“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
–Donald Trump, Presidential Announcement Speech, June 16, 2015
Political experts around the United States of America, and indeed the world, looked at one another at this moment and shook their heads in knowing resignation. Donald Trump, the man every late night talk show host prayed would run for president, had shot himself in the foot before his campaign had even begun. Sure, this quote could satisfy the audience for one night; maybe a couple of shows at best. But the great comedic potential of the ‘Donald’ was destined to fall when he uttered those words.
Except he didn’t. Since that night, Donald Trump has apparently set himself the task of seeing how long he can be a viable candidate for president while simultaneously offending everyone and anyone he can. He’s called John McCain, a man held a prisoner of war for five years, “not a war hero”. Why? “He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
In an official political debate watched by over 24 million viewers, the real estate mogul was asked about his record of misogynistic comments relating to women. Any politician imaginable would fear this question. Not Trump:
Megyn Kelly: “…You call women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals…’”
Donald Trump: “Only Rosie O’Donnell.”
*cue laughter from the audience*
The net result of these antics? As of mid-August 2015 (approximately two months after he labelled Mexican immigrants as “rapists”) Donald Trump is leading the majority of polls from Grand Old Party (GOP) primary voters who are asked which Republican candidate they would support in the 2016 presidential election.
Many of the aforementioned political experts have stopped scratching their heads and concluded that the sustained success of the ‘Donald’ is a result of anti-establishment sentiment, and that it’s only a matter of time before the spotlight on Trump moves to another, more realistic Republican candidate. They may be right of course, but they’ve falsely predicted Trump’s political funeral before and could do so again.
But what does this all mean in an Australian context? Well for one thing, if Trump (and that’s still a big if) secures the Republican nomination he will be one Democratic nominee away from becoming the President of the United States. ‘The Apprentice’ jokes aside, legitimate questions can be asked whether the rise of anti-establishment candidates in the United States could potentially translate to our own shores.
It’s no surprise that politics and politicians in Australia are devoid of popularity. The last Australian Federal Election saw then Prime Minister elect Tony Abbott be the least popular leader to win an election since 1987, according to the ANU’S Australian Election Study. It’s hard to believe that the continued success of Donald Trump is anything other than a message of disillusionment to the politicians in Washington. In much the same way, can Australia expect to see our very own Trump-like candidate doing the same to Canberra?
While it sounds unrealistic, Australia has a track record of anti-establishment candidates entering the political fray and being relatively successful for a period of time. Pauline Hanson comes to mind, and appears to have more in common with Trump than one would suggest. Hanson was initially aligned with the Liberal Party of Australia and was elected into the House of Representatives, but became an independent after her party disavowed her after running on a conservative and anti-multiculturalism platform. Where Hanson was thrown out of her party, Trump is threatening to abandon the Republican Party in favour of running as an independent (side-note to Trump: if you really want to win, don’t run as an independent).
The Hanson example proves that radical candidates who possess anti-establishment sentiments can generate initial popularity, but are embarking on the road of political demise. Where the similarities end between Australian and American politicians is the level of vitriol accepted in a political race. For Republicans, a large portion of the conservative voting base align themselves with candidates who demonstrate conservative positions on issues such as Planned Parenthood and immigration. Put simply, the more outlandish and radical they are, the more support they receive from a large portion of Republican voters. The same cannot be said for the Australian political landscape (if it could, Hanson would have been a greater political force).
While it’s undoubtedly enjoyable watching Trump from a distance, even more so that he’s leading, Australian’s shouldn’t fear the creation of a similar politician in Australia anytime soon. However, the politicians in Canberra will be watching the success of anti-establishment politicians with silent trepidation. If they don’t revive popularity in parliament they too may be facing their very own Trump down under.