Sunday 25 September 2016

Trump trainwreck makes Hillary appear like world leader in waiting

Published 19/08/2016 | 02:30

US President Barack Obama hugs Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton after addressing the delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, in July. Photo: Carolyn Kaster
US President Barack Obama hugs Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton after addressing the delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, in July. Photo: Carolyn Kaster

When it comes to pantomime, the Trump presidential campaign is the show that keeps on giving. Some of us have even become addicted to regularly checking the internet for the latest Trumpism.

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But for all the deranged showmanship of the primaries, the fact is he succeeded in defeating rivals and winning the Republican nomination. His essential offering is that of the billionaire outsider attempting to upend the political establishment, with strongly held views against immigration and a generalised ultra-nationalist credo of "making America great again".

This has played excellently to the ultra-conservative, predominantly male Republican voter. But can he win over new voters beyond his narrow base?

For a while, senior Republicans held their noses hoping that, when formally nominated, he would tone down the bombast and pivot to a more acceptable political space in order to win over more votes. They reckoned that Hillary Clinton was weakened by a perception of being an unlikeable establishment insider, damaged by the email controversy and slurs against her character by Trump, such as "crooked Hillary".

She had to battle hard against Sanders to win the nomination. Ironically, charges against her from the Sanders camp probably did more damage than anything Trump could throw at her. However, the issues thrashed out among Democrats in the primaries, which will have to be included in her policy platform, have improved her candidacy. The tough primaries made her stronger.

By contrast, since winning the nomination, Trump has begun to slide in the polls due solely to his own bizarre claims and accusations.

Republican elders are now herding in panic to disown the increasingly reckless Trump as he veers from claiming that President Obama was the "founder" of Isil to musing that the Second Amendment gun rights people might stop Clinton - a repost widely perceived as an incitement to violence against her. His disrespect of the Muslim parents of a slain war hero did colossal damage.

Now that his campaign is faltering, with Clinton showing a lead of seven points in the last week, Trump has appointed new campaign managers to stem the flow. He has recently resorted to petulant claims of media bias and even electoral fraud. Suggesting that his opponents would cheat to defeat him and questioning in advance the legitimacy of the election outcome is dangerous, even by Trump standards, and is a new low.

The irony is that Clinton is beginning to look attractive to establishment Republicans, with some raising money for her campaign as they flee in horror from Trump. As columnist Maureen Dowd remarked in the 'New York Times': "The erstwhile Goldwater Girl and Goldman Sachs busker can be counted on to do the normal political things, not the abnormal, haywire things … Hillary will keep the establishment safe."

Many Republicans have worked with her in the Senate and would find her style of politics preferable to the runaway train that is their own candidate. Clinton has close connections with Wall Street and big business, something for which she has been pilloried by Democrats. She is seen as more hawkish on foreign policy than Obama, notably voting for the Iraq war.

I am ploughing through the Clinton biography 'Hard Choices', a 600-page tome which she wrote following her term as Secretary of State in the Obama administration. It is not an easy read, but if nothing else it shows how qualified Clinton is to be the president. It tracks the range of foreign policy challenges which beset the US in that period and the trends which continue to define our world today - including global terrorism, upheaval in the Middle East, the Arab Spring, climate change and financial crises.

Having been trounced by Obama in the primaries, she was finally persuaded by him to join his "team of rivals" as America's 67th Secretary of State.

It was a brilliant call by the president, and she was impressive in the State Department, competently managing both policy and administrative aspects of the huge Foreign Service and USAid. From her years of public service as First Lady and Senator, she already had connections with foreign governments and with influential politicians across the political divide in Capitol Hill.

Her first act as Secretary of State was to recalibrate the US relationship with Asia - and in particular with China. She visited 112 countries during her time in the State Department, reorienting foreign policy around what she called "smart power". She described this as "integrating the traditional tools of foreign policy, diplomacy, development assistance and military force, while tapping the energy and ideas of the private sector and empowering citizens - especially the activists, organisers and problem solvers we call civil society - to meet their own challenges and shape their own futures.".

She had to make hard political calls, many of which come with "imperfect information and conflicting imperatives".

One of those was the operation to send navy SEALs "into a moonless Pakistani night" to capture Osama Bin Laden, and she sat with Obama, watching the drama unfold from the operations room in the White House.

The bottom line is that she is a proper politician whose life has been devoted to public service. She knows the territory, the pitfalls, the language and the losses. She is no plaster saint, but it's hard to think of another person more qualified to serve as president. The breadth of her competence and experience is in stark contrast to her opponent's weak grasp of international affairs.

Clinton is ahead, but there is no knowing how this will go. These are curious times. That Trump has come this far is indicative of a worrying malaise in US society.

In contrast with Trump's credo of American decline, Clinton counters the US is the "indispensable nation". But she concedes that "our leadership is not a birthright - it must be earned by every generation". Wise words from a world leader in waiting.

Irish Independent

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