Clin­ton, Trump force re­align­ment of tribes

The West Australian - - OPINION - Sophie Mor­ris Il­lus­tra­tion: Don Lind­say

The late Ted Sorensen was JFK’s legendary speech writer. Years ago, I saw him talk in Ber­lin to com­mem­o­rate the 40th an­niver­sary of John Kennedy’s fa­mous “ich bin ein Ber­liner” ad­dress, when the pres­i­dent sought in 1963 to demon­strate sol­i­dar­ity with the di­vided city.

Af­ter Sorensen spoke, he was asked if he still con­sid­ered him­self a Demo­crat.

The party, still re­group­ing from the Clin­ton pres­i­dency and Al Gore’s nar­row elec­tion loss, was em­broiled in a bruis­ing pri­maries sea­son.

“Am I still a Demo­crat these days?” Sorensen re­peated the ques­tion. Then he an­swered with a twin­kle in his eye: “These days, I am a Demo­crat, very still. Very, very still.” Amer­i­can pol­i­tics is tribal. Play­ers tend to pick and stick. This US elec­tion, though, the tribes may be shift­ing.

While Sorensen went “very still” when his party dis­ap­pointed him, some Repub­li­cans are now do­ing the un­think­able and pub­licly de­nounc­ing their party’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­date.

Daniel Twin­ing is a for­eign pol­icy hawk who has ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence ad­vis­ing se­nior Repub­li­can fig­ures, in­clud­ing Con­doleezza Rice and John McCain. In this elec­tion cy­cle, he worked first on Jeb Bush’s cam­paign. When that pe­tered out, he joined Marco Ru­bio’s team. Within a fort­night, that was over, too, as Donald Trump steam­rolled his ri­vals to seize the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion.

Since then, Twin­ing has sur­prised even him­self by com­ing out for Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Her cam­paign team boasted of his con­ver­sion, chalk­ing up his name along with those of scores of other promi­nent Repub­li­can thinkers who have switched teams.

“If you’d told me a year ago, that I’d be for her, like pub­licly, I would have said, ‘You’re nuts’, but that’s just where we are,” he said in Perth this week.

“Fun­nily enough, she’s the Repub­li­can on for­eign pol­icy in this race. She’s the hawk. She’s the one who wants to stand up to China and Rus­sia. I think the chances of do­ing the TPP (Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship) are much higher un­der her . . . she would both re­as­sure our al­lies and slightly un­set­tle our com­peti­tors and that’s the right can­di­date to sup­port.”

Twin­ing, an Asia ex­pert with US pub­lic pol­icy think tank the Ger­man Mar­shall Fund, was on a visit or­gan­ised by the US State De­part­ment.

The “least worst” sce­nario Twin­ing en­vi­sions if Trump wins is that he del­e­gates the run­ning of the coun­try to others, is held in check by a Repub­li­can Congress and mod­er­ates some of his more out­landish views.

“He may be self-in­ter­ested enough not to start a trade war with China, not to blow up the US-Ja­pan al­liance, not to build a wall with Mex­ico that will alien­ate ev­ery­one on both sides,” Twin­ing said.

But an­other plau­si­ble sce­nario is a seis­mic split in the Repub­li­can Party, par­tic­u­larly con­sid­er­ing many of the party’s can­di­dates seek­ing re-elec­tion are do­ing so with­out any ref­er­ence to Trump.

Al­ready, Twin­ing says, there are signs of big shifