Super Tuesday And The Trumping Of America

Gautam Mukherjee

Mar 04, 2016, 03:27 PM | Updated 03:27 PM IST

Donald Trump (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
  • What does Trump’s Super Tuesday win say about the American polity?

    If he does become president, what would the Indo-US equation look like?
  • It is difficult not to notice what is happening in the American primaries, mainly because of the presence of a blond, blustery, red-faced man, an increasingly serious contender, with startling views and strong deliveries.

    Both Hillary Clinton, the first would-be female president, and Donald Trump racked up 7 wins each out of the 11 possible, in states that voted in the primaries on ‘Super Tuesday’.

    But Trump is ahead on the number of delegates he still needs to clinch the Republican nomination, over Clinton on the Democrat side. She has to pull further ahead of her challenger Bernie Sanders, to be certain.

    But now that Trump is demonstrating undeniably broad support, his detractors within the GOP (Grand-old-party- aka the Republican Party, symbol-elephant), are distinctly miffed. They did not expect him to last this long, let alone keep going from strength to strength with increasing traction, and this without their help.

    Some outside liberal comment, on both sides of the Atlantic, trying to psychoanalyse the state of affairs, is suggesting that America itself has become rather like Trump, and not in a nice way. That Trump is the candidate of the ignorant and less-educated amongst the White majority.

    But as the primaries roll on, the facile reactionary argument, that Trump’s nomination may be another way of handing certain victory to Hillary Clinton, has as many paranoid flaws as the original ‘nobody is going to support that loud-mouth-bigot Trump’, that has now fallen by the wayside.

    Notwithstanding the calumny heaped upon Trump from various quarters, if the rank-and-file Republican voter keeps seeing to it that ‘the Donald’ continues to win big, for example in the next cluster of states in Mid-March; it will be very difficult to stop him seizing the Republican Party nomination.

    More so, because continued obduracy on the part of the party bosses might force Trump to leave in disgust, and run as an Independent.

    If that happens, conventional wisdom has it that the Republicans, with their voters divided, are certain to lose. The election will go to the Democrats, or, if not, given enough groundswell support, to Trump, on his own!

    Of course, much before Trump gets to the White House, if he does, after the inauguration in January 2017, the GOP may read the writing on the wall and decide to unite behind him. The Republicans may well hand him the nomination, without further contention, at the forthcoming party convention.

    Then, as ‘the chosen one’ Trump will have to conciliate and unify all party factions, in order to go out to do electoral battle with Hillary Clinton single-mindedly.

    If however, in the unlikely event he has to leave the party, and battle on as an Independent, all obligations, and bets, on the future course of action, should Trump win, are off. It will make history of course, as no independent has ever won before.

    But if Trump does, either as the Republican candidate, or on his own, it will be a massive mandate for change. If he does, it will mean, like Modi in India,that his personal resonance with the electorate has proved to be greater than the appeal of his party.

    If he wins as an Independent, it will further underline the difference, and he will stand taller than those from either of the two long-standing political parties.

    Either way, it will clearly signal that the American voters are determined to overhaul the political establishment. That is why they would vote in a rebel outsider, a flamboyant businessman, one with no prior political experience, to the most powerful job on earth. A person moreover who speaks a different kind of language, provocative and deliberately shorn of political correctness.

    A president in the making, backed by a popular revulsion against the political establishment. A person famous and popular, long before this campaign, but not as a politician. A man aspiring to the most powerful political office in the world, without ever once having held any public office.

    How will it affect India if Trump wins the presidency? He threatens regularly to bring ‘jobs back from India’ on the campaign trail, but it is debatable just how many US jobs have actually been exported to India. Unlike, that is, the mass-manufacturing units in China. His other remarks with regard to India are by and large favourable, particularly in comparison to what he says about China or Pakistan; and certainly, about Mexico.

    At a personal level, for what it is worth in statecraft, both Trump and Modi are outsiders, and this should help them bond. But it is not certain by any means. One is a billionaire with a putative racist streak, born rich; and the other speaks English with peculiar syntax and a very thick accent, and still takes an inordinate pride in his chaiwala days.

    Still, there might well be continuity, and there have been odder pairings in history. After all Modi gets on well with the Harvard educated ‘my friend Barack’, and thinks most heads of government are worth hugging.

    At a deeper strategic level, Trump’s victory, and his unconventional political style, may provide momentum to the tilt towards India as a Kissingeresque countervailing force; to check the disruptive power of the China/Pakistan/North Korea combine.

    India’a footprint of influence might be extended, with US backing to include not only the SAARC region in South Asia, but markedly farther afield.

    This is evident in a muted capacity presently in West Asia, the Asia-Pacific, amongst the G-20, BRICS, the most influential Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the UN, IMF, World Bank, ADB etc. as well as the littoral Indian Ocean region.

    But, under Trump, determined to overtly revive US power, India might receive a substantial boost as a favoured and chosen ally in the region.

    This new Indo-US alignment, post the break-up of the USSR, actually began in the ‘unipolar-globocop’ world under Bill Clinton, during the Vajpayee administration. It was carried forward by George W Bush and Manmohan Singh, particularly in UPA I, when the nuclear power deal was signed. And lately, by Modi and Barack Obama, with many more bilateral visits and meetings, visibly greater military, technological and intelligence sharing cooperation, emerging directly, and via other US allies.

    But going forward to 2017, it is clear that many of the old constraints, at the beginning and middle years of the tilt, have melted away. America is less dependent on Pakistan and China than it was in recent times. Its direct involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq are mostly done with. Diplomatic relations have been restored with Iran. Myanmar is coming out of its long isolation with a new break-out of democracy. The OPEC leverage and oil price politics is on the wane.

    India has drawn closer to Israel, South Korea and Iran on its own. Its tireless and constant efforts to unite the world against terrorism are also finding much greater support and understanding, with many countries around the world. These not only include varied nations like the UK, France, Germany, Thailand, Canada, Russia, Indonesia, but lately, also the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The latter countries have seen fit to recalibrate their relationship with India vis a vis Pakistan to suit. How much of this has come about via US nudging?

    America, and its strongest allies in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan and Australia, are already backing India to a much greater extent now in the context of the changed geo-political scenario.

    Trump as president, if he remains true to his maverick streak, will be expected to think out-of-the-box and shake up the Washington establishment first and foremost. Many staffers and key players of his administration are likely to be drawn from outside the GOP net. While as president Trump is likely to greatly moderate his confrontationist style, there is little doubt that he will try hard to give shape to his vision of returning America to a strategic pre-eminence, combined with economic and military greatness.

    It will not be easy for Trump to redraw power equations and rejuvenate alliances in the increasingly multi-polar scheme of things presently; but if and when he tries, India, with its stability, responsibility, and democratic polity, may well find itself strategically placed to benefit from the effort.

    Gautam Mukherjee is a political commentator whose columns figure regularly in different right-of-centre media outlets

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