Chris Matthews, offered unique insights into the 2016 Presidential election campaign
By Sue Doherty sue.doherty @dgldemocrat
The presentation of the 2016 Tip O'Neill Irish Diaspora Award on Friday night week last proved to be an entertaining and illuminating evening.
This year's recipient, political analyst Chris Matthews, offered unique insights into the 2016 Presidential election campaign in the USA, as well as sharing memories of his time working for Tip O'Neill, the legendary US Speaker of the House of Representatives, and of Nobel Laureate John Hume at the time of the Good Friday Agreement.
"Totally and utterly unusual"
Mr Matthews also enthralled the audience with his take on the current US Presidential campaign.
He said, “The question I get asked here all the time is 'What is going on in your crazy country today?'
"It's totally and utterly unusual. Nobody expected and nobody was ready for Donald Trump.
"The Clinton people will tell you that the country's about 50:50 and that's sort of true. It's going to be a close one. The Democrats and Republicans are pretty evenly matched and there are a lot of independents out there who are up for grabs. I don't think that explains this year, though.
Not a typical Republican
"I don’t think Donald Trump is a typical Republican. I don't think he represents either party. But he is a brilliant marketer, who has an amazing connection with the zeitgeist, what people are concerned about.
"Normally, a guy like him would be killed politically. He's says things that are awful about women, that certain ethnic groups are all rapists, etc. In normal circumstances, people would be saying he shouldn't be in politics at all. But it's different this time.
"There's something going on in the air in the United States. Part of it is this. I guess it's just the closest thing to Brexit. It's just people voting 'No'.
"'No' to the way things are, 'No' to the the direction the country is going in, and 'No' to the political elite.
"Trump identified issues that works politically, such as illegal immigration and the loss of manufacturing jobs.
"You can go through a lot of the United States and see towns where there is nothing left but rust. Maybe there's a diner but that's all there is. A lot of the United States has been hollowed out. Somebody's got to be blamed for that.
"The wars, especially the Iraq war, which a lot of the media were bugle blowers for. That war has no fans today, none.
"What Trump did - and I don't know if he believes any of this but he knows it works magic in America - was to adopt very smart but nasty politics, blaming the elite and illegal immigrants for everything.
"And Hilary Clinton has got caught up on the wrong side of it because she is the Establishment and she did back the war.
"The other sad fact that he's picked up on is that a lot of working class and middle class families have lost faith in the American Dream that their kids are going to do better than them.
"Trump says he'll bring it back, the day when, like in the 50s any guy coming out of high school could get a good manufacturing job, provide for his whole family and send his kids to school.
"He never says quite how he's going to do it but he promises it.
"Now, if you're African American or Hispanic, that image means nothing to you because back then you had no civil rights or you weren't even here.”
As for the debates, he said, Clinton "is very smart, incredibly well prepared, with her homework done. Normally that would be enough. She will be great, very controlled and won't make a mistake."
Whoever is perceived to have won the debates, though, Mr Matthews believes that, on balance, Trump is more likely to lose the election.
“He can win. It's going to be very close.
"What I think's going to happen, though, is that moderate Republican women are going to vote for Clinton. A lot of women are going to say 'Not that guy'.
"The whole vote now is about African Americans, who are 97% for Clinton, and Hispanics, who are also overwhelmingly for her, and whether or not they turn out to vote.
"I figure that, if they do, Trump has to get 70% of the white vote. That's an incredible percentage which includes more than half women.
“But it's going to be close.”
"A practical, amazing man"
Mr Matthews also said he was delighted that John Hume and his wife Pat were there to share the occasion with him. “One of the really great heroes of my life is John Hume. I was over here covering the events surrounding the Good Friday Agreement which was a truly remarkable occasion.
"John Hume was out there, in the midst of this incredible historic event, just a regular politician canvassing, going person to person, talking about the importance of tourism, if we could get peace.
"I got a chance to see up close how the Irish politicians worked and to see how a man like John Hume could continue to focus on the everyday things that mattered to the people of Northern Ireland while at the same time brokering such a momentus agreement. Such a practical, amazing man.”