Soapbox

America’s global standing is at stake in 2016 presidential race

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump acknowledges photographers after speaking at a campaign rally in Baton Rouge, La., on Thursday.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump acknowledges photographers after speaking at a campaign rally in Baton Rouge, La., on Thursday. The Associated Press

With the New Hampshire primary behind us, the 2016 presidential race is finally taking shape. Donald Trump has been dominating the conversation, but with voters paying more attention, it’s a critical time for the political center to rise above the extremes.

That’s especially important since this race is already having a significant impact on how the world views America. On a recent trip to the new Mercury Public Affairs office in London, former Republican Congressman Vin Weber and I hosted a series of events. Both of us have advised presidential candidates – Weber advises former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and I was co-chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid – so we were interested to hear the outlook on the election from across the pond.

Most striking was the impression of an America that is increasingly isolationist and intolerant – traits unbecoming of the nation that is supposed to lead the free world. One attendee didn’t believe there were any serious candidates running at all, even though the field includes governors who have championed quality education and affordable health care, senators who have pushed for financial reforms to protect Main Street and foreign policy experts who know how to build strong alliances around the globe.

But the serious candidates aren’t the ones dominating cable news or social media. Instead, the world hears Trump’s proposals to build a wall along the Mexican border and to bar all Muslims from entering the country. Because his outrageous statements are getting so much play, he is unfortunately redefining American values.

The truth is that only about 35 percent of Republican-leaning voters support Trump. We know voters want authentic candidates who will speak candidly and who are unafraid to condemn bigotry and intolerance. They’re tired of Democrats who take disingenuous pot shots at Wall Street, of Republicans who scramble to be the toughest foreign policy hawk, and of canned talking points and offensive bluster.

The good news is that we all have a role to play in promoting the shared values that have made our nation a global leader. And in the era of social media and a 24/7 news cycle, that role is no longer limited to voting on Election Day. It also includes promoting and engaging in a thoughtful dialogue about the real issues at stake.

A few years ago, social media helped fuel the Arab Spring, allowing demonstrators to organize and bring worldwide attention to their protests. Setting aside the instability that followed, it underscored the power of the collective voices of young people speaking up for change.

When it comes to America’s global stature, this election is the most important of my lifetime. So here at home, we, too, must speak up – not only against intolerance and isolationism but for the candidates who promote our principles. We must do so because the world is watching.

Fabian Núñez, a former state Assembly speaker, is a partner at Mercury Public Affairs and a political analyst for Univision. He can be contacted at fabian@mercuryllc.com.

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