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Category Archives: 2016 Election

Trump’s Economic Diplomacy – A Pundit’s view

As President elect Donald Trump and incumbent President Obama work out details of a smooth transition, Americans and the world at large will keenly follow how the incoming administration takes shape and influences their lives.

Many chaltrump_obamalenges await the new administration. Hot button issues on the domestic front will undoubtedly dominate Trump’s attention. As he assembles a top talent team, Trump has promised economic revival as his top priority with immediate focus on Tax reforms, Infrastructure, Healthcare and Immigration. If he can pull this off, it will be unprecedented and generate millions of jobs for middle America.

As part of this quest, the new administration will certainly reassess US participation in economic and trade agreements. It will seek to renegotiate or redraw these agreements to promote American jobs. Most likely, the Transpacific Trade Partnership (TPP) will be replaced by a new trade agreement.

The Trump administration’s heavy economic agenda will likely be reflected in its foreign policy initiatives also. Economic Diplomacy will dominate while erstwhile interventionist doctrine may take a back seat, if not abandoned altogether. This could mean that US may scale down its involvement from conflict zones and other problematic areas of the world. This new diplomatic doctrine will put the spotlight on four areas – Europe, Russia, China and India.

Relationship with Europe will require a lot of sustained and energetic work. It is no secret that many European leaders have been skeptical of Trump. Their reactions to Trump’s election have ranged from nervous to outright undiplomatic. For example, the French ambassador to US raised eyebrows with his ‘undiplomatic tweets’ that he is reported to have subsequently deleted. German Chancellor Merkel’s response to Trump election was terse and calibrated. These reactions have publicly exposed the underlying discomfort among European allies.

Traditionally, the US has almost had a mystical influence on Europe. Despite differences, mostly bilateral, Europe identified itself with the US as an extension of itself. At least till Trump came on the scene. Trump had been critical of Germany’s intake of Syrian refugees during his campaign. He had also wanted the allies to contribute their fair share for the maintenance of NATO. Trump’s bluntness and his trademark lack of political correctness has soured relations.

It must be mentioned here that much of this disquiet among leaders about Trump has spawned from the fact that they tend to see and read Trump literally – word for word. They see his political incorrectness, but miss the larger message, often relying on an image portrayed by the media to understand him. But the media too, as seen in the election cycle, is guilty of misreading and missing Trump larger message. The sooner Europe gets past this mindset, the sooner will Trump reach out to them.

But the fact is that an economically weakened Europe needs the US for recovery. In return the US too needs Europe’s support in establishing Western might across the globe. This mutual dependence and a long history of partnership will endure and continue to sustain the relationship, albeit with creases that can be ironed out. But that should not dismiss the angst in Europe as the incoming administration works with individual European allies and the EU. However, with his native shrewdness and ability to strike deals, it may not be long before Trump and the allies are back to business as usual.

The North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) has been predicated on a communist threat from Soviet Union. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many strategic analyst have rightly questioned the need for NATO. Trump may be right in questioning the huge cost of maintaining the alliance, given that there are more pressing economic issues at home. But any rethinking on NATO only opens a host of other issues that may not be resolved easily or quickly. That may tie down Trump’s hands on any decision on NATO.

Trump will take a fresh look at relations with Russia. During his campaign, he had mentioned that he was open to improving relations with Putin. There is confluence of interest, at least in eliminating ISIS from Syria. But if Trump reaches out to Russian and succeeds in building new bridges with Putin, there may be early resolution to conflict in Syria. This may also impact east Europe and reduce tensions there. This will be important from EU’s perspective. Any reduction in tension with Russia will also spur trade and that is something an economically bruised Europe is looking forward to. But the cold war era warriors and policy wonks in Washington may not easily come around to reaching an understanding with Russia and hence the problem is likely to fester.

US relations with China may not see any significant change. Even though Trump has talked about China stealing American jobs, no precipitate action may be forthcoming. In fact, Trump’s deal making skills will be helpful in negotiating better trade deals with China. How far he can bring backs jobs from China to USA will be moot question. The US is a high cost center and manufacturing will be expensive, even if tax concessions are offered. On the other hand, China will maintain its currency advantage and enjoy lower costs of production. This will be a real challenge for the Trump administration.

India offers a lot of opportunities for the new administration. Indian Prime Minister has already reached out to Trump and congratulated him. President elect Trump has openly expressed his admiration for Modi. But beyond diplomatic niceties, India has a lot of work to do to step up the relationship with the US. India’s initiative to boost manufacturing under ‘make in India’ initiative and Trump’s focus to bring back jobs to the US may appear to be at loggerheads. But the reality is that there is significant room to maneuver a mutually win-win trade deal. For instance, while India can buy US arms, frigates, aircrafts etc., it can also be a huge market for green technologies – solar energy, digital smart city technologies, desalination technologies, waste disposal industries just to name a few.

Also huge opportunities lie in deepening a regional strategic cooperation that is already in its infancy. For example, Trump and Modi could inject new vigor to the ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy that could have long term impact for US as well as regional stability in Asia.

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Clinton Versus Trump Debate – No Clear Winner

The first 2016 Presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was held on Monday, September 26th at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY. The debate, organized by the commission on presidential debate, a non-partisan non-profit body, had the sports fraternity worried as the Monday night football trump_clinton2viewership took a nosedive as Americans flipped channels to watch it. An estimated 81 million viewers were glued to their television sets making it the most watched debate ever. The debate had also set the social media on fire. With over ten million tweets, it was the most tweeted debate ever. America and many elsewhere in the world were transfixed watching Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spar at their first debate.

The cable TV networks had spent the entire week speculating and ratcheting up the excitement about the debate. They discussed at length on how the candidates should prepare, what questions to expect and what to wear and so on. This drew sharp comments from some politicians. The indefatigable Bernie Sanders, the Senator from Vermont and failed Democratic candidate, blasted the media and its coverage leading to the debate. He wanted the media to focus on the views of the candidates on burning issues – economy, jobs, living wage, healthcare, college tuition etc. rather than their personal styles and attires.

At the debate, the candidates were on their Sunday best – all dressed up and at their behavioral best and displaying dignified courtesies to each other. Many were indeed impressed to see a pleasant side of Trump.

The moderator – Lester Holt of NBC News – drew attention for different reasons. Holt, as a moderator, was at best, tepid. There was a robot-like quality about him– devoid of enthusiasm and passion in his questions and interventions. Like a strict disciplinarian, he admonished the audience for cheering and clapping but said nothing when they cheered Clinton.

Holt had six follow up questions for Trump, but none for Clinton. He tried to pin him down on the birther issue, but conveniently forgot to ask Clinton about propriety of using private email server or hacking of DNC emails that exposed racism.  Many Trump supporters tweeted later that the moderator deftly steered the debate away from issues, reinforcing an anti-Trump bias. It should be pointed out that the Trump campaign had raised doubts about his neutrality even before the debate.

Back at the debate, Trump had a lot of surprises up his sleeve. His responses were measured and controlled. Judging by the post-debate discussions, the pundits were indeed disappointed that they did not see the real maverick Trump. He seemed to be in full control in early part of the debate when the debate was on trade and Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) in particular. Clearly Clinton was cornered for calling it the “gold standard” and later opposing it. However, she took control in the later half by attacking Trump on his comments on women.

The pre debate polls have given no easy pointer as to who the new President would be. Trump led in Colorado, Nevada and Florida – all key states. He has further consolidated his position in Ohio, a state which Hillary has not visited for a long time. While Trump leads in rural Maine, Clinton holds the rest of Maine. This even fight also played out in many other states. Clinton is way ahead in California, Oregon, and Washington where the lead is substantial. But the respective leads in individual states did not help either of them in the national tally where they are locked even.

The debate itself may not provide any significant bounce for either candidate. While the pundits have had a field day dissecting the performance, they too may not be able to sway the voter’s opinion one way or the other in this rather difficult race. Media analysts who have favored Clinton all along thought that her performance was the best and that she won the debate. But Republican supporters on the other hand were convinced Trump’s performance in the first half cornered Clinton. They were all in admiration for the restraint and statesman-like conduct of Trump. Even many Clinton admirers seem to be in agreement. The next debate may see the return of the true Trump.

But did Clinton win the debate? Clinton’s supporters think she won. But the problem is even if she had won the debate, this may not win her new supporters who will vote for her. The reason is her problems – email scandal, Clinton Foundation, hacked DNC email and other scandals – have weighed her down. Further her personal health issues will continue to dog her in the coming days. Most important, there is no indication that her debate performance has induced a change of heart in Sanders supporters who remain a considerable voting bloc.

Did Trump win the debate then? Most cable television networks don’t seem to think so. But some have pointed out that the Trump we saw at the debate was someone who was clearly exercising self-restraint and reluctant to go after Clinton. Americans have admired this change in him. But the next debate promises to be a no holds barred debate where Trump’s plain speak and absence of political correctness will be evident. This will again play to his supporters and may even influence the fence sitters who do not want to support Clinton.

The debate outcome by itself is a non-issue. Recall how Obama did not do well against Mitt Romney in the debate, but bounced back quickly and the rest is history. It would be political naiveté to rule out Trump at this stage. In fact, the core issues that he stands for – immigration, unemployment and security – continue to resonate very well with most Americans and will be a huge positive for him. Clinton on the other hand continues to be perceived as ‘not trustworthy’ and her truck load of troubles will continue to haunt her.

The big question however is how will the election go. Given that the pre-debate polls have shown that both are almost evenly placed – except that Trump has caught up with Clinton – the answer may be with undecided voters. Supporters of Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein and Johnson may hold the key and may tip the balance in favor of Trump. However, even at this late stage – with just forty days to go for the big day – it may be too early expect this as the contestants have more wooing to do. Clinton and Trump may have, at best, tied at the first debate. But the real winners were the political pundits and armchair experts on cable networks who had a hell of a day and laughed their way to the banks. The 2016 US Presidential election promises to be another close election.

 

Hillary’s Health – Hobson’s Choice for the Democrats

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Hillary Clinton fell ill during a 9/11 commemoration ceremony in New York. Cable TV networks repeatedly showed Clinton being helped by aides to her vehicle. It appeared that she was unable to stand by herself and needed assistance. Law enforcement officers on the scene later told news media that she had ‘fainted” while her campaign said she had a bout of pneumonia. A few days earlier, Clinton’s continuous coughing had made headlines. A few weeks ago a video purportedly showing Clinton falling and being supported by aides while climbing the steps of a building she was entering went viral on social media.

These are some of the known ‘health incidents’ that have been making the rounds on the internet. On Monday, Clinton appeared on CNN and clarified that she had felt ‘dizzy’ and had not fainted. She admitted to ignoring doctors advise to rest. In what seemed to be a desperate firefight, her campaign has said that they should have handled the Sunday episode better and proactively shared her health status. But that seemed like a well thought out afterthought.

There has been lot of questions on Clinton’s health for quite some time now. Americans in general expect the candidates to be in good health so he or she can provide a stable administration after the elections. Hence they expect lot more information than Clinton campaign has shared or is willing to share. This week’s episode has been a public relations disaster for the campaign and has only heightened Americans concern.

In fact, it has given rise to host of rumors on social media and ratcheting up distrust. Many medical professionals have offered their diagnosis of Clinton’s health condition that is far more serious. It is worth noting that doctors unconnected with the Clintons seem to think that she is having a serious neurological or heart related problems and not just pneumonia.

Trump’s campaign, on the other hand, had long called for Clinton’s health records to be published. They claim that Clinton does not have the stamina and strength to be Commander in chief. Clinton has not yet published her medical records. Trump for his part has published a four-para glowing report card on his health. Many doctor have dismissed this since it does not provide enough details for an independent view. Further, it is not from a neutral third party doctor. But the US privacy laws only complicate sharing of medical records and both candidates have taken refuge behind it.

Clinton’s tribulations from this past week’s medical episode raises three important issues. Firstly, it has turned the heat on both the campaigns by raising the bar for transparency. Many Americans do not perceive the Democrats as transparent and cite the hacked DNC emails published by Wikileaks – that revealed lot of behind the scene happenings at the party headquarters – to support their point of view. It has definitely put the Clinton campaign at a disadvantage.

It is time both candidates released detailed medical data that is seen as serious enough for Americans to be satisfied that the candidates are in good health.

Secondly it has her party, allies and support ecosystem worried. From the friendly media to campaign contributors, particularly the super PACS, all are nervous about how this will play out. A former DNC Chairman Don Fowler, has called on the Democrats for a ‘Clinton contingency plan’ or in plain speak a plan B. Influential political analyst Cokie Roberts of the National Public Radio (NPR) has observed that per her sources the Democrats are already considering another candidate.

Thirdly, and most importantly, it has handed a big advantage to Donald Trump. Trump had been trailing Clinton in many states in recent polls. He had failed to take advantage of the series of scandals and Clinton’s unsavory remarks about his supporters. The health episode has come as a godsend to Trump who was desperately looking to reboot his campaign. His response to Clinton’s health episode has been dignified and mature and has drawn positive response from Americans across party lines.

As expected, there is intense speculation on who will replace Clinton in the event she decides to drop out. It must be noted here however, that unless Clinton voluntarily decides to drop out, the party cannot choose a replacement candidate.

Under party rules, “the DNC has the power to fill vacancies in the nominations for the office of the president and vice president” when the national convention is not in session”. The DNC chair – currently Donna Brazile, a close Clinton ally – could call a special meeting, and fill the vacancy by a majority vote of those present. But all this is speculation and an unlikely scenario.

While potentially any Democrat can be the new choice, three potential candidates who can be serious contenders come to mind – Tim Kaine, her running mate, Bernie Sanders and the Vice President Jo Biden. Unfortunately, all three may not find favor with the DNC Chairperson Donna Brazile, even if a situation arises.

My bet is that Bernie Sanders may be reluctant to step in and rescue the party, now that the world knows, thanks to Julian Assange, how he was unfairly treated by the DNC. They probably have to find a dark horse candidate.  Even if they manage to get a candidate, it will be a very short window for the new candidate(s) to convince Americans to vote for them. The odds may not favor the Democrats.

