Trump did not expect to win U.S. election, did not understand risk and continues to avoid costs by renegotiating terms of service; but his approach should be comforting to Kenyan pols

The fundamental premise of the Trump campaign was that if Americans would elect Trump he would switch sides and become a patriot, serving the nation to make it “great again” and serving some, albeit conspicuously not all, segments of Americans.  He would, he claimed, do unto others on behalf of “us” what he had spent the first roughly seventy years of his life doing to more or less everyone he encountered regardless of creed.

Trump believed the polls well enough to recognize it was always a long shot, as ultimately reflected in his losing popular vote totals (the biggest total vote loss ever for an Electoral College winner, on low turnout).  Not expecting to win, Trump did not take serious steps to prepare to actually enter public service or to game out his alternatives.

Having caught some breaks, he ended up getting the Electoral College and is now having to spend some substantial part of his time, and some attention on becoming a president. (Although not to the point so far of taking the situation seriously enough to moderate his behavior on Twitter or otherwise seek self discipline or gravitas in most situations day to day.)

How did Trump end up winning?  While Trump’s style of bluster and aggressive and open dishonesty on the stump was not widely endearing, most Republicans were going to vote for anyone their party nominated period, at least so long as they campaigned as at least somewhat illiberal, assuring that Trump would be in a close general election almost no matter what.  So in that way, the key threshold actors were the “leaders” of the Republican Party (full disclosure: I identified as a Republican from childhood, served in the Party for years and did not affirmatively quit until 2013.)  In other words, Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan were the two Americans who had the most formal responsibility and actual power to determine the legitimacy and acceptability of Donald Trump as a prospective President of the United States (and the new ruling and defining authority in the Republican Party).

In the campaign, Trump’s staff and the Republican Party that he affiliated with to run for the presidency put together a tactical effort to target likely Clinton voters and dissuade them from voting that proved brilliantly effective for the America of now.  America and Americans have been profoundly changed by Rupert Murdoch with Roger Ailes and Osama Bin Laden since the Clintons’ last successful campaign outside of New York.  The Republican side understood that Facebook and email was far more important to the emotions that would drive the behavior of plausibly likely voters than a “ground game” of a generation ago when Bill Clinton got re-elected in 2016.

Ultimately Hillary Clinton was the Bob Dole of 1996–the candidate who would have won the general election eight years earlier had she been nominated then, but was no longer after waiting eight years in step with the times.

Some state governments managed to reduce voting by what they might call “undesirables” who were likely to vote for Clinton, while the Trump and Clinton campaigns combined to fire up “the deplorables”.  Beyond that Trump got consequential help from Putin and at the last minute from the FBI Director, but there is no way to prove what would have happened without their actions nor are we likely to have much clarity about Comey’s intentions.  (It is believable to me that Comey acted for reasons related to internal matters within the FBI, the Justice Department and the Government more broadly while expecting that Clinton would win anyway–presumably someday he will present an explanation in a book, by which time the consequences of Trump’s rise to power will be clearer.)

So now, like the proverbial dog who finds that the car he was chasing has stopped, Trump is confronted with what to do with his prize from winning the chase.  The biggest hassle seems to be that taking the job threatens to cost Trump a lot of money as well as well as quite a bit of time spent in Washington away from his homes in New York, New Jersey and South Florida and some living in public housing.  He has declared that any limitations on his business activities, and his residence, are to be negotiated or announced over time rather than governed by existing law and past practice.

Having no foreign policy experience and having been condemned publicly and privately by much of the cohort from previous Republican administrations, he seemed caught off guard by having to pick a nominee for Secretary of State.

Having Mitt Romney come to dinner at Trump Tower and contradict all of his previous expositions about Trump’s unfitness was a tour de force reminder of Trump’s tactical brilliance in accumulating personal power for himself and humiliating rivals and was important to firmly seizing control of the GOP from what we might call “the 20th Century Republicans.”  It was not useful to finding someone that would be useful to Trump as Secretary.  As the story has been told to us by the president’s people through the news media, man for all of Washington’s seasons Robert Gates was able to suggest to Trump his client Rex Tillerson who quickly became the natural choice for Trump.  This might even be true even if it hardly seems likely to be fully explanatory.

