Donald Trump is already a monster in the popular imagination - especially in this country. He has become the villain of children's games and an obvious choice for wig-wearing trick-or-treaters as halloween approaches.
In the US, a deep distrust of Hillary Clinton and the political establishment has allowed him more respect and given him a broad licence to tap into a jaded and disaffected electorate. But the last few days have revealed glimpses of monstrosity that even hardcore conservatives can't stomach. His crude language and overt sexual aggression alienated Americans who were previously able to look through extreme comments on race and immigration.
Trump should be done. But don't count on it. Just like a Hollywood movie monster he is unlikely to die quickly. Just when you think he is buried, he lurches again, taking politics to new and increasingly grotesque depths.
He certainly did that yesterday.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
By any orthodox measure he didn't win the debate. But this is not an orthodox election and it was not an orthodox debate. The shock tactics he employed sowed doubt, highlighted hypocrisy and played perfectly to the fears and biases of his core support base. A pre-debate press conference in which Trump sat beside the women who accuse Bill Clinton of sexual assault was audacious. But it was cleverly calculated to offer wavering supporters some tenuous moral logic for sticking with him. So too his attacks during the debate which exploded to historic levels of vitriol as he accused Clinton of laughing at a rape victim and said she would be in jail if he was president.
The extent to which many Americans dislike Hillary Clinton is hard for New Zealanders to fathom. She seems hard working, highly professional and relatively benign - if perhaps a little cold. But in the US, to a certain section of the public, she represents all the failures of an elitist, liberal, baby boom generation. She has been a political activist since in college, where she rose to national prominence for an incendiary graduation speech in 1969. She was profiled in Life Magazine, worked on the Watergate Commission and her early career outshone Bill Clinton's. That career is emblematic of a 1960s political dream that many Americans now see as a broken promise.
Trump represents the flipside of the baby boom dream. He is a champion of the "me" generation. Rising to prominence as a playboy property developer in disco-era New York, he promised only to get rich and have a good time doing it. He delivered on his promise. For some Americans this represents a more fundamental honesty that Clinton's vision to right the world. Never mind the small details - like facts. Trump speaks in what he has described as "hyperbolic truths". Like a professional wrestler he creates a veneer of authenticity and relies on his audience to buy in to the conceit. And just like a snarling wrestling villain he doubled down on the ugly rhetoric yesterday and lived up to billing.
If his goal was to remind his base why they don't like Clinton, he probably succeeded. Thankfully, he didn't offer up anything to bring back the Republican establishment and that should ensure his failure in November. But he did enough to renew the fervour of the faithful and ensure this bizarre and brutal campaign is not over yet.