Editor’s Note: Rob Crilly is a British journalist living in New York. He was The Telegraph’s Afghanistan and Pakistan correspondent and was previously the East Africa correspondent for The Times. The opinions in this article are those of the author. Some readers may find some of the language in this article offensive.
Crilly: Trump's aim is not to burn down his opponent, but to burn down politics
If you are feeling queasy already, you might want to have some sick bags at the ready
I have a confession to make: I’m not sure how much more of this election I can take.
After months scouring newspapers and websites for every drop of political news, wringing every bit of gossip from friends and contacts, I find myself turning to the sports pages first. That’s something I haven’t done since I was about 11.
I can’t be alone. This campaign felt like it had gone on too long even before the word “pussy” was added to the discourse.
Now we have complaints from Donald Trump that the election is rigged, and I am reminded of the campaigns I covered as a foreign reporter in Uganda, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kenya and the rest, where similar advance allegations were lined up ready for use after defeat.
All that’s missing is the arrest of a candidate or two (and that is not as far-fetched as it once was).
It is not a good look for what is supposed to be the world’s greatest democracy.
And you can bet things are only going to get worse during the final two and half weeks: Donald Trump’s campaign seems to have made the calculation that a scorched earth policy might be the only way he can still win.
Since we learned who the two nominees would be, Trump has been ahead in the polls for only four days, according to the Real Clear Politics average. Those were around the Republican National Convention when he had the network TV spotlight to himself.
Since then, on the leash and off the leash, he has been behind Clinton. And her lead has only increased during a fortnight of Trump’s bungled debates, videos of sex talk on the bus and increasingly hysterical talk of conspiracy theories.
Even he seemed to sense the race was now a long shot when I saw him speak last week in Wilkes-Barre, the sort of blue-collar Pennsylvania town he so badly needs to win.
“I may be limping across the finish line, but we’re going to get across that finish line,” he said, promising six campaign events a day during the final week in the effort to get out his vote.
Such talk suggests he is not tanking his campaign deliberately. There are easier ways to lose an election.
Instead, it seems probable that his eleventh hour strategy of doubling down on hostility – whether towards women in general or Clinton in particular, the “rigged” American electoral system or the biased media – is part of a diabolical plan to turn us all off what happens next.
You see there is a body of thought among political scientists that the biggest impact of negative campaigns is to turn less committed voters off the election.
The calculation seems to be that with undecideds quite possibly lost to Trump, by taking the debate into the gutter it may be possible to disgust them so much they can’t face voting at all.
The turnout among millennials, in particular, is already a concern to Democrat strategists, so a low turnout may affect the Clinton vote more than the Trump vote.
So after a campaign in which the Republican candidate has mocked a disabled reporter, referred to the menstrual cycle of a questioner and demanded his rival be locked up, he is taking things to the next level.
His aim is not to burn down his opponent – who after 30 years of public life has seen her own unfavorability rating remain consistently high – but to burn down politics, delegitimize the election and make the whole shooting match seem utterly repugnant in order to depress turnout.
His scorched earth policy is designed to undermine American democracy and nab the White House.
It is a mighty strange way to Make America Great Again.
And if you are feeling queasy already, you might want to have some sick bags at the ready.