The main stream media in the US has gone out of the way to support Clinton and forgotten its watchdog role. They have been taking the campaign’s word at face value and shown a reluctance to dig deeper into Clinton’s health issues. A major news portal sometime back published a story on Clinton’s health, only to delete it a few hours later for unspecified reasons. Also, CNN abruptly ended Dr. Drew Pinsky’s show fueling a social media buzz that he was allegedly axed because he had expressed deep concerns on Clinton’s health couple of weeks ago. The danger here is that if Clinton’s condition worsens, as many Americans think it will, the media will have egg on its face.

Whichever way you slice and dice it, it seems a disaster for the Democratic Party. It is too late in the game to change the nominee. Even if Clinton bounces back and continues with her campaign after a short recess, it has lost valuable time momentum. It will lack vigor and be exposed to potential attrition of her support base.

Clinton’s health issues – whether it is pneumonia or something far more serious –  has clearly been hidden from Americans for too long. Americans must know the truth if she is fit to lead them over the next four years. Any uncertainty or lack of transparency for whatever reason, will only erode her chances. The Democratic Party really face a Hobson’s choice. Their nervousness is understandable.

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2016 in 2016 Election, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton

 

L’affiare Khizr Khan

The Clinton campaign takes the cake for creative and often ingenious campaign strategies as well as public relations management. The Khizr Khan episode is one such creative genius that the strategists crafted to influence voters decisively in favor of Clinton. Only this time the strategy backfired. khizr

Khizr Khan is the father of Humayun Mauzzam Khan, the 27-year-old US Army Captain and Purple Heart awardee who was killed while deployed in Iraq in 2004. In a dream moment for the Clinton campaign, Khizr Khan pulled out a copy of the US constitution from his breast pocket and taunted Donald Trump to read it – an act that mesmerized viewers into a speechless awe. It will probably be remembered in the annals of election conventions in the US for a long time to come –  for multiple reasons.

As if on a cue, the cable networks, radio and print media went berserk and gushed at the powerful impact Khizr had created. Clinton’s campaign had pulled off a major coup and seemed to have almost stalled Trump’s campaign on its tracks.

If Team Clinton thought it had executed a coup de main, the revelations on Khizr Khan that followed held nasty surprise. It boomeranged and the campaign appeared to nosedive. Clinton quickly lost an 8 percentage point lead over Trump after the convention, to just a 3-point lead per the much respected Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll published on Friday, August 5th 2016. Surprisingly, at this late stage in the campaign cycle, Clinton has failed to establish a clear lead over Trump.

That bore testimony of a highly and evenly polarized electorate. But as the media uncovered more about Khizr Khan’s background, the unease amongst many Americans only grew and escalated the war of words between the two campaigns.

First, Khizr Khan’s past intellectual leanings were discomforting. His published writings showed his strong support for Islamic Law or Sharia, an anathema for Americans. Through his writings, he claimed the supremacy of Sharia and asserted that it was above the constitution or the law of the land since it was God given.

Secondly Khizr Khan seemed to have been inspired by Said Ramadan of the Muslim Brotherhood fame. Many are familiar with the violent past of the brotherhood. There have been calls by the US Congress to designate it as a terrorist organization. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates too have made similar demands. Khizr’s purported connections to the Muslim Brotherhood has not helped Clinton in anyway.

Thirdly, Khizr seemed to have connections to religious extremist elements in Pakistan, specifically to Allah K Brohi. Brohi, who was a former Minister and advisor to Gen Zia ul Haq, the former dictator of Pakistan, had helped create hundreds of madrassas and restore Sharia punishments in that country.

Fourthly, in a subsequent interview with a Pakistani TV network Khan’s praise for the sacrifices of the Pakistani soldiers – who have often been at loggerheads with US forces in Afghanistan- has only reinforced this hardline image of Khan as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Lastly, came the exposé in some sections of the media that the Clinton campaign had transferred $375,000 – no small amount – to Khan in early August, although the quid pro quo was not a surprise.

The Khan episode had its share of critical and adverse consequences, albeit unintended. Many Americans, particularly veterans, have been angered that the supreme sacrifice of a Purple Heart soldier was being politicized and have protested it.

Khan, in the meantime, had taken full advantage of his new found but short-lived popularity on prime time television. He appeared in almost every major cable network channel to denounce Trump. But sensing the unease his writings on Sharia had generated among Americans, he quickly made a ‘U’ turn. In the AC 360 show on CNN when asked about his writings on Sharia he said there was ‘no such thing as Sharia’.

Khan went on further to say that the Sharia was nothing but a hodge-podge of British, French and Portuguese laws and could never be implemented in the US. His about turn was complete. But the damage had already been done and there was no winning back the confidence of many Americans – particularly the baby-boomers and large sections of the veterans.

