interspersed  with the recorded screams of a terrified woman in the last few minutes of her short life.

It is one thing to have played that audio as evidence in Tostee’s murder trial in Brisbane’s Supreme Court. It is a very different story to regurgitate it on nationwide television.

In doing so, 60 Minutes is providing proof that it is interested in little else but serving up the salacious to satisfy the voyeuristic.

It is also cruel to Williams’ family who are left to pick up the pieces of their shattered  lived and who hardly need such reminders of what’happened.

60 Minutes would argue the interview is justified  in order to interrogate Tostee to get tomthe truth of what really happened on that grisly night.

The interview would be portrayed as cutting-edge current affairs.

This isn’t  journalism. It is the modern equivalent of a public witch trial in which the witch is known in advance.

Tostee has been paid a king’s ransom in the hope that his emotions will have got the  better of him and he breaks down and he incriminates himself in the glare of the lights of the television studio

But that won’t have happened. If it had, we would have heard by now.

There are some uncomfortable questions, however, that the Nine Network’s executives and directors should answer.

Would they have paid for a supposed “tell all” interview if it had been one of their daughters who had ended up in Tostee’s apartment?

Likewise, would they have done so had it been an Australian woman who died rather than an anonymous New Zealand tourist.

Had Williams been the former, the Nine Network would have had a ton of bricks falling on its head from those who knew her or who lived in her local community.

That Williams was an unknown New Zealander who had just arrived in the country has made her easy pickings for the vultures at the Nine Network.

Let’s say it once more. This is not journalism. It is out-and- garbage, nothing more and nothing less.

Perhaps above all, it explains in part why viewers are deserting free-to-air television in droves now that there are far more — and far better — alternative viewing options available to viewers.

When it comes to substance, programmes like 60 Minutes rarely deliver. They hype each week’s show. But the content more often than not disappoints.

In order to shore up ratings, the hype becomes ever more intense to the point of being dishonest. The content leaves viewers feeling even more shortchanged.

It is a vicious circle, but one over which few tears will be shed.

Gareth Morgan’s Opportunities knocks

Tired of bleating from outside the political tent about what’s going wrong in New Zealand, Gareth Morgan has worked out that he might achieve a whole lot more by by getting inside the Body Politic.

In setting up his own party, he is putting his large pots of money where his mouth has long been.

And every one knows just how voluble that mouth can be when asked about pertinent matters of the day.You will never die wondering what Morgan thinks about something.

When it comes to mouths, most people would not recognise Morgan as an economist and a philanthropist. They only know him as an apparent cat-hater.

‘He may be the first politician in history who finds he is obliged to kiss cats as well as babies.

His penchant for straight talking when it comes to dissecting New Zealand’s ongoing economic and social maladies is the biggest asset his rather oddly-named Opportunities Party will have going for it.

His suggested solutions to those problems may get a lot less applause from the listening public, however.

But you can only lecture people for so long before you sound like a cracked record. And Morgan had reached that point some time ago.

Setting up his own party was thus not just a matter of choice. It was a necessity.

It would be a supreme irony were his party to secure seats in Parliament by virtue of the current proportional voting system — the very thing he implicitly blames for the established parties becoming “champions of inertia and only ever reluctant proponents of incremental change”.

The prime reason for such inertia is that under MMP small shifts in votes from one party to another can have major repercussions as to who ends up governing the country.

Morgan is absolutely right in inferring that politicians — especially those in the current ruling party — will not touch matters which are highly sensitive.

The country is already paying a big price for that.

The National Party deserves every criticism it gets for a failure of leadership in not introducing a capital gains tax or some equivalent. The absence of such an impost has instead turned the residential property market into a speculator’s paradise.

The same criticism applies to National’s gamble that the country will be able to maintain the current level of state superannuation payments for long into the the future and regardless of the looming huge increase in demand for health services as the baby-boom generation ages.

Morgan says he wants to “light a fuse” under the current moribund parliamentary culture. If nothing else, he will be a wild-card entry in next year’s election. And a highly-quotable one who will get much attention from the media.

Some media reports have drawn parallels between Morgan’s entry into the electoral market-place and Kim Dotcom and his already forgotten Internet Party.