Tillerson is surely better suited to be Secretary of State than Trump is to be President. (For that matter, better suited to be President.)  The questions about Tillerson relate to problems about his relationship with a nefarious foreign autocrat with control of the worlds largest nuclear arsenal–as with Trump.  Beyond business relationships,  which include some other nefarious but less dangerous (to Americans and others if not to their own subjects) autocrats he seems to be a person of more conventional decency than Trump.  (Full disclosure, I’m an Eagle Scout, too.)

Tillerson is a surely a loyal company man, having spent his entire career with Exxon Mobile, and it seems plausible to me that he could effectuate a switch of “companies” to work for the United States Government to run the State Department rather than running Exxon Mobile, in a way that for Trump, who so far as I know has never worked for anyone other than his father and himself, was never plausible to me.  The problem with Trump’s Putin tilt and undisclosed interests and finances, and with Trump’s character, and with Trump’s willingness to actually change careers and orientation to serve as President of the United States will continue to be there whether or not Tillerson steps further forward out of the shadows to represent us as our chief diplomat.

Confronted with the idea of a less than ideal market to divest his business interests Trump has made it clear that he puts his own pocketbook first and Anerica second (at the very best) by refusing to divest.  So now we know that Trump simply refuses to be an actual patriot after all.  Contra our founding fathers who staked their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” on the idea of America, Trump, who has, to be direct, no obvious prior personal experience with honor, has said that a small reduction in his alleged $10B net worth is too high a price to pay to be a full-time President.

I do think that Trump will be well received by Kenya’s politicians, as well as those in many other countries on the continent, and I’m assuming his call with Uluru Kenyatta today went fine.  Trump’s personal approach to public office will be more familiar and comfortable to Kenya’s leaders than that of Bush or Obama and his socioeconomic background more reassuring than someone as relatively exotic and self-made as Obama.

“[T]he non-problematic side of Republican neo-conservativism”?; Trump’s convention and IRI

Back in 2012, I drafted but didn’t publish a post with a couple of long quotes about the International Republican Institute programming at the Republican convention.  I’m  posting it below following a brief introduction.

2012 was back in the “good old days” when the Republican Party could still nominate a candidate for president who could be elected and had served as a state governor ahead of running for president.  Way back in 2007-08 during my brief time working for IRI the GOP chose the Chairman of IRI, Senator John McCain, as its nominee for president; clearly a different era.

And thus now we see especially starkly one of the risks of using the two current political party institutes as primary vehicles for official U.S. democracy assistance:  does Donald Trump represent democratic ideals and values outside the U.S?  does Trump himself believe in democracy as an ideal as opposed to a personal opportunity (see V. Putin)?  will people who actually work for IRI democracy programs vote for Trump with a secret ballot?  do we want potential democrats from developing nations to come to witness Trump’s convention? how can IRI be partners with “center right” parties in Western democracies if Republican primary voters have repudiated the “center right”?  (some less polite questions come to mind, but I’ll stop there–the basic point is that IRI and NDI should be merged to be truly non-partisan to do taxpayer funded democracy assistance overseas without the baggage of Trump, Clinton and whomever else as partisan figures in U.S politics).

Without further ado:

From Hannah Harrison, a graduate student at the University of Alaska attending both the Republican and Democratic Conventions as part of an academic seminar, in the Homer (AK) Tribune:

Conventions, however, serve another equally as important but perhaps under-appreciated purpose. These four days in Tampa will be an opportunity for Republicans to unify under a common goal (the nomination), to reinvigorate party members tired from a long campaign, and to get ready for that final push toward November.
The RNC hosts a multitude of important and fascinating guests. One such group is the International Republican Institute (IRI), which hosts foreign diplomats from conservative parties from across the globe. Some 150 international leaders have convened in Tampa to observe the RNC, meet with political advisors and American politicians, and have the opportunity to discuss what American foreign policy might look like under the next administration.
These high powered men and women shape the conservative movements in their own nations and will take away from the RNC a deeper understanding of the atmosphere of American politics. They will come to understand that we are a divided nation, but the division is narrow, nuanced, and difficult to govern by.