Notwithstanding his denials, Khan’s resume had all the career highlights of a Muslim with strong and yet secret ties to radical Islam. In fact, his denials had only accentuated the problem for Clinton. It is true that none of the intelligence agencies have publicly come out with a possible connection between Khan and the brotherhood or radical Islam. But the Trump campaign has exploited this to the full. Khizr Khan has since refused to meet with the television networks or the media.

The ground reality is that the campaigns face a nervous and a highly polarized America. This nervousness has spawned irrational fears all over. The Clinton campaign is obviously nervous about its inability to prevail over Trump as elections get closer. Hence we are witness to a serving President – a first ever – who is actively on the campaign circuit. While many may see this as inappropriate and a minor breach of ‘Presidential’ conduct at best, it has largely been ignored it in the distractions of a vituperative drama of a highly spirited election.

The Trump campaign on the other hand has been unable to fully exploit Clinton’s gaffes and missteps to its advantage. Americans have been equally appalled by some of his blunt and uninformed remarks – ranging from nukes to NATO.

The Khizr Khan fiasco has some important lessons for both the campaigns. Europe, smarting under repeated terror attacks from radical Islam, has created a society that is ultra-allergic and ultra-sensitive to anything Islam.

Europeans in general and France in particular have been known for the liberal traditions and until recently, had preached to the world the virtues of immigrants – specially Muslims immigrant in creating a diverse society. For decades they have counseled third world countries like India and others about the wisdom and the need to absorb and coexist with Muslim immigrants.

But almost overnight, this allergen of Islamic terror, has drained Europe of any pretense to this liberal embrace of immigrants, especially Muslims. It has resulted in multiple optics –“Brexit”, “Nationalism” and rise of “Right wing” in Germany etc. But the transformation has been quick and complete and there will be no going back. Europe ain’t liberal anymore and the Americans aren’t far behind.

The US has joined the party late and is now fermenting. Clinton’s cynical deploy of Khizr Khan to gain votes oblivious of this fermenting undercurrent has backfired on her and will continue to hurt.  A nervous America can be unpredictable and the even polarization will only make the race to the White House all the more difficult.

 

Hillary Clinton faces an uphill battle

The 2016 US Presidential election moved to the next phase this month with two conventions that riveted the nation’s attention. The first was the Republican convention in Cleveland, Ohio, where Donald Trump, as expected, won the nomination as the GOP candidate for President.Clinton_Trump1

The Republican convention was a model in party disunity. Past Presidents George W Bush and George H Bush were no shows. Prominent Republicans like Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Ohio Governor John Kasich were some of the notables who stayed away. Not that it mattered much in real terms since many saw them as spent bullets. But that was not all. In a public show of defiance Ted Cruz, in his address, appealed to delegates for conscience vote and refused to endorse Trump.

On the other hand, the Democratic National Convention was held in the huge Wells Fargo Center in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, where Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination.

The acceptance speeches of the two nominees was indeed instructive. Americans, for all their disdain for politics, were glued to their televisions sets when the two presidential nominees spoke on the last day of their respective conventions. Data published by Nielsen Media Research showed that while almost 28 million viewed Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech, Trump had over 32 million viewers.

The 2016 US Presidential election looks to be all set to go down as one of the very bitterly contested elections. It has clearly facilitated the precipitation of the fundamental differences between the two contestants to the world’s most powerful office. In a subtle, yet powerful narrative, it symbolized the depth of diversity of views and opinions in a great and vibrant democracy. If Clinton came across as a connoisseur in politics, Trump’s acceptance speech had the indelible imprints of a dilettante who spoke from his heart. Clinton’s cultivated grace contrasted Trump’s extempore and often apparent deficient social mores.

Clinton’s speech had all the éclat and sophistication of a Beltway veteran who knew what to say and how to say it. Her attacks on Trump were direct and yet devoid of the crassness that only comes with a lifetime in politics. She was the epitome of political correctness – not missing any voter segment – African American, Latinos, Asian Americans, Muslim Americans and what have you. She also made sure she sounded the right sound bites against Wall street.

Trump, on the other hand, was probably the exact opposite. He came across as someone who had lost his way in the labyrinths of Washington, often repeating himself. His policy prescriptions cul-de-saced in Trump alley. He labored to portray himself as Mr. Know-it-all. His comments on ISIS mirrored his arrogance rather than an informed understanding of international terrorism. Trump’s claim that he knew more about ISIS than the US Army Generals was roundly ridiculed by Clinton.

But that is not to say, Americans did not heed Trump. His forte was more of a man speaking from his heart, a raw naiveté that glaringly outed him as a Washington outsider. That, in the truest sense, seemed to endear him to Americans.

But in a tardy economy where joblessness continued to afflict the middle classes, Trump truly resonated. His projection of himself as a “law and order candidate” was timely and found ready takers in almost every household. From millennials to baby boomers, Americans seemed to be united behind him on this. Rattled by repeated terror related killings at home and abroad, they found solace in Trump’s vocal stand on radical Islamic terror.

