Political analyst Nicolle Wallace examines presidential candidates in talk at Rutgers
Voters should get ready for a “Clinton-Trump smackdown” next November, political analyst Nicolle Wallace said in a lecture delivered to Rutgers students, faculty and community members Thursday.
The Eagleton Institute of Politics hosted the card-carrying Republican for her talk “Election 2016: The Media, the Messages and the Madness,” which discussed the looming general election, its likely candidates and the steps that are leading the U.S. to a battle between two titans in American politics.
Instead of mourning the seemingly-inevitable outcome, Wallace said the Republican establishment should acknowledge its role in the process.
“We broke faith with the base of our party and they came roaring back this cycle by not only embracing Donald Trump at the very beginning of his announcement of his run for presidency, but voting for him in large enough numbers so that now he is leading in delegates,” she said.
Trump, she said, is the only Republican candidate addressing the people’s economic anxiety. Talking about free trade, tax cuts, rolling back Obamacare and defending Wall Street, topics close to the heart of other Republican candidates, would not deliver someone a nomination— at least not in 2016.
The absence of press agents in Trump’s campaign, a boon to a campaign seeking to attract voters disgusted with the “corruption that … took hold of the Republican establishment,” is a key motivator behind the Republican frontrunner’s widespread support, said Wallace, who was communications chief for President George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign and a senior advisor the McCain-Palin campaign of 2008.
From the start of Trump’s campaign last June, his supporters formed a strong emotional connection with the candidate, she said. He spoke to their “gut worries,” and they have stuck with him ever since.
“He just got right at all of their anxieties about the country and promised to do something to make it better,” the frequent “Morning Joe Show” contributor said. “He spoke to their issues, he spoke to their fears, he spoke to them on an emotional level and he sort of closed the deal.”
The “stickiness” of these supporters is the real story, Wallace said.
“Trump is … operating in what Chuck Todd calls a ‘post-fact world,’” Wallace said. “Where in the past, if your campaign or your candidate said something that the fact checkers and the media revealed to not be true or even be an exaggeration, it was a devastating gaffe that took you days to recover from.”
Trump has had no shortage of questionable statements. Politifact, a project devoted to checking the accuracy of statements made by anyone who speaks up in American politics, has rated 77 percent of Trump’s checked statements some degree of false.
On the Democratic side of the aisle, frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s pledged delegate lead sits at 303. Her delegate total including superdelegates numbers at 1690, much more than Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) total of 946, according to the Associated Press.
“I think it's amazing that people still see Sanders as so viable. I mean, he's in it and it's possible, but because of the Democratic system— if the Republicans had superdelegates, they'd all be in witness protection by now,” she said. “Because of the Democrat's process, it is an insurmountable lead that she has.”
While the Democratic race saw a relatively small field of candidates, most of whom dropped out of the race early, the Republican race was more crowded, a fact that helped Trump eke out and keep his lead, she said. That lead has kept the “Apprentice” star front and center in the news cycle.
“If he's on TV and he's in first place, it isn't the network's fault. It's the 16 bozos that ran against him that couldn't beat him. And I'm not saying they're bozos as people, I'm just saying they lost,” she said. “You cannot blame Trump for the fact that he's the only one listening to people's economic anxiety.”
Still, at this point a Trump victory is not guaranteed, she said.
While his growing lead and consistently strong performance every Tuesday make Trump the likely candidate, a brokered convention could hand the nomination to one of the trailing Republican candidates, though Wallace said the chance of one is slim.
“I think (a brokered convention is) possible -- it’s entirely possible. Everyone should be prepared for it. I just think it is not preordained, it is simply possible,” she said. “Even if we do (end up in a brokered convention), I think that Trump is in a strong position.”
Despite it throwing the Republican party into a mad scramble, Wallace said Trump’s success is not a complete loss for the Republican establishment.
“I think it's a good thing that the Republican party has had to get in touch with the profound intractable despair of economic insecurity in this country,” she said. “If we never win again, it will be because we learned the wrong lessons from the rise of Trump.”
Nikita Biryukov is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies. He is an associate news editor for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @nikitabiryukov_ for more.