John Judis at The New Republic’s “The Plank” blog:

But at the convention, the campaign was careful not to draw any controversial conclusions from these philosophical musings about American greatness. The main session on foreign policy was hosted by the International Republican Institute, which Congress established in 1983 along with its partisan twin, the National Democratic Institute. Run by a former John McCain aide Lorne Craner, it exemplifies the non-problematic side of Republican neo-conservatism—the emphasis on encouraging democratic movements in authoritarian or formerly authoritarian countries through education and training. It held a meeting at an auditorium in Tampa on “The Future of U.S. National Security Policy.” The speakers consisted of four Romney foreign policy advisors, led by Richard Williamson, a former Reagan administration official who was also one of McCain’s principal surrogates in the 2008 campaign. The graying heavy-set Williamson, who looks like former Secretary of State Richard Eagleburger, would probably not fill a high post in a Romney administration, but he is perfect for this campaign, because he can, if necessary, take the edge off Romney’s more bald assertions.

The panelists sat on stage before a table, with several hundred campaign delegates, press, present and former Republican officials, and foreign diplomats in attendance. Former Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe, who chaired the meeting, asked the panelists at one point about Romney’s statement that Russia is America’s “chief geopolitical foe.” Williamson explained that Romney was not trying to revive the Cold War. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “He talked about a geopolitical not a military foe.” (In fact, Romney has warned of Russia as a military threat.)

Another panelist former Minnesota Senator Norman Coleman jumped in to offer a further clarification, or dilution of Romney’s statement. “He talked about a ‘foe’ and not an ‘enemy,’” Coleman explained, although Coleman did not explain what the difference was, and I don’t think a dictionary would be much help. The panelists praised the bill coming up in Congress that would penalize any foreign official involved in human rights violations—a bill that is aimed partly at the Russians—but conspicuously steered clear of redline proposals, such as re-committing the United States to building anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe.

Romney’s representatives took a similar stand on other specifics. They said we should sell weapons to Taiwan, but adhere strictly to the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. We should arm Syrian rebels (which it turns out the Obama administration has been doing covertly), but—in answer to a question from Foreign Policy blogger Josh Rogin—not establish a “no-fly zone.” We should declare that an Iranian nuclear weapon was “totally unacceptable,” but merely keep armed force an option. We should support human rights, but need not do so, Williamson assured the audience, by putting “boots on the ground.”

The speakers kept calling for a “robust” foreign policy and insisting that America should lead, and they denounced the Obama administration for failing to lead, but they offered very little indication that Romney would act any differently from Obama. That’s clearly what they intended to do. They wanted to get the rhetorical message across without committing Romney to any specific policies. Interestingly, Williamson and another Romney advisor, former George W. Bush State Department official Pierre Prosper, took a harder rhetorical line toward Russia at a posh smaller gathering at the Tampa City Club hosted by the neo-conservative Foreign Policy Initiative, which has key Romney advisors among its founders, and the institute of Modern Russia, headed by Pavel Khodorkovsky, the son of the jailed tycoon. That was probably because of the audience. But they still steered clear of proposing any provocative actions that could invite a serious examination of Romney’s foreign policy.

[2016 Note: For a view of how this year’s Republican operation in Cleveland looks from the perspective of a close American “developed world” ally and overseas development partner, see “Jumping the shark at the RNC” from Australia’s Lowy Institute.

Walking the Talk–American Democracy on global display in Presidential Debates

Since the origins of this blog spring from my experience with American “democracy promotion” or “support” I want to take a minute to reflect on and appreciate the value of last night’s debate.  While most of us who have been around awhile as participants and observers in American campaigns have some disquiet about the state of our democratic process, I think these debates are a great reminder of the “blessings of liberty” reflected in political competition in our constitutional republic.

There are instances where we don’t live up to the ideals that we preach to the rest of the world–for instance we probably would not legally qualify for foreign assistance from ourselves under our own statutes for various reasons I’ll write about someday–but we do have real elections that matter (but don’t matter quite so much that we kill each other about them, or fundamentally reorder our system of government with each new president).

