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Prognostications about the US elections

28.02/2020 

PROF. LAL MONTHLY „BUSINESS STANDARD“ COLUMN 

Published with the kind permission of the author

There could be two out-of-the-box announcements ahead of the election to outline the Republican policy in Asia


For the last month I have been in Los Angeles, the capital of the “Remove Trump” movement. During this time the Democrats, against the previous advice of the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, impeached Donald Trump who as expected was acquitted by the Senate. This was followed by an excellent unifying State of the Union address by the President, which ended with the unprecedented petulant tearing up of his speech by House Speaker Pelosi. The action then turned to defeating the President in the forth coming 2020 election. But this has left the Democrats in a quandary.

As the first three primaries have shown, the socialist Democrat Senator Bernie Sanders is in the lead with 27 percent support of Democratic primary voters, and three of the four moderates contesting clustered around a 15 per cent vote share.This is reminiscent of the 2016 Republican contest, where the“outsider” had a strong and steady base among Hilary Clinton’s “deplorables” but none of the other establishment contestants could either unite or succeed in eliminating each other to provide a single establishment figure to take on Mr Trump until it was too late (Sabrina Siddiquiand Eliza Collins,: “Bernie Sander’s Rise Sparks comparisonsto 2016 GOP Race”, The Wall Street Journal,February 20.)

Now enter the former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, who only starts the primary season on March 3 in the delegate-rich multi-state primary. Meanwhile, since announcing his candidacy he has spent $400 million of his own enormous private fortune of $54 billion to, in effect, buy the Democratic elite (see Holman W. Jenkins Jr., WSJ February 15). His disastrous performance in the recent debate of Democrat presidential hopefuls in Nevada also saw him turn back on offering a true alternative to Mr Sanders’ socialism and the party’s leftward push. “He apologized for his city’s successful stop-and-frisk policy. He unveiled an eye-popping plan to raise taxes by $5 trillion” on corporations and rich people, and reversed himself on financial regulation joining Representative AOC in promising to impose a 0.1 percent financial transaction tax and crack down on Wallstreet. He is now no longer an alternative to the Democrat “progressives” but merely an echo. (See Kimberly Strassel: “Bloomberg says Me Too to Leftism”,WSJ, February 20).

The super primary results on March 3 should make things clearer. But, with neither Senator Sanders nor Mr Bloomberg likely to fold, the Democratic primaries will end up in a brokered convention,where the establishment will likely try and nominate Mr Bloomberg as the “moderate”nominee even if Senator Sandershas the most but not a majority of the delegates.This will exacerbate the current rift in the party between the progressives and moderates to President Trump’s advantage.

So what are Mr Trump’s reelection prospects? AWSJ/NBC poll shows Mr Sanders winning a hypothetical race with Mr Trump. But similar 2016 polls, which Republicans feared would cost them the White Houseand Congress, proved wrong.

No doubt Mr Trump will be running on his record. But his personality and seemingly uncouth behaviour will also be an issue with many voters.To understand this and Mr Trump’s presidency to date, the best guide is provided by the classicist and war historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, Victor Davis Hanson in his book The Casefor Trump (basic Books, 2019)

Hanson argues (Chapter 11) that to understand Mr Trump and his presidency, it is best to compare him with the tragic heroes from Homer’s Illiad and Sophocles’s plays (eg. Ajax, Antigone, Oedipus Rex, Philoctetes} and modern Western films (eg Shane).These heroes are not intrinsically noble or likeable. But, their tragic uncivilised flaws can at times be of service to the community. “Trump’s cunning and mercurialness— honed in Manhattan real estate, global salesmanship, realty TV, and wheeler-dealer investments—may have earned him ostracism from polite Washington society. But these talents can also for a time be suited for dealing with many of the outlaws ofthe global frontier, such as the Iranian theocracy or North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. And those outlaws are many and they are formidable”. (p.319)

But there is also a method in Mr Trump’s ostensible madness. As Andy Kessler (“President Donald J. MacGuffin” WSJ, February 10) reminds us “On taking office, Mr Trump proceeded to hire smart people and createa massive diversion (tweets, border walls, tariffs) as as mokescreen to let them implement an agenda of tax cuts, deregulation and originalist judges. Thosere forms have left the market to do its magic and got the economy grooving like its 1999. The daily Trump hurricane makes the media focus on the all-powerful wizard while ignoring the policy makers behind the curtain.” These tweets enrage the media without their understanding and dealing with Mr Trump’s substantive agenda.

As the contest progresses, there will be well known differences on domestic policy. Given the socialist turn by even the “moderate” Democrat contenders, I suspect that Mr Trump will be able to slice off only a small proportion of the politically incorrect element of the Democratic nominees base to win the election.

It is on foreign policy that the policies of the two likely Democrat finalists — Mr Sanders and Mr Bloomberg — could differ. As the establishment progressive Sanders like most Democrats is a hawk on China (witness Speaker Pelosi’s recent Munich speech) he would not differ from President Trump on China except as an idealist he would like more virtue-signalling on Xinjiang. By contrast, Bloomberg is a Chinadove, given the Chinese interests of his company.

This suggests two possible out-of-the-box policy initiatives in north-east Asia President Trump could take in the months before the election. The first is to announce the opening of a US embassy in Taipei. China would object saying it would go against the One-China policy agreed with Nixon and Kissinger. But on assuming office, Mr Trump took a call from the President of Taiwan to which China objected citing the One-China policy, and President Trump reported lyreplied “What One-China policy?” It is time to end it, at least symbolically.

The second is more speculative. There is one observation most experts on North Korean-Chinese relations make: The deep-seated Korean animosity for the Chinese and their anger as having to depend on them in a hostile world. Witnessing the sheer childlike joyshown by the young Kim Jong-un wandering around the market in Singapore during his summit with Mr Trump, a thought struck me: Could a deal be done with Kim with the offer of ending the sanctions and massive private US investment creating a north Korean capitalist paradise in exchange for changing the direction of his nuclear missiles from Los Angeles to Beijing!

Source: Business Standard