2016 panel asks ‘Are we ready for President Trump?’
Devon Chenelle | Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Vantage Point Radio, an NPR production based at Notre Dame, recorded “Are We Ready for President Trump: A Panel About the 2016 Elections” at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center on Tuesday night.
The panel discussed current developments in the primary elections and consisted of three Notre Dame professors: Luis Fraga, the Arthur Foundation Professor of Transformative Latino Leadership, Dianne Pinderhughes, professor of Africana studies, David Campbell, the Packey J. Dee Professor of American Democracy and chair of the political science department, alongside moderator Agustín Fuentes, professor of anthropology at Notre Dame.
The panel first discussed the Republican primary field, one of the largest in recent memory and with an unusually wide variety of backgrounds possessed by its candidates.
The current primary field is historically unusual for reasons beyond its large size and mixture of different backgrounds, Campbell said. Historically, the Democrat field tended to be the more fractious one, while the Republicans exhibited greater order and cohesion, Campbell said.
“In the past, Republicans have had a tendency to coalesce around a front-runner and to nominate someone who has run before. … In this cycle, it’s exactly the opposite,” Campbell said.
The strategy of the Republicans in terms of appealing to minorities has shifted this cycle, as they have begun to accommodate some variation in the population, demonstrated by the relatively high diversity of the Republican field this primary, Pinderhughes said.
Touching on recent incendiary comments made about Muslims by Republican candidates, Pinderhughes said the attitude of many minorities towards the Republican party has grown more negative over the past few electoral cycles, and this may have a negative impact on the electoral prospects of the GOP.
“In general, Republicans are seen as so far to the right they’re kind of out of the realm of consideration. … The Republicans are positioning themselves way out beyond the possibility of being able to sustain their hold on the presidency for some time to come,” he said.
The notion that, at least for the next five or so years, the Republicans could win general elections by relying only on white voters may also be obviated by increasing turnout from minority, and particularly Latino, voters, Campbell said.
The Democratic field attracted less attention, with its much smaller and Trump-less slate providing less fodder for discussion.
“The Democrats … theirs are actually all elected officials, and with experience, so they’re a very different field,” Pinderhughes said.
The panel discussed the members of the Democratic primary, with the majority of the attention split between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, all members seemingly agreeing when Fraga said it was basically a two-person race.
Hillary Clinton is likely to remain a significant contender thanks to her tremendous resources and high rates of name recognition, even though Sanders has tapped into Democratic constituents Clinton did not, Fraga said.
“Bernie Sanders … has generated attention the way that Obama did in 2008,” Pinderhughes said.
Late entrants to the Democrat field were unlikely though not impossible, Campbell said.
“In the case of Joe Biden, he would face a huge set of obstacles entering the race as late as he would be,” Campbell said.
The panel’s comments on Trump were similarly skeptical.
While Fuentes said Trump has been in control of the race, Campbell said while his large lead in the polls may seem imposing, at this stage of the race, we shouldn’t put too much stock in polls but rather in endorsements.
“He is his own man, and inimitable. … In a sense, he’s sort of a perfect storm,” Campbell said, rejecting the notion of a comparison to Trump.
Pinderhughes said Trump is good at hitting the sensitive spots of American public life, though she doubts Trump believes everything he says. Concurring, Campbell said Trump doesn’t seem to have a coherent ideology, and his supporters appear not to care.
“Except for the position of immigration, where his position has been very clear,” Fraga said.
Though the panel expressed skepticism on the odds of a Trump electoral victory, Fraga made one final point that drew no objections.
“Nighttime television will blossom if we have a Trump presidency,” Fraga said.