If the Republicans were a house divided, the Democrats were not far behind. Behind the veneer of cheer and a carefully crafted image – thanks to slick media management and public relations apparatus-  the Democrats sense of desperation was evident.  In fact, they sometimes seemed on the verge of collapse – given the scandals, WikiLeaks revelations and continued protests by diehard supporters of Bernie Sanders. Yet the Democrats put a brave face and exuded a confidence that was astonishing.

Wikileaks had released hacked emails just days before the Democratic convention forcing Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairperson, to step down. The emails showed how the DNC abandoned its avowed neutrality and was actively marshaling support for Clinton. The emails also showed that the DNC made derogatory remarks on Sanders and his religious beliefs.

In another stunning revelation by WikiLeaks, a set of emails revealed how a journalist sent in his essays to DNC for vetting prior to submitting to his editor. In a second tranche of revelations, Wikileaks has put out hacked voicemails that have only exacerbated an already burning problem.

Then there was the FBI’s decision not to indict / pursue criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for her “extreme carelessness”. It shocked Americans and heightened a sense of general distrust towards Clinton.

The travails of the Democrats seemed endless. Prominent Americans – Representative Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii and Hollywood star Susan Sarandon – just to name a few – continued to stand firmly by Bernie Sanders and refused to endorse Clinton.  This has the potential to develop into a major threat since some pundits have averred that this voter block may swing towards Trump or Dr. Jill Stein of the Green party. In any event it could be a disaster for Clinton.

The Republicans on the other hand had a different set of fires to put out. Donald Trump seemed unable to cash in or take advantage of his opponent’s travails. He did not disappoint Americans as he continued to shoot his mouth off and make thoughtless remarks that may have harmed his campaign. Even diehard fans of Trump were appalled by his invitation to the Russians to hack Clinton’s emails that were wiped clean from the private server. Many pundits felt that he had crossed yet another red line in American election etiquette.

Like Jack’s Beanstalk, Clinton’s laundry list of troubles seemed endless and refuses to stop growing. The party could take no comfort from the fact that despite her excellent acceptance speech and a monster war chest to back, Trump and Clinton were almost tied in the polls. Clinton continued to be perceived as not trust worthy by Americans. With so many issues to resolve, the Clinton campaign seemed to be on the back foot, unable to derive any advantage over Trump. On the contrary, Trump has quickly closed the gap and may have a small lead in the polls. This may be the beginning of a Clinton campaign slide back.

After eight years of Obama-ennui, Americans are itching for a change. One highly respected pollster using sophisticated analytics has said that his models point to Donald Trump as the potential winner in the 2016 US Presidential election. Regardless of what the pundits think, this election will certainly not be yet another boring election.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2016 in 2016 Election, US Election

 

Donald Trump versus GOP?

trump1What a week this has been for the 2016 US Presidential election primaries! The primaries brought to fore some truly unprecedented developments. Senator Bernie Sanders, who many think would not be able to win the Democratic party nomination, continued his strong performance against Hillary Clinton. The size and demography of Bernie’s supporter base – particularly young Americans – is a continued source of worry for Clinton. She may not be able to convince Bernie’s supporters to vote for her instead. Worse, some pollsters have opined that they may vote for Donald Trump.

Speaking of Donald Trump, as expected, he continued to dominate the headlines and spotlight on national TV. He swept Indiana primaries and took home 57 delegates – bringing his overall tally to 1068,  just 199 short of the magic number of 1267 delegates required to be declared the party nominee.  Trump’s closest rival, Ted Cruz who has the pledged support of 564 delegates, decided to suspend his campaign after Indiana results were out. Governor Kasich, who had played spoiler all along, followed suit and pulled out the next day.  Much to the consternation of many entrenched lobbies and groups, Indiana primary results made Donald Trump the presumptive nominee of the Republican party.

But the sweeping wins and massive public support did not seem to impress the GOP or Trump’s detractors. In fact, this saw the start of series of new confrontations and obstacles in his path to nomination.  His victory in Indiana seemed to have set off a series of events that only befuddled Americans.

Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, told CNN that Trump, the presumptive nominee, would not have his support. Two living former Republican Presidents – George Bush and George W Bush declared that they will not attend the Republican convention in Cleveland. President Obama, in a very unusual move, openly attacked Trump. On the other hand, Obama appeared to openly support Clinton. For a sitting President to comment on the election, let alone attack a presumptive nominee, is almost bizarre. But how all these will impact the Trump campaign is to be seen.

The electronic and print media lapped this all up and just cheered on. The media has all along been negative to Trump and at every stage had analytically explained the impossibility of Trump’s nomination. That all the pundits have been proved wrong again and again has been quietly buried in the dust and din of the unprecedented developments of the past week.

