At the top of my blog I have the possibly apocryphal quotation from Harold Macmillian on what might blow a government off course. “Events, my dear boy, events.” reflects the reality of political life. Nothing stays constant. Stuff comes up.
The American Presidential Election of 2016 has been surprisingly “event” free. Obviously, the nomination of Trump would count as an event but other than that? Well I would count Comely taking the dive on the Clinton emails as game changing but, and it is an important caveat, it is not clear if the “dive” will hold until election day. (The Trump tape and the subsequent parade of outraged damsels is not so much an event as a media mugging skillfully executed. A master class in the time honoured American political tradition of mud slinging.)
At this point, a game changing event has to be simple. Black and white. As long as Hilly can run a grey goo sort of campaign and spend most of her time away from a supine press, she has a good chance of winning. As that is exactly what she seems to be doing, changing the game means that the “event” has to cut Trump’s way bigly.
That valancing rules out a number of events which no one wants to see. A serious international confrontation with the Russians or the Chinese for example. For all of Obama’s cyber sword rattling (and how dumb is that?), a real confrontation would tend to freeze the game and with it the chances of a Trump victory.
Similarly, an international terror attack somewhere not in the US, regardless of casualty numbers, would be a push. Neither campaign would be affected to any great degree. And I would add things like the fall of Aleppo or Mosul to that category. At this stage, the American political campaign is really about America rather than the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, a domestic terror attack on a significant scale could have a significant impact if it was immediately clear that it was Islamically inspired. Even more so, if the perpetrators were refugees or recent immigrants. No one could wish for such a thing but it would certainly push Trump’s hardline message forward and knock the faux outrage of the ladies brigade off the front page for plenty of news cycles.
A full-on financial crisis – similar to 2008 – would certainly be an event. If Trump was smart enough to avoid suspending his campaign while it was going on. At the moment the US stock market is at historic highs and that usually means a sell-off is imminent. But that is not the stuff of financial nightmares. The more likely trigger is the possible collapse of Germany’s biggest bank, Deutsche Bank. The arguments rage in the financial press as to whether Deutsche Bank is “too big to fail” but banking itself is about confidence and when that confidence goes things can go pear-shaped very fast. Given Deutsche’s exposure to a huge portfolio of derivatives, even a solid rumour of its demise could be a huge downward shock to markets worldwide.
The American electorate is still shaking off the effects of the 2008 financial crisis. If there is a full on financial shock between now and Election Day and the parallel to 2008 is drawn, the thought of a President who will extend the Obama economic policies will be pretty unappealing. A financial crisis might not boost voter enthusiasm for Trump but it would reduce any excitement about voting for Hilly. Low Dem turnout is an actual threat to any lead Hilly might have.
The final event is interesting because it requires a decision on the part of only two or three people. But they are specific people. For anyone paying attention, it is pretty clear that the FBI investigation of the Hilly emails and server was fixed from the go. Comely stood up at his press conference and gave a list of particulars which would have served to indict virtually anyone who had done what Hilly and her associates had done. Subsequently, we have learned that along with the violations of the law implicit in running her basement server, Clinton and her associates actively worked to obstruct justice and disobey subpoenas. But Comely took a dive and the FBI conducted what appears to be a “friends and family” style non-investigation.
At this point, there are plenty of rumours floating around that senior FBI people are very unhappy that Comely took his dive. But to be a game-changing event, to destroy HRC, at least one or two of these people have to come forward and detail their concerns. Rumours don’t create events.
Ultimately, elections are won and lost because one narrative beats another. Trump’s narrative – that Clinton and the political/media elite she both serves and controls is corrupt – has been an easy sell to 35-40% of the electorate. The evidence, in detail, is deeply persuasive if you are paying even a bit of attention. However, so far as I can see, Trump has not been able to close that sale with the 4 or 5% of the electorate he needs to win.
The Clinton campaign is brilliant at providing salacious, decades old, allegations to feed the celebrity-obsessed media and obscure her conduct. Hilly and her people have used every trick in the book to avoid dealing with her lawlessness, her lying and her deep corruption. And because that corruption is complicated it is difficult for ordinary people to really figure out what is going on.
Were an FBI agent or two to step forward with their apparently real concerns as to the conduct of the Hilly investigation and the failure to file charges, the smoke Hilly has been blowing would clear in an instant and the real question in this election would become apparent:
Do Americans want to elect a criminal as their President?
It would be an event.