Both men like the sound of their own voices. Both have polarising characters which means people love them or hate them. But there the similarities end.

Morgan’s party will be ultra-serous about policy across a broad range of issues and will focus heavily on that. Dotcom’s outfit was far more narrowly focused on matters flowing from the arrival of the Digital Age.

Morgan should take heed, however, of the lesson from Dotcom’s debacle. New political parties struggle to get their message to penetrate voters’ skulls no matter how good their policies might be.

It becomes even more difficult when the electorate is as apathetic as it now seems to be.about day-to-day political events.

They are averse to change, especially when they see no need for it.

John Key’s great political achievement as Prime Minister has been to avoid too much attention being paid to his Government’s long-term reforms, such as the privatising of social services, by being seen as pragmatic in his handling of short-term problems which briefly get huge attention, but don’t really matter in the overall scale of things.

Key has taken the politics out of politics. And he will continue to so as long as minor parties allow him the luxury of being able to run a  single-party minority government which behaves much like a single-party majority one.

That means if Morgan wants to produce real changes he wants, then his party needs to become part of a formal coalition with a major party and thus able to influence policy-making throughout the life-span of a government, rather than being limited to what concessions it can get in a confidence and supply agreement which is negotiated in the setting up of a minority government.

Of crucial importance to Morgan the economist would be to have a real say in the process of putting together the annual Budget.

‘He wouldn’t be allowed to get anywhere near that process if was to instead stick to the preference he has expressed for sitting on Parliament’s cross-benches were his party to secure seats seats in the House.—rather than becoming party to any governing arrangement cobbled together by National or Labour.

This might seem to be virtuous in that a party which holds the balance of power can thus theoretically say “yes” or “no” to pieces of legislation promoted by the governing party.

That is why Winston Peters likes to keep voters thinking he might choose such a worthy-sounding option rather than once again seeking the baubles of office.

Sitting on the cross-benches would be the last thing he would do, however.

Note the word “theoretically” in the paragraph above. Things simply don’t work out like that. For starters, the cross-benches are a fast road to irrelevancy if you don’t have the numbers to hold the balance of power. It is far better to have the ciear demarcation as an Oppostion party.

Even if you do hold the balance of power, you will only get attention when you block a government measure. If you do that too often, you risk being portrayed as being a minority view blocking the will of the majority, as well as having a detrimental to political stability. But if you don’t exercise your veto, you risk being painted as weak and thus irrelevant.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves here.

The current political atmospherics are not sympathetic to a new entrant to an already over-crowded political marketplace.

Sure, Sir Bob Jones’ New Zealand Party overcame the in-built bias against small parties which made the old first-past-the-post electoral system so unfair, and won an impressive 12.3 per cent of the vote at the 1984 election, as did Jim Anderton’s New Labour Party in capturing 5.2 per cent in 1990.

But both parties profited hugely from the chronic unpopularity of the incumbent governing party.

The reverse is currently the case. National is still polling at high levels. Should the economy continue to grow at the current rate through next year, it is not immediately apparent what might emerge to dent the ruling party’s popularity.

There are no obvious signs of the kind of alienation from the political process felt by voters and which has driven Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as well as fuelling Brexit.

That may be because National polls relentlessly to ensure it is listening to voters and hearing what they are saying. Morgan’s argument is that National has taken this kowtowing to voters is not really serving those voters’ longer-term interest.

Should the Opportunities Party become a real political force, National will be hoping it draws votes that National cannot reach rather than cannibalising its core vote. If Morgan’s party were to break through the 5 per cent threshold and be willing to back a National minority government, that might be just sufficient to shut Peters out of post-election government formation talks.

National’s fear will be that Morgan’s party falls just short of the threshhold and ends up wasting centre-right votes and makes National even more dependent on New Zealand First to remain in power.

Regardless, for all his money and public profile, Morgan will find that building a successful new party is incredibly difficult.

He wisely kept yesterday’s announcement low-key, rather than having a flash launch. By not making a big deal of things, he has given himself an exit strategy which would limit his embarrassment should his new pet project, so to speak, flop.