Abandoning neutrality, the networks seemed to join the bandwagon to highlight the fallout of Trump’s rise. For instance, former President of Mexico, Vicente Fox’s comments on Trump were repeatedly aired. One Cable network even asked Mr. Fox if he would address the Democratic and Republican conventions. Mr. Fox graciously accepted the invite. But none of the media pundits found it cause for concern that the comments of a former head of a sovereign nation amounted to interference in what is seen as a purely internal and domestic affair of the Americans.  But anything remotely antagonistic to Trump seemed to be enough to get air time.

Trump’s victory has created deep furrows within the GOP, prompting the New York Times to call it a “hostile takeover” of the Republican Party. Sure, he has angered the Republican establishment with his cavalier attitude and open scorn for its leadership. He has denounced political lobbies and refused their funds. His vocal stand on campaign fund reforms also has earned him powerful enemies in the party.

Trump’s remarks on a host of politically sensitive issues have not helped him either. His comments on Muslim immigrants, immigration reforms may have been thoughtless. But for a majority of Republicans like Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan to take umbrage under these offensive comments smacked of hypocrisy.

But surprisingly, the electorate seems to love Donald Trump for the very same reason the establishment loathes him. The more offensive comments he unloads, the more he seems to be cheered as evidenced by his continued sweep of the primaries. But more importantly, Trump’s stand on bringing back jobs to America has resonated with middle America. Case in point was his open condemnation of air conditioner manufacturer Carrier’s move to close shop in US and move to Mexico has been cheered by millions.

Trump has been ridiculed as a dilettante on policy issues– especially foreign and economic policy. For example, he has advocated cut in US expenditure on NATO. His stand has been roundly condemned but not critically analyzed by pundits on cable TV. The fact remains that since the fall of the Soviet Union, this alliance has been searching for a raison d’etre. Many defense experts and retired Army Generals have in fact privately and publicly aired similar views since long.

Also his pronouncements on Middle East policy – specifically relations with Saudi Arabia – has invited rile of policy honchos. Truth is that many privately agree it is time to revamp America’s policy in the Gulf. In fact, President Obama’s initiatives of opening up with Iran, are set to achieve a “rebalancing” of the power equation in the region that will have implications for that region for years to come.

On economic policy, Trump has been critical of the proposed Trans-Atlantic Partnership treaty as unhelpful to America since it may take away domestic jobs.  To be fair, many economists and writers from across the globe have raised fears of such a trade construct that would only benefit MNCs. It is interesting to note that even Hillary Clinton, who was neutral to these issues has now adopted Trump’s views on new trade agreements.

It is of course anybody’s guess as to what would be a correct policy stand on these issues. But what is glaringly obvious to lay Americans this election season is the lack of objectivity and a balanced critique of each of the candidate’s stand on these issues.  Watching the election cycle play out over the course of the year, a neutral observer cannot miss the partisan punditry out at play to denounce whatever Donald Trump stands for. It is, probably, for these reasons that he seems to have endeared himself to middle America, who also feel equally estranged by politicians, big business and the shenanigans of Wall Street. The more the media ridicules Trump, the more support he seems to garner and win more primaries.

That Donald Trump is now the presumptive nominee has galled many a section of the established power centers. The unprecedented events recalled above are symptomatic of this irritation.

Trump’s rise has serious implications for the electoral fortunes of Hillary Clinton. On the one hand, Senator Bernie Sanders performance has been unprecedented in that he has a very strong and loyal following. He has repeatedly refused to quit till the end and vowed to continue to fight Clinton till the Democratic convention. But more important is Clinton’s response to Trump. Will she be able to handle his bag of tricks and offensive campaign?  Will the millennials who are with Sanders now, swing to Trump’s side?

Confronted by all-round animosity – from high visibility media to high profile politicians – Trump faces an unparalleled confrontational setting. His inflammatory campaign style and often thoughtless repartees have only helped his antagonists who are ever ready to pluck at his words inflame the situation. However, this does not make candidate Trump a disaster for America. As a rookie politician, he has a long and steep learning curve before he can emerge “Presidential”.  But the road is not exactly a bed of roses for the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton either.

While the GOP is all set to hit the reset button, Trump’s emergence has created a defining moment in contemporary American politics. Even President Ronald Reagan was dubbed as a disaster by the very same Republicans who now swear by him. Dismissing Trump as a flash in the pan will be a serious mistake for the GOP as well as the Clinton campaign. Clearly the disconnect of politicians with public mood is larger and deeper than many would have imagined. Bottom line is, Americans are thinking differently this election cycle. They are desperately seeking to be heard this time around.

