Opinions - 21.07.2016 - 00:00 

US elections 2016: Dreaming of Reagan – waking up with Trump

The great rebellion did not happen, the protocol was observed: at its convention in Cleveland, Ohio, the Republican Party crowned the political newcomer, entrepreneur and reality TV star Donald J. Trump as its official presidential candidate. An opinion piece by Dr. Claudia Franziska Brühwiler.

22 July 2016. The constant looks into the history books is as much part of the American presidential elections as the strident TV commercials, the heated debates and blue-red-white balloons. Particularly in a year when things do not appear to be going according to the usual plan, when the elite’s preferred candidates had to leave the race early and leave the field to the politically inexperienced Donald J. Trump, many observers are seeking refuge in the party’s annals.

The rebellion did not take place
The party convention was long linked to the hope that the "monster of Loch Ness" might emerge, as an American journalist expressed it: a so-called "brokered convention" at which no candidate would obtain a majority of the delegates’ votes in the first round, the race would be open again and the chances of candidates such as the governor of Ohio, John Kasich, would be intact. Just like Nessie breaking the surface, such a party convention is a rare event, however – in the Republicans’ case, we must go as far back as 1948 – and in addition, Trump knew that there were too many delegates in his camp for him to have to worry about the rebellion staged by the moderates.

If a rebellion failed to materialise, there were still discontented mumblings and contradictions: instead of a splendid coronation mass in which the entire Republican court participated, the party kept reminding the candidate that he did not have everyone’s approval. Thus besides many others, the Bush family was conspicuous by its absence, the host state’s governors found his principles more important than a much-noticed appearance, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, preferred to focus his speech on conservative ideas rather than on Trump’s qualities. When to top it all, Trump’s wife was reproached for plagiarism because her speech was strikingly similar to one of Michelle Obama’s, many Republicans were afraid of a scandal being played out on the stage.

The great role model Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan’s spirit was longed for even more than at the last edition of the party convention. Ted Cruz, a senator from Texas, had long remained in the race for the nomination and had hoped that the great role model’s strategies could lead him to success. As early as April, he presented Carly Fiorina as his fellow campaigner and candidate for the vice-presidency, and now, at the party convention, he wanted to remind his audience of 1976, when Reagan challenged the nomination of the incumbent president, Gerald Ford. The great role model succeeded four years later – considering the mixed reactions Cruz received, it may be doubted whether this will also happen to him, however.

On the conservative TV channel Fox News, Rudy Giuliani, ex-mayor of New York, and Newt Gingrich, once Georgia’s representative, celebrated their own successor to Reagan: Donald Trump’s speech on the fourth day of the convention marked the highlight of the nomination marathon – and made him deviate slightly from his usual strident style and appear somewhat more "presidential". Instead of fuelling the calls for Hillary Clinton’s arrest, he thought he would rather defeat her. Yet with the gloomy picture that Trump painted of America’s present day, his pessimism and his, for his standards, rather stiff demeanour, he was more reminiscent of Richard Nixon than of Reagan.

A rendezvous with destiny

"A rendezvous with destiny" is what America had, said Reagan, when he supported the outsider candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964. Trump’s candidate for the vice-presidency, Mike Pence, adopted the quotation – and involuntarily spoke from the heart of many people who were fearful of the Republican Party’s future. Here, only one of the featured speakers was able to kindle some hope: "I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all I am proud to be an American." Years earlier, the co-founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel, would undoubtedly have been booed for such an outing. This year the delegates chanted "USA! USA!"

Dr. rer. publ. Claudia Franziska Brühwiler is a political scientist with special focus on American Studies.

photo: misterQM /

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