So, America, are you really ready for a woman president? And how might “magical thinking” or a fresh scandal flip this election on its head?
These are just some of the undercurrent issues that Kim Campbell, the only female prime minister Canada’s ever had, thinks could tip Hillary Clinton’s lead in favor of Donald Trump. In this condensed and edited conversation, the former Progressive Conservative party leader weighs in on what might upend this year’s U.S. presidential battle.
OZY: What under-the-radar issues could really shake up this race and become major debate points this fall?
Kim Campbell: I think the questions of racism, xenophobia and the role of immigrants in American society are certainly among the undercurrents. But one of the underlying issues is the question of gender and whether Americans are ready to elect a woman as president.
The reason I say this is because after I was out of office, I did a lot of reading in the growing research of cognitive psychology about gender barriers, which also relates to other characteristics of non-prototypical leaders. It could be race, as Barack Obama faced, and one of the very interesting things that is now well understood by social and cognitive psychologists is the fact that the way we think we think isn’t necessarily how we think.
We are getting into demagoguery here — Joseph Goebbels and “the big lie” technique, which was essential to the Nazis.
OZY: How so?
K.C.: We have implicit attitudes that we lay down from the time we’re born. At a certain point in our life they actually contradict our conscious attitudes about things. But they tend to result in visceral responses. I watched this in Obama’s campaign. There’s no question that a lot of the issues he faced as president — with the Republicans committed to making him a one-term president and committed to making him a failure — was very much a reflection of the deep, underlying sense of how somebody who looked like him didn’t belong in the White House. People who might resist admitting that? It’s nonetheless, I think, the case.
OZY: And, you argue, it’s also the case with women?
K.C.: My friend Sandy Garossino, who edits the National Observer, did a very interesting article on the media coverage of Hillary Clinton, who’s had twice as much negative coverage as Donald Trump. But when you think of the things Trump has done — just all sorts of inappropriate things that in any other campaign would have disqualified somebody from running — that negative media is really a reflection, I think, of journalists trying to validate their discomfort that she is there.
Of course, a lot of what the Democratic National Convention was about was establishing her presidential timber, what with serious people supporting her and creating a biography that makes the point that she’s been serving people all her life. Even with her speech, I thought the most important thing was that she seemed presidential. But one swallow doesn’t make a summer; it’s an ongoing challenge. If she is elected, she will gradually redefine what a president looks and sounds like the way President Obama has.
OZY: What’s the other underlying issue you’ve seen impacting this election battle?
K.C.: This whole question of truth, expertise and what is real — magical thinking. Here’s where Trump is a dangerous candidate, because he doesn’t play by the rules of civilized discourse. He doesn’t play by the rules of verifiable assertions. The question is: What is the role of truth in an election campaign?
We saw this in the Brexit campaign, where the Leave campaign said things that were demonstrably false. In the same way that Trump’s son can get away with challenging the unemployment figures from a very respected source, it’s like, “If the facts are inconvenient to the position I want to make, we just say they’re not true.” There’s also the notion that the election will be rigged, which is incredibly dangerous. We are getting into demagoguery here — Joseph Goebbels and “the big lie” technique, which was essential to the Nazis: You just say something that’s not true over and over again, and eventually people come to believe it.
OZY: Do you think we’re getting close to that point?
K.C.: Yeah, because we see that Trump supporters are uninfluenced by evidence that shows what he says is false. So all you can do is try to persuade those who are independent or are non-Trumpian Republicans while reassuring Democrats that these things are not true and unworthy of his support. You know, there’s often exaggerations –– the way John F. Kennedy campaigned on the Missile Gap, and there wasn’t one. But this is several orders of magnitude greater than I’ve ever seen.
Anyone watching the primaries, 11hrs Bengh test,& now elxn-can’t miss the overwhelming evidence of HRC’s stamina! https://t.co/eVuADVzcAK— Kim Campbell (@AKimCampbell) August 14, 2016
OZY: Polls show Clinton in the lead, although you warn “she’s very vulnerable to a scandal.” What could turn the tables in favor of Trump?
K.C.: There is some concern over WikiLeaks. You see, scandals don’t affect Trump. In some ways, by being so outrageous, he’s kind of inoculated himself for his own followers. And, again, we live in a society where leadership is gendered: Men get away with things because they are otherwise assumed to belong there.
OZY: And you think that bias still exists for Clinton at the same level, or in a subtler way?
K.C.: Oh, I think it is still there. I think there’s no question. For example, there are scandals associated with her from which she has been exonerated. The exonerations don’t stick, only the accusations, because they fulfill a psychological need. This, I think, is an issue, so if WikiLeaks comes up with some other scandal — an October surprise — it will be much more difficult for her.