Presidential historian Gil Troy: Donald Trump has committed “a crime against the American people”Historians in the News
tags: Gil Troy, Donald Trump
How will history remember those Republicans and other conservatives who voted Trump into office and continue to back him? How has Trump defiled the presidency? Is it possible for Trump to pivot back to the normal standards of the office? Is there still a place for moderation and incrementalism in American politics during a time of crisis and extreme polarization?
In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with historian Gil Troy. He is a professor at McGill University in Montreal and the author of numerous books, including "The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s," "The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction" and "Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents."
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
How was Donald Trump able to win the 2016 election?
I think we have to divide your question into two parts. One, how was Donald Trump able to win? And two, how was Hillary Clinton able to lose? I think the more we read about that Clinton campaign we see all the opportunities she missed. Ultimately, she proved herself both in 2008 and 2016 to be just a terrible, terrible candidate.
We forget that she went into the 2016 campaign with popularity ratings of about 65 percent when she had been secretary of state -- then she just allowed herself to get taken to the cleaners by Donald Trump's. She did not have an effective message. During the campaign, I spoke to groups of people in the United States and elsewhere. I would say to them, “Donald Trump promises to make America . . .” And people yelled, “Great again!”\
Even if they all hated Donald Trump, they would yell it. Hillary Clinton had no core message. There was also a kind of a conscious decision on the part of the Hillary Clinton campaign that they were not going to win because of Bill Clinton.
They didn't consult one of the great geniuses of modern American politics who understands how to speak to the frustrated white working-class people of America. We saw how that played out in those states which were so crucial to Trump's victory.
On the Trump side of this question there was a little bit of luck. He was running against the legacy of an incumbent president who’s been in office for eight years; he was also blessed to have Hillary Clinton as an opponent. But I really think we have to give him credit for being one of the great salesmen of our age, who was able to tap into the high amounts of frustration out there in many parts of America.
I was among the first people who tried to sound the alarm on national radio and TV about the likelihood of Trump winning. I highlighted how he is entertaining and a master communicator. We knew what he stood for. Hillary Clinton had no clear and simple message.
Absolutely. We started talking about Donald Trump in the summer of 2015. He understood that notoriety in today's celebrity culture counts. Let's be honest. For the last 30 or 40 years, to a wide swath of the American people, Trump is a brand that means quality, success and understanding how to work the system.
In assessing Trump as a president and a candidate, is he smarter than he appears? Or is he just a useful idiot for the Republican Party, the Koch brothers and other gangster capitalists, Christian nationalists and the like?
I think he's smarter than people think. He also worked harder than many people are aware of. For example, Trump would watch clips of himself on television and he got better at using the medium.
And you saw that play out brilliantly in the Republican debates. He understood that it was about the stage. But it was also really about the studio and how to speak to the viewer sitting at home. Also, I do think there's a certain substance in terms of his political strategy and presentation.
When people go, “Oh, he's so foolish, he’s alienating people,” well, he's alienating people who aren't going to vote for him at all. He also is taking something from the Ronald Reagan playbook. I think there are many different ways in which he is not like Ronald Reagan at all, but Ronald Reagan loved being underestimated. ...
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