 

US Presidential Election – An armchair pundit’s view

The 2016 US Presidential election campaign is chugging along with the fortunes of the hopefuls being tossed around like a roller coaster ride. Four GOP debates and two Democratic debates later, Americans are nowhere near knowing who the two nominees would be. While there is still a lot of campaigning and debating to come, the fluctuating fortunes of the hopefuls is certainly a pointer to the overall mood of the electorate.DemDebate1

The just concluded second Democratic debate (November 14th 2015) hosted by CBS had historically low viewership than any other primary debate this cycle. At 8.5 million viewers – almost half of the October Democratic debate viewership of little over 15 million – the prime time Saturday night event should ring alarm bells in the Democratic camp.

It is true that the public focus was elsewhere – the tragedy in Paris certainly overshadowed the debate; but the low appeal of the Democratic debate to viewers requires deeper analysis. It probably has more to do with poor debating skills, scripted responses and the tendency to duck real issues with political correctness than the Paris tragedy.Debate Viewrship 2016

The two debates have been almost predictable and dull affairs. This is in stark contrast to the GOP debates where the floor is full – eight candidates – and sparks fly at the debates. GOP candidates, when they lack substance, certainly make up with interruptions and impassioned remarks that makes for an excellent entertainment and enjoyable viewing.

The Democrats have only three hopefuls in the fray – Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley. While the debate was held in dignity and refinement, it gave the impression of a conversation at the country club rather than a hotly contested election debate. For example, Sanders and O’Malley while refuting Clinton on many issues, made sure they did not cross the invisible line to really harm her chances. Earlier, at the first debate in October, instead of attacking her, Sanders went to the extent of publicly supporting Clinton in the email issue.

The refusal of the candidates to go after Clinton has led many to think that they are resigned to her winning the nomination and are content to just fight to be her vice presidential candidate. Many Americans know already that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee and one of the remaining two – most probably Senator Sanders of Vermont will be the running mate and Vice Presidential candidate. So the element of suspense is lacking and hence viewership at the debates has been a casualty.

The Democrats missed a great opportunity to use the Paris tragedy to their advantage. Clinton’s responses on the Paris tragedy and Islamic terrorism in general, were politically correct statements that failed to appeal to the broader anger in Americans’ minds. Obama’s lack of a firm and forceful response in Syria and by extension to Paris and terrorism is something the Republicans have fully exploited and have gained momentum.

Bernie Sanders has seen very good response to his town hall meetings and he did stir the pot. At one time he even beat Clinton in the opinion polls. But he appears to be unable to sustain and keep his support base. Is this because he has mentally lost the battle to Clinton or succumbed to the Republican campaign to project him as a diehard socialist?

Joe Biden surprised many by announcing his decision not to run. Biden definitely would have injected life into the Democratic narrative and swung viewership favorably. But his last minute decision not to run has only strengthened Clinton’s nomination.

But the biggest grouse against the Democrats has been the visible lack of oratorical skills of the three contestants. They conspicuously avoid taking clear and unequivocal positions on contentious issues – Keystone project, Iran deal or Islamic terrorism. Political correctness appears to have led to the melting of the grass root support base. The Democrats have lot of work to do to a provide a credible fight to stop the Republicans.

The Republican field, on the other hand is an altogether different cup of tea. The viewership for the four GOP debate stood at 24 million (FOX), 23 million (CNN), 14.5 million (CNBC), 14 million (FOX Biz) respectively. So far, the GOP has definitely managed to capture the attention of the American voters.

Donald Trump and Ben Carson – both non-politicians and Washington ‘outsiders’ continue to dominate the top two spots. However, this may change in the coming weeks.

Carson has his own set of problems to deal with –from factual inaccuracies in his biography to his alleged violent childhood. In any case, many do not think he will be the final Republican nominee to contest Clinton.

Jeb Bush’s performance has surprised many observers. A seasoned politician – from the famed Bush family and a former Governor of Florida – Bush brings a lot of administrative experience that many others lack. He is also seen as a moderate Republican, not known to take extreme right wing views. Normally one would have expected him to do lot better in the Republican primary. But Donald Trump’s constant attack for his ‘low energy’ has impacted his popularity with the voters. However, Bush has the backing of powerful super PACs (Political Action Committee) and they are certain to continue to bank roll him. Bush has also changed his political strategy and worked hard at portraying himself as an energetic politician. Time will tell if this will help him in his resurgence.

Rand Paul is the other Republican hopeful who has been grossly underestimated. He has stayed away from extreme right views and is more of centrist views. He has performed well in all the four debates but continues to suffer poor poll numbers.

The surprise candidate in the GOP could be Marco Rubio. The young Senator from Florida and the erstwhile protégé of Jeb Bush has performed well at the debates. He has a natural charm and has a strong Latin American following. He has been challenged on his poor senate attendance record as well as credit card problems. He could be a serious contender to Donald Trump. He could even settle for the Vice Presidential running mate of Donald Trump.

It is true that it is too early to call the winner in the 2016 Presidential election primaries – but the consistent trend over the last 4 months has shown Republicans stealing the heart of the Americans – at least in viewership. For the moment, only one thing is clear – Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic choice.

 
 
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