A few personal observations:  I think both candidates last night did a credible job and gave the American electorate and the global audience a reasonable sense of their own strengths and weaknesses as leaders and drew out their differences and similarities on a number of important issues.  We have a closely divided electorate and this would be a close election regardless of either of the nominees unless one of them really imploded as a candidate–fortunately that hasn’t happened.

I agree with those who feel that our two parties have ossified into positions where they don’t overlap the way they have traditionally, and that this presents problems in actually conducting the business of government and in just getting along constructively and accomplishing things that we can broadly agree on.

Nonetheless, even though the candidates sparred vigorously last night, they are both campaigning to the center in the general election.  There are consequential policy differences, but also great limitations built into our system.  And in all honesty, I tend to think that in spite of everything, they are both decent men–slippery politicians, but not bad people–and that we will muddle forward however the undecideds in a few swing states break.  We have a lot of challenges and a lot of work to do, but the American people will decide the future of our society for better or worse regardless of who wins or loses this election.  And that is the way that it should be.

While our present party system may not be something that we would hold out as an exemplar or should seek to “export”, and our campaign finance situation is not something we would want to recommend to others, I am pleased with the world watching our general election debates that we are offering an example of American free speech, open democracy and free journalism.  The challenger and the incumbent square off on the same stage on agreed rules and the voters get a fair chance to hear both sides.

Kenya is to have presidential debates this time–I hope this can be a positive way to elevate the campaigns and focus on national issues and the abilities of the candidates.

 

BREAKING– “International Colbert Institute” to join America’s Arsenal of Democracy NGOs

Donkey Mara Herd

Dateline Ocean Springs, MS, USA:  The AfriCommons Blog learned today of plans to form the International Colbert Institute, a new INGO (Individual Non-Governmental Organization).

The mission of the International Colbert Institute (“ICI”), will be to promote freedom, democracy, the American Way and private enterprise with government money worldwide.  ICI will be strictly non-partisan and will have nothing to do with any political party, campaign or candidate in the United States.  Overseas ICI will establish relationships with likeminded “parties of the laugh” said a spokesman who sounded like former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour but wasn’t, speaking at a not-for-attribution press conference held at an undisclosed location to avoid Egyptian agents.

Asked for comment, Russian President Dimitri Medvedev said, “You’re Putin me on!  Who are these people?  We will leave no stone unturned to expose their subversive agenda and protect a united Russian democracy.”  A Moscow resident, Anna Chapman, said, “Sounds like fun–I’d like to join.”

Plans are in the works to bring American leaders such as Jon Stewart, Herman Cain and Stephen Colbert to dialogue with their counterparts in Afghanistan this spring and get their pictures taken with “the troops.”

In South Carolina, Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said, “These Colberists are wholly an invented people–they don’t exist except as a creation of the laugh wing media and its anti-colonial Third World bias.”  Also in South Carolina, former Governor Mitt Romney, campaigning with Senator John McCain, held a press conference in front of the State Capitol to clarify that his previous appointment of Herman Cain as Secretary of Defense for the People’s Republic of Massachusetts was a matter of “states’ rights” and that he had never been a Colberist.

The ICI plans to focus on Africa because “they have the most countries and lots of elephants and donkeys”.

In other news, Gingrich attacked the State Department for speaking French in the Congo and Ron Paul and Mitt Romney for supporting laissez faire.  Gingrich also challenged Attorney General Eric Holder on his previous statement that Americans lacked the courage to talk about race.  “I talk about race all the time” said Gingrich.  Gingrich said Holder’s rejection of South Carolina’s voter ID law was an insult to the State after the late Senator Strom Thurmond endorsed Ron Paul, saying “We wouldn’t have all these problems if Ron Paul had been President in 1964 and ’65.”

In the meantime, the Kenyan president, Barack Obama, continued his tourist mission to Disney with a town hall meeting with the diaspora at Animal Kingdom.  He said the new constitutional dispensation would not be used to detain elephants and donkeys, but only those reasonably suspected of supporting the Colberists, so long as he was president.