Monday night in Washington DC, election eve, and who, apart from the pollsters, knows what to think? Hillary by two-to-four percent, that seems to be the final consensus of all their sampling, weighting, adjusting, tickling, divining and projecting as the grand kabuki drama of this year’s presidential race staggers toward its climax 24 hours from now and the foot-stomping, snarling and grimacing is done. Or do you ‘go with your gut’, as a Trump acolyte put it this afternoon while picking through a bargain bin of marked-down Hillary ’16 T-shirts at a shop on E Street specialising in electionabilia.
“Would they be discounting them if she had a chance?” wondered Emily Shernhoff, 47, who was visiting the US capital from Iowa and wanted some small-change gifts for Democrat friends back home. “They want the White House,” she began, paraphrasing an old gag, “but all they’ll get is a lousy T-shirt.”
As theories and auguries go, the 70% discount on Hillarywear seemed as good as any, possibly better than most. At the counter, the young black woman ringing up my purchases endorsed that particular prognostication more than somewhat. Who would win tomorrow’s vote, she was asked, going by the merchandise her store has been moving?
“Trump,” she said. “We’ve sold a lot more of his T-shirts than hers.”
So that must be why Hillary’s T-shirts are discounted.
“No, Trump’s are marked down too.”
I took the full-price unit back to the shelf, found the bargain bin and saved myself $12. At the counter once again, it was hard not to smile. The handsome T-shirt, in Republican red and bearing the Trump name above his campaign slogan, ‘Make America Great Again’, bears a label proclaiming it was made in Honduras – imported tariff-free under the NAFTA pact that the man whose cause it espouses has vowed to “renegotiate”, if not scrap altogether.
At a bar near Capitol Hill some hours later I met up with an old contact from the days when I covered the Pentagon and became intimately involved with the bang-for-buck reform movement that flourished during the near-indiscriminate military spending of the Reagan years. He’s retired now and likes neither Trump nor Clinton, but will vote tomorrow in Pennsylvania for the former. Trump, he speculated, will “do a Reagan” and spend big on weapons of one sort or another, but might just have the managerial nous to foil the desk generals’ empire-building.
“We don’t want any more F-35s,” he said, adding with a wry smile that there’s “only one Australia in the world stupid enough to buy our trash.” We toasted the F-111, M1 tank, the F-35 and, just to demonstrate that my friend still follows the absurdities of politically inspired materiel acquisitions, the French submarines that Malcolm Turnbull hopes will keep his South Australian seats afloat, at least for the next few elections.
Not much later the TV over the bar made mention of the latest poll numbers in my friend’s home state. Trump, it seemed, was equal or ahead, which explained why Hillary was making a last-minute dash to the City of Brotherly Love. Meanwhile, Trump was heading for Michigan, which hasn’t gone with a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, when the voters paid their respects to Ronald Reagan by giving his successor, Bush the Elder, their support. Once was enough. Four years later they backed Bill Clinton and have remained stoutly Democrat ever since.
Until now, that is, if the polls are calling it right. Hillary will be touching down there as well, frantic to keep what should have been a certain blue state in her column. And here’s the thing that must be worrying her to distraction: that touch of The Gipper which sets Trump apart. Like Ronaldus Magnus, he holds the press in contempt and, like the 40th president also, he talks directly to his audience. It was Reagan’s genius to snatch traditional blue-collar Americans from the Democratic heap. If Trump can do likewise in the states that matter most, the pollsters will be confounded.
Tomorrow we will know if it is to be Clinton or Trump, the Unspeakable or the Unpalatable.
What a choice! Then again, they said the same thing about Reagan in 1980 and he didn’t work out too badly.