Now that Trump has officially become the Republican nominee for president, it’s time to take stock of what his character and proposed agenda would mean for the U.S. and the world.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves as he leaves the stage during the Republican National Convention, July 18, 2016, in Cleveland. Photo: AP
The Republican Party convention in Cleveland has just concluded its second day and, so far, contrary to numerous predictions, it has proceeded without any major disruptions. The majority of the party elites have accepted the inevitable – Donald Trump will be the party's presidential candidate. The attempts by a group of conservative delegates, primarily those supporting Texas Senator Ted Cruz, to change the party rules and either prevent Trump's nomination or at least push some of their agenda into the Party platform have failed. This reluctant acceptance of Trump's victory was summarized by House Speaker and Convention Chair Paul Ryan, who said, “democracy is a series of choices.”
Even those factors that have produced minor scandals, such as the parallels between Melania Trump's convention speech and a similar speech given eight years ago by Michelle Obama, and the spectacular absence from the convention of a number of party heavyweights including the two former presidents Bush and former Party presidential nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney, only serve to emphasize Trump's central message: I am not part of the traditional political elite; I am an outsider and political novice who won't play by the rules, but will bring real change.
The convention speech given by ardent Trump supporter Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions also reinforced this message: "We have gotten off course, and the American people know it," Sessions said, emphasizing that crime is rising, terrorist attacks are proliferating, Congress is deadlocked, and therefore an outsider like Trump is the only answer. In his speech Tuesday, Trump’s son, Donald Jr., said, “We've lost the confidence in our leaders and the faith in our institutions…We're still Americans. We're still one country and we're going to get it all back.”
The convention schedule itself was developed to emphasize Trump's image as an unconventional game-changer. Unlike other presumptive nominees, who refrained from appearing at the convention until their actual nomination, Trump was present on the first day. Active speaking roles were taken not by party leaders, but by members of Trump's family and celebrities.
While Trump’s preferences dominated those of party leaders for much of the convention scheduling, some steps have been taken to bolster his image among conservatives and minorities. Speakers outside of prime time have included a number of women and members of some other highly important electoral groups. Trump’s selection of Indiana Governor Mike Pence, a social conservative and a party loyalist, as his vice president, serves those same goals. While the logic behind Pence’s selection is clear, he may not be the best running mate for Trump. Pence’s relatively stiff and low-key style differs dramatically from Trump’s flamboyant showmanship, and this could hinder his ability to deliver Trump’s message.
Looking ahead to the general election
With the convention soon to be behind him, Trump can start focusing on the general election and preparing for the presidential debates, which should be more entertaining than usual this year. It is hard to imagine two candidates more different both in style and in substance. Trump’s off-the-cuff rhetorical flourishes stand in stark contrast to the habits of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who is very careful with the details of what she says. Clinton, who constantly emphasizes her political experience and connections, is also stiff and uncharismatic — in stark contrast to Trump, a political novice with no real political experience but has excellent public relations skills. For many, Clinton is associated with the power of Wall Street and political corruption, and Trump, with a break from “politics as usual.”
If this election season has taught us one thing, it is that pollsters are often wrong and the pendulum of public opinion can move sharply at any moment. Trump’s deep unpopularity — thanks in part to his outrageous statements — makes it completely possible that a significant share of those polled who are actually considering voting for him, would lie because they consider it politically dangerous to express their views on some of his political positions. With an electorate sharply divided electorate on the racial, ethnic, and religious lines — with Trump supported by the traditional white middle class, especially its male half, and Hillary relying on a coalition of minorities (African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, women and the LGBT community) — the vote could further polarize America, with serious consequences for global stability.
What can Americans, and the rest of the global community, expect from a President Clinton or a President Trump? There is no simple answer to this question, especially considering the fact that, if one ignores the candidates’ loud rhetoric, both of them are fairly centrist.
Although it is not yet known how much Clinton will need to move to the left to accommodate supporters of her primary opponent, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, it is fairly clear that on domestic policy, she will continue much of the Obama agenda. It is obvious that she will continue Obama’s reforms of the health care system; she will also likely have to incorporate some of Sanders’s ideas in the areas of guaranteed minimum pay and the expansion of state sponsored social, educational, and health care benefits. Most probably, Clinton will attempt to push through some gun control measures. She will also try to formulate and implement her immigration policy concept — probably, the most controversial and politically explosive aspect of American politics right now. She will inevitably have to pay back various minority and special interests groups by expanding their privileges and making public statements in support of their rights.
In the foreign policy arena, despite vast experience, Clinton has shown amazingly poor judgment, a stubborn adherence to the Cold War stereotypes and strong hawkish tendencies. On most issues, including policy towards Russia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Central America, Clinton stays way to the right of Trump and many moderate Republicans. A victory for Clinton will probably mean a significant worsening of U.S.-Russian relations.
With regard to Trump, the main factors defining his policy at present are his absence of a political track record, unpredictability and spontaneity. This is not necessarily bad. Trump might introduce measures welcomed by the white majority but hated by various minority groups — such as limiting the scale of the Affirmative Action and other programs aimed at improving conditions for minorities. Regardless of Trump’s latest statements, he will probably try to retain (with some modifications) Obama’s health care system. Trump might also try to push through some tax reform. Trump’s core agenda will certainly involve immigration questions, particularly those related to Latinos and Muslims. Closely related to the items on his immigration agenda are his hawkish proposals in the area of homeland security, which might lead to the introduction of limitations on personal rights and freedoms. Other questionable aspects of his platform involve his preference for economic isolationism, particularly related to trade policy towards China. If any of the plans Trump has promoted on the campaign trail are actually introduced, they are likely to significantly worsen U.S. relations with the regions involved and create serious tensions with particular communities within the country.
However, Trump’s statements in regard to many foreign policy issues show his unexpectedly weighted and clear judgment, in contrast to Clinton’s aggressive and dogmatic views. If any of his views on U.S. relations with Russia, NATO, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East lead to proposals that are implemented, they could significantly benefit both the United States and the international community. In general, a President Trump, not burdened by Cold War stereotypes, could bring positive change.
Still, Trump’s lack of a political track record and his erratic character make it very hard to predict the outlines and dynamics of his policies. A lot will depend on his team, the people that surround him and those he chooses for advisors. But for now, this for the most part also remains a gray area.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.