I have just returned to Washington DC after four years in Melbourne and three before that in heartland Colorado. There have been some changes in town, such as the new Martin Luther King Memorial and toll lanes on the Beltway, but otherwise Washington looks exactly like it did when I first came to visit 30 years ago.
After having spent four previous presidential election seasons here, I expected consistency in how the quadrennial elections colour the town. But something is very different this year inside the Beltway.
In 2012 I had just moved to Australia and was watching the US presidential election from an unfamiliar perspective. My US Election Team Blog contributions may have benefited from a wider vantage point because the under-the-radar elements of the campaign that seemed interesting to me – the latent Hispanic vote, the impact of female candidates, and my predictions for the election results by state – turned out to be pretty spot on.
The day before the 2012 elections I posted a blog on the top 16 candidates for 2016 that was useful for assessing that there was an impossible large bumper crop of Republicans and only a couple of potential Democrats. It was a pretty good evaluation – except that it did not include Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders (and Ted Cruz was mentioned only briefly as an incoming Hispanic senator).
In 2012 I did not anticipate that the stalemated status quo of US politics that has prevailed for most of the past quarter-century would actually produce movements that would upend business as usual.
It’s fair to say that the establishment view in Washington is also that the populist uprisings in both parties were aberrations. The Sanders revolutionaries are expected to be brought into the fold by some incremental steps to the left by the Democratic Party. Mainstream conservatives insist that a chastened Republican Party will respond to an anticipated Trump loss by shaming and expunging those who backed him.
The lack of Republican establishment support for The Donald is palpable in Washington. The revelation that former president George H W Bush, who once served as chairman of the Republican National Committee, is going to be voting for the Democrat, and the spouse of the man who ejected him from the Oval Office, tells you all you need to know.
The sense in Washington is that Hillary Clinton is going to be the 45th president. A Trump victory is unthinkable – but not unimaginable – and the evidence lies in what is missing.
Campaign bumper stickers are commonplace on the Beltway and other local freeways. But in a town where George W Bush bumper stickers remained on cars for a decade, and Dole and McCain bumper stickers were in no short supply (and presumably Romney, but I wasn’t here), I can observe no Beltway Republicans sporting Trump signs on their cars.
There are appears to be literally no signs of Trump here in Washington. It really is not a normal election season.
Of course there are plenty of proud Trump supporters out there, and next time I’ll drive you out to meet them.
Authors: David Malet, Director of Security Policy Studies and Visiting Associate Professor of International Affairs, George Washington University