The Political Race and How We Got Here


With Election Day coming fast, it’s important for voters to take a minute and reflect on the candidates that are looking for our votes. With so much drama surrounding the candidates and issues before Election Day, it’s a good idea to get some insight about how we got here.

Dr. Chris Burnett, a CSULB associate journalism and mass communications professor who has received a Ph.D. in political science, shared his thoughts on the political landscape leading up to the election.

How would you compare today’s election to the previous election, and what would you say is the biggest difference?

“Let me just start out and say every election is unique. In 2008, Obama was using a lot of social media in his campaign, and there was sort of a cult of personality behind this charismatic newcomer to politics who was going to change the system. And, he was running against John McCain 'war hero,' and there was the backdrop of a terrible economy in 2012.

You had the country emerging from a bad economy, which Romney attempted to take advantage of, and Obama was no longer the fresh face that he had been in 2008, but he still had enough as an incumbent to carry him through, especially after he portrayed Romney as a out-of-touch rich guy.

This year, we have seen the emergence of somebody with virtually no political experience -- except being on reality TV -- and being interviewed on political issues in the past as a public figure, as a celebrity. But, this year, we’ve seen a full emergence of a non-politician attempting to basically rock out the system and have upheaval. Whether this is going to be a unique phenomenon, with the fact that Trump has broken a lot of the campaign rules involving money and has attempted to use a lot of social media to get his message across -- and just general media or whether if the election goes very poorly for him, it will set a example how not to run a political campaign.

Right now, people say the margin can be 300 electoral votes for Hillary Clinton or 400 on the other side. We will see if we have a political revolution on Nov. 8. We did not get a political revolution in 2008 when we elected Obama. We ended up getting an inspirational, but basically a very traditional politician. If we get Clinton in 2016, we’d be getting another traditional politician, so I’m not so sure in spite of this disenchantment with the political system just how much really in the end will change.”

If Donald Trump was to become president -- him already being a public figure prior to politics, such as Ronald Reagan was -- what kind of leader can we expect?

“I think Donald Trump, fairly speaking, is the least experienced person in government affairs, and a lot of the mistakes that he has made, in my view, in his presidential campaign, have come because he is not familiar with politics and the policy aspect of being president. Now, if he wins, he will have to assemble a really great transition team to help him pull things together -- staff the Cabinet, staff the executive agencies, recommend Supreme Court nominees… it's going to be a really steep learning curve. And, of course, Mike Pence as the vice president would be there and would have other people that can help him out, but it's going to be really hard.”

What are your thoughts on the vice presidential candidates?

I think they both fulfill the roles very well. Pence showed a lot of knowledge in policy… [it helps] indicate that there was going to be an adult in the room that was thoughtful, and, of course, that would rely on the fact that Trump would actually have to pay attention to him. Trump’s pretty independent.

On the other hand, Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine is also an experienced politician. He’s been a governor as well as a senator. So they both have extensive experience in government relations, and I think that you know Kaine would be somebody who is doing much the sort he is doing for Hillary now -- going out campaigning and helping to reinforce the message. But, you notice, Kaine is not the chief spokesman for Hillary most the time. There are many other people who go out who get even more attention when they speak, like Elizabeth Warren, President Obama, Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton. There are a lot of voices that actually help to drown out the usual role that is played by Kaine, or just the usual role that is run by the vice president.”

Regarding the Clinton email scandal, do you think there was a way she could have approached this better?

“Oh, for sure. The one problem that Clinton has is that she has a penchant for secrecy, and that’s something that frankly troubles me, and I think it troubles a lot of people. It's normal to treat the press as a antagonist or adversary, but to treat the press as an enemy, somebody who is out to get you, is dangerous. It’s just the tendency toward secrecy that is not serving Clinton well. It makes people suspicious of her when, in fact, she is on her own. She’s a smart woman. She can talk, but just the idea that she needs to be protected is an issue.

