Super Tuesday fulfilled its traditional role of determining the two nominees for the US presidency. While Hillary Clinton’s dreary coronation is all too scripted, astoundingly, Donald Trump must be considered the odds-on favourite for the Republican nomination.
Yes, if senator Marco Rubio of Florida and governor John Kasich of Ohio were to win their home states in the winner-take-all primaries of 15 March, you could just about argue that Trump could still be stopped. But Rubio is 20 points behind Trump in Florida, with Kasich more marginally trailing the Republican frontrunner. And conservative senator Ted Cruz of Texas has run out of chances, as there are precious few southern states left for him to do well (the region of the country that he was counting on to propel him to the nomination).
No, as we used to say when I worked for the legendary Bill Clinton campaign in New Hampshire in 1992, “the math is the math”. And for every other candidate not named Trump, it now becomes daunting. The post-Super Tuesday Real Clear Politics delegate count has Trump with 274, Cruz 149, and Rubio a miserly 82, with 1,237 necessary for the nomination. To put it mildly, Trump is in the driver’s seat.
As such, it is not too early to think through what sort of foreign policy he would be likely to run were (and I can hardly believe I am writing this) Trump to enter the White House.
Trump’s actual foreign policy positions, which put him at odds with the Republican Party establishment, have not politically hurt him so far. Many rank-and-file Republicans do not share the pro-free trade, free market ideology that dominates the party’s upper echelons. As such, Trump describing the Obama White House’s just concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the most consequential free trade accord in decades, as a bad deal for Americans has passed without internal controversy.
For Republicans in general, the key foreign policy question is: how does their candidate project strength in foreign affairs, while avoiding another Iraq? The answer to this conundrum is key to the nomination. An early June 2015 Pew survey found that, lumped together, foreign policy, national security, and terrorism are the number one concern of Republican voters, with 57 per cent of them wanting a more aggressive approach than President Obama has provided.
But Trump has strikingly adopted a plague-on-all-your-houses foreign policy stance. Defying all political laws of the Republican Party’s orthodoxy, he has baldly and correctly stated that Iraq was an unmitigated disaster, complaining that the US always seems to take the global lead to little effect. The neocon foreign policy establishment – incredibly still in charge of the party even after the obvious calamity of Iraq – is terrified of Trump, precisely because he is finally presenting them with the historical bill due for their monstrous mistakes.
At the same time, Trump’s general foreign policy criticism of the Obama administration is that it has failed at the operational level. Weak negotiating skills have allowed China to ride roughshod over America in terms of economics, Iran in terms of the recently concluded nuclear accord, and Mexico in terms of immigration. As an extremely well-known businessman, Trump vows to upend all this, negotiating tough terms with Mexico (including the rather incredible claim that he can persuade the Mexican government to pay for a wall to keep their countrymen out of America), China (especially regarding what he sees as Beijing’s manipulation of the yuan), and Russia (some sort of geopolitical accommodation can be worked out to America’s advantage with the Kremlin).
In essence, Trump is offering the party a protectionist, nativist, anti-immigration, anti-free trade, unilateralist foreign policy, usually the preserve of merely the Jacksonian minority of the Republican Party, but certainly a broadly coherent school of thought in US foreign policy history.
However, given his incredibly boorish and erratic style, as well as the radical content of his foreign policy, a Trump victory would surely signal the end of the western alliance, leaving the world a multipolar jungle where every power would be forced to fend entirely and narrowly for itself.
For all that he is on to something in his critique of what has gone wrong with American foreign policy this century, as is tragically true of most demagogues, Trump’s analysis of the problem is infinitely superior to his ruinous prescription of what to do next. A man with such a lack of knowledge of the world must not be let within a mile of the presidency.