By Arab News
By Dr. John C. Hulsman*
Since leaving the capitol after a decade’s work in 2006, I have continued my ongoing love affair with Washington. For one thing, it is always great to see that the friendships forged in that crucible of pressure and power have endured (it is sort of like having war buddies), leading to me having very candid conversations with comrades who have now risen through the ranks to positions of power and trust in the most powerful country in the world.
A second point is that, as I worked in think tanks on the left, right and center of the political spectrum there — something that simply could not be done today — I know rather uniquely the goings-on in all of Washington’s very different political tribes, and have a trusting relationship with very different people in what has become a politically toxic town.
Lastly, and most importantly, I am a Washington insider who has lived for the past 13 years far away from the epicenter of global power. As I run my own global political risk consulting firm, that means I am never a competitor for a job with the many people in the city that I regularly see. As I am known but not a rival, it is safe to talk to me in a city where, as President Harry Truman put it, if you want a friend you should buy a dog.
To sum up my competitive advantage in assessing Washington: I intimately know all the foreign policy tribes, I spent years working with friends who have now risen in the foreign policy and political establishment, and I am not looking for a job there. All these factors lead to my visits and talks having a level of candor that is the great prize of my idiosyncratic background.
So what have my close political contacts told me during my recent visit about the upcoming 2020 presidential election? The arresting detail is that, off the record, they have all — to a person — said much the same thing, from their very different political perches: Donald Trump, for all the controversy swirling around him, is the odds-on favorite to be re-elected for another term as president.
First, everyone acknowledges that the president is eminently beatable. While it is true that his polling approval rating average has risen to a four-year high of 45 percent recently, there has never been a day in Trump’s entire administration where even half the country has been for him. The Trump revolution is a genuine political phenomenon, but it has always been one with minority support.
Worse for the Trump campaign team, the 2018 midterm election results in the crucial Upper Midwest Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — the vital former Democratic Party fiefdoms that provided Trump with his decisive margin of victory in his shock 2016 win — illustrates that these states have, at this point in time, turned against him in electing Democratic senators and governors. The president must find a way to win them back over the next 16 months if he is to have a hope of re-election.
But the second point that was made clear in my talks with Washington insiders is that, if Trump is beatable, he is also underrated. Presidential incumbency itself is a gigantic political advantage. Governing at a time of great prosperity — US gross domestic product grew at a highly impressive 3.1 percent in the first quarter of 2019 — is another. The Trump White House has also kept its word and stayed out of further “stupid wars,” ushering in an era of general peace in a country exhausted by both Iraq and Afghanistan. Finally, the president has the decisive and unified support of his party, with a February 2019 Gallup poll showing that Trump had an astounding 89 percent approval rating among Republicans. These are all formidable political advantages that simply cannot be ignored.
Lastly, beyond the president’s significant advantages, the Democratic Party seems to have a death instinct, moving toward what was described to me as “the full Trotsky” — adopting radical left-wing positions in its presidential primary in what remains a center-right country.
Whether the issue is government-subsidized abortion in the third trimester, a Green New Deal estimated to cost an eye-watering $90 trillion, reparations for the descendants of slaves, decriminalizing illegal immigration, or providing free health care for illegal immigrants, you do not need to be a rabid Trump supporter to see that these Democratic positions are entirely outside the American political mainstream. The paradox is that, in going ever leftward, the unheeding Democrats seem to be inviting another term in office for the man they most despise.
What was most striking in my conversations is that my Democratic friends did not contradict this (for them) apocalyptic assessment, but rather wholeheartedly embraced it. While a year remains an eternity in politics and Trump’s serial inability to avoid endless controversy is also likely to remain, the odds — for all the cold, hard, factual reasons listed above — must be on another against-the-grain Trump presidential victory. If the Washington insider view holds, this amounts to one of the biggest political risk stories of the coming years.
- Dr. John C. Hulsman is the president and managing partner of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a prominent global political risk consulting firm. He is also senior columnist for City AM, the newspaper of the City of London. He can be contacted via www.chartwellspeakers.com
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