I think that a lot of the secrecy that she has had has led to the email scandal and the idea that you can operate a private server in your house. Obama was interviewed on ‘60 Minutes’ earlier this summer about the email scandal server, and he said he didn’t know anything about it until it was announced on television… He knew about this way before because the two of them -- the president and Hillary Clinton -- had been communicating back and forth on emails using Hillary’s private server. And of course the people were saying, ‘Well, the president probably just didn’t notice the URL was not and instead was Clinton mail.’ But, in that case, the idea was not, ‘We need to be more open about it,’ but, ‘We need to find a way to cover up this problem.’ In fact, the president, in effect, is lying. ”

Even after all the scandals and fights at the rallies, how the hell is Trump still getting votes?

“There is a hardcore group, about 40 to 45 percent of people, who are Republicans that will vote for any Republican. Trump’s base support, the white underclass people who used to do really well but their families haven’t fared so well over the last 30 or 40 years… They don’t like to be looked down upon for their Christian values, their cultural values or just their geography by people who don’t know any better, who don’t know their way of life there. So there are a lot of factors and there’s a lot of prejudice on both sides. They hate Clinton just because she’s in favor of all sorts of policies that they dislike. They may not like the fact that she’s a woman; there are all kinds of different reasons. It all varies. There’s some people that will vote Democrat or Republican because they vote that way every single time. Plus, Trump has touched a populous chord that people are fed up with organized politicians when he goes out and says, ‘I’m not a politician. I’m just trying to tell you the truth,’ or, ‘The system is rigged.’ There are a lot of people who think that the elections are rigged, and that special interest, the fat cats, people with a lot of money, control the process.”

What would be the prospects for the country for the next four years if Trump becomes president?

“Will the sun not come up the next day, and will there be thunder claps and then have 40 days of rain, and everyone will be getting into arks? I don’t think so. I think if Trump were to be president, what I have argued ever since the beginning, is he would surround himself [with trusted officials] because this is a new thing for him, and he does not want to be considered a failure. He would surround himself with people with background in government. I think Trump would tend to have a lot of people like that in positions. It would be much less revolutionary than in terms of the day-to-day operations of government than you would think. Otherwise, the real variable is what kind of communicator Donald Trump would be. Think about the bully pulpit that the president has. There would be a tendency for Trump to react quickly to things and say things maybe he shouldn’t, and the media would jump all over that, of course.”

What would four years like be with Hillary?

“I think you’ll see the continuing attacks against Clinton by the right wing media. On the left, Bernie Sanders has already indicated that he’s going to be battling for liberal, social programs, trying to keep Clinton’s feet to the fire. Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts, likewise. There’s going to be a real tug of war in the Democratic party, whether it wants to be a corporate democratic party that does favor bank reform to help the banking industry. There’s gonna be a big tug of war there.

On the other hand, Clinton on foreign policy and on national security is likely to be pretty tough. She has a pretty Hawkins view on those issues, so I think she would be very strong. Clinton has been preparing her whole life for this role, and so she’s got a clear agenda. She’s got people in line who will fill in the government’s top positions. She’ll be ready to go.”

Lastly, do you think there will ever be an election like this in the future?

“That’s a good question. I’ve thought about that a lot. Is this going to happen again? This election is going to be one for the ages. A candidate like Trump is clearly an outlier. I think people are going to remember Trump and how he got the nomination over all these people who had supposedly better resumes. They would have had a much better shot in a traditional world than Trump. But we might see to some extent an erosion of the traditional division between the Democratic and Republican parties.

I think on Nov. 8, I’m going to make a prediction that there is going to be a pretty solid Democratic victory with at least 300 or more votes for Clinton and the Democrats taking over the Senate, making roads in-house. That would be fairly normal, though, because we are in a good economy. The president right now is popular. He’s campaigning for Clinton. Even though she’s scandal prone for all the things we talked about, she’s got a lot a problems, but that’s not the unusual thing that people are going to remember. ”

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