Europeans, who are by far the foreigners most interested in American elections, are anxiously asking themselves: is a self-proclaimed socialist electable in the premier capitalist nation in the world?
One would think that the answer would be a resounding “yes, why not?” And yet the conservative voters in Europe, who are still a thin majority, seem to be favoring Clinton, for the simple reason that given a choice they go for the “safe used product.” It is no wonder that many newspapers on the old continent did not hesitate to call Hillary the winner in the Democratic debates. The appeal by Bernie Sanders to the young – artificially grouped under the so called Millennials – is perceived as an attempt to replicate the winning strategy of Barack Obama in his historic triumph over the Democratic candidate for the nomination Hillary Clinton. Clearly, it is judged inadequate.
Europeans look at elections more as a clash of electoral platforms and party strategies than an issue of ideological confrontation. They are well aware that American blacks and Latinos are counted upon by the Clinton electoral machine to stick with the traditional Democratic Party agenda.
To be sure, youthful enthusiasm can propel a campaign and impart that sliver of momentum that can carry the day for the challenger’s forces. Are they wrong to believe that as the party’s choice Hillary Clinton can even afford to lose the opening primaries of Iowa and New Hampshire and go on to garner the nomination and later on the presidency? In regard to the latter, most European observers and the majority of people in the major countries have no doubt that the brassy shenanigans of Donald Trump and the strident bravado of Sen. Ted Cruz are doomed to be crushed by the Democratic road roller. Granted, the Europeans have been wrong before, most recently when they bet that President George W. Bush was going to lose his bid for re-election. In this new chapter of the American political drama there is no question that they have no patience with Trump’s braggadocio and deeply distrust his ability to manage relations with old but independent allies.
There was a time, in American political history, when presidential candidates felt the need the reach out to the three I’s: Ireland, Israel and Italy were three countries whose expatriates in America – descendants and co-religionists – were important pawns in gathering decisive electoral support. In this regard, it is interesting to note that of these ethnic groups, the only one that stayed mostly loyal to its Democratic roots is the Irish while many Jews have turned critical of Democratic administrations and the Italians have gone predominantly to the Republican side. Suffice to say that the two present Supreme Court justices of Italian descent, Scalia and Alito, are staunch conservatives.
Europeans are aware of and compassionate regarding the continuing decline of the American middle class, a turn of fortunes that is impacting Europe as well. As it translates into a loss of prosperity, Europeans cannot but be impressed by Sanders’ insistence on making it the central talking point of his campaign. But they are weary of his invoking a series of “revolutions” starting with the banking system that is the epitome of corporate greed in America.
It may come as a surprise but Europeans do not get the simple fact that both Sanders and Trump have something in common, the hostility of the establishment forces against their candidacies. But they do wonder what kind of leadership they would impersonate in the international arena where Trump looks totally incompetent to step up to the complicated game of real politik while Sanders appears to them as an angry old man. To be sure, they know Hillary Clinton, who traveled around the world as secretary of state while Sanders has shown no great propensity in reaching out to the world.
One final note, however, is that while Europe and European politics count for practically nothing in today’s American presidential politics, many Europeans are ready to be positively surprised by a possible upset in Iowa and New Hampshire and by the prospect of a Democratic race stretching well into spring. Sanders is no Barack Obama, but then Clinton, no matter how “safe” in European eyes, is also seen as old politics. And this is something that Europeans are definitely turning against in turbulent times.