John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

Category: Hillary Clinton

AFTER THE DEBATE….WHERE STANDS THE RACE?

US political partiesMost observers believe Hillary Clinton did better in the recent television debate than Donald Trump.

But not everybody did.

The Republican supporting “Washington Times” newspaper claimed that Trump did better because he focussed on America’s (perceived) global weakness, and  because he “projected authority”, and “appeared every bit the non politician”.

He did appear to me to me to be more spontaneous than Hillary Clinton, who sometimes appeared to have memorised her lines.

But the price of being spontaneous is that he said some things that were barely coherent , and  were sometimes inaccurate.

Given that the United States is a democracy governed by politicians, rather than by bureaucrats, it is worth reflecting on the preferred system of government of anyone who thinks being a “non politician “ is a plus.

In the 1920’s in parts of Europe, “anti politician” rhetoric like this was often a prelude to something much worse.

The Washington Times also argued that Clinton had not been asked the hard questions about her record as Secretary of State in the Obama Administration on

  • Libya,
  • the attempted “re set “ of relations with Russia and
  • the rise of China.

I think the intervention in Libya, although motivated by humanitarian concerns, may have led to even worse humanitarian results than non intervention, but that is hard to prove. Trump may bring that up in later debates.  Mrs Clinton support for the Iraq war ,as a US Senator, is not quite on the same level of responsibility, as Mr Trump’s alleged initial support for it as a private citizen, and she got away with pretending that it was

It is hard to argue that an attempt should not have been made to improve relations with Russia, although these have proved fruitless.

It is not clear what Mrs Clinton’s critics would have wished the Obama Administration to have done about the rise of China.  It did attempt to negotiate a Trans Pacific agreement to draw the rest of Asia closer to the US and away from China, but both Trump and Clinton now oppose that .

Trump’s plan to impose a 45% tariff on Chinese imports to the US would certainly slow China’s rise, but would hurt America too. That issue was not explored in the debate, which was a great pity. Mrs Clinton seemed to be more interested in Mr Trump’s business past, than in his potential future trade policies.

The race will be fought in a few battleground states.

To win the Electoral College, Trump must win all four of the following states

  • Florida (where he is 0.5 points behind in the latest polls),
  • Pennsylvania (where he is 1.8 points behind),
  • North Carolina (where he is 0.8 points ahead), and
  • Ohio (where he is a more comfortable 2 points ahead)

He needs a major win in the debates to achieve this, and so far he has  not achieved that.

THE US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

US political partiesI am in the United States this week, and finding out how people here feel about the Presidential Election.

Although the candidates have been selected through a primary process, in which the voters themselves have had the final word, they now find themselves deeply dissatisfied with the choice they have given themselves.

Everybody is looking to the debate on Monday night, as a signal for the momentum of the campaign.

The debate may enable Hillary Clinton to re establish the lead she won after the Conventions. Or it may confirm the more recent trend, of increasing support for Donald Trump.

One influential person told me he thought more Americans will be watching the debate than have ever watched any event on television before.

In past Presidential Elections, the first debate has also had a disproportionate influence.

Under the Electoral College system, a narrow win in the popular vote can gain all the electors of that state for the winning candidate. The margin of victory does not matter. The winner takes all. Because of the way her support is spread throughout the country, this system gives Hillary Clinton the advantage.

The system means that the candidates will tend to focus their appeal to certain “swing” states. One seasoned observer said to me that the election comes down to just four swing states, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and North Carolina. He said that, to get a majority in the Electoral College, Hillary Clinton just needs to win one of these swing states, whereas Donald Trump must win all four of them.

As a European, I have found the depth of the hostility, in some quarters, to Hillary Clinton surprising. Concrete evidence of specific wrongful acts is absent. But the negative feelings towards her are very strong. Her own campaign advertising against Trump is itself very negative, which feeds this.

In the case of Donald Trump, it is his personality, rather than his policies, that attract attention.

 His policies include

  • Imposing 35% tariff on imports from Mexico
  • Imposing a 45% tariff on imports from China
  • Ending the trade agreement with South Korea
  • Considering US withdrawal from the World Trade Organisation

These trade policies of Donald Trump are a radical departure from the traditional policies of the Republican Party.

They have been analysed by the Petersen Institute for International Economics (PIIE) in Washington DC, who say that , if implemented,  they would ignite a trade war, because retaliatory tariffs would be imposed on US exports.

They say that, if elected, President Trump could implement these policies even without the approval of Congress.

PIEE have calculated which states within the US would lose most from the trade war a victorious President Trump might initiate. Washington State, home of Boeing, tops the list, with a loss of 5% of all jobs. Other big losers would include California, Connecticut, and Illinois.

But two “must win” states for Trump, Pennsylvania and Texas, also stand to lose more jobs than most, if his policies lead to a trade war.

Support for Donald Trump, and for his anti trade policies, derive from an instinct that many Americans have, that globalisation (the free movement of foods, services and money around the world) is reducing their personal job security, and rendering their skills redundant.

 In the 1990’s, when world trade was growing at 5% a year, and everyone’s income was rising, Americans were willing to put up with the disruption and uncertainty brought by the opening up of markets.

 Now, with the emergency caused by the banking crisis receding, and world trade growing at only 2%, more people are willing to take the risk of voting for a radical anti trade candidate, like Donald Trump.

A similar willingness to take big risks, to make a point, was evident in the 52% vote for Brexit in the UK.

Donald Trump’s policy of making the allies of the US pay more for their own defence also strikes a chord with many Americans. While he wants to “make America Great again”, Trump does not believe the US should pay, as much as it does at present, for other countries’ defence. This explains why some East European countries are pressing for the EU to take a bigger role in defence. Ireland, as an EU member, will have to take account of these trends.

Trump, who is spending a lot less on his campaign than Clinton is, is also tapping into a dissatisfaction among voters with the disproportionate role that money and fundraising play in US politics. From the moment he or she is elected, a new member of Congress must spent three times as much time, every day, on the phone, raising money for the next election, as  he or she does on legislative business or in meeting ordinary constituents.

All this explains why this is an angry election, on both sides of the divide.

THE US PRESIDENTIAL CONTEST…….BIG NEWS FROM IOWA?

US political parties
The news that Senator Ted Cruz, the Texas Senator, is beating Donald Trump by 10 percentage points in the latest polls in Iowa, increases the possibility that he will be the eventual Republican nominee.
 
Iowa will host the first contest of the Primary season. It will be followed by New Hampshire where Trump still leads the Republican field by a large margin.
 
Also according to the latest research, Cruz would be 2.5 percentage points behind Hillary Clinton is a General Election contest confined to the  two of them, and probably further behind if Donald Trump were to enter the race as a third party candidate. Trump would be even further behind Clinton in a two candidate race.
 
The  potential Republican Presidential candidate  most likely to beat Hillary Clinton is a head to head is Ben Carson, and that is by just 0.4 percentage points over a range of polls.
 
Senator Rubio of Florida has also been ahead of her in some polls.
 
Jeb Bush would lose to her but by a narrower margin than most of his Republican rivals, but the early primaries are not ones in which he can be expected to do well.
 
Cruz has a poor record of working with fellow Senators and some Republican leaders have suggested they might not even vote for him in November.
 
He gave a speech in the Heritage Foundation recently which sets out his foreign policy approach.
 
He wants to build a wall between the US and Mexico, and raised the spectre of “terrorists swimming across the Rio Grande”. He says that 40% of illegal immigrants in the US are visa overstays.
 
He says the US needs “moral clarity” in it foreign policy. “That starts with defining our enemy” he claims. 
 
This is a mistaken view. Moral clarity, I would argue, starts by defining one’s OWN values rather than by defining ones enemy. But defining one own values is much harder work, than is picking an enemy.
 
He argues for a foreign policy based on pursuit of America’s interests, and against making democracy promotion a central goal. He is thus critical of US support for regime change in Egypt, Libya and Syria. “We do not have a side in the Syrian Civil War” he states frankly.
 
In many ways Ted Cruz is appealing to the same core views as Donald Trump. Both are addressing anxieties among the American middle class that America’s standing in the world, both materially and psychologically, has diminished.  
 
It is something that is important to them, and goes to the heart of their identity. This sense of decline is accentuated by the fact that middle class incomes in the US have stagnated, while the top tier of society has gained.
 
Hillary Clinton would like to address this question, but many of her financial backers would lose if she did so. While she is well ahead in most Democratic contests, she could lose to Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire. Sanders is from the neighbouring state of Vermont. 
 
She also has to cope with the conclusion of the FBI investigation into her use of a private email for State department business.  Disclosure of classified information to outsiders would be a serious matter if it is found to have occurred, inadvertently or otherwise. Evidence of any subsequent attempt to cover up mistakes would also be a big problem.
 
One has the sense, at this stage, that the Presidential Election next November  will not settle things, and the United States will remain deeply divided, with at least  one house of the Congress continuing to resist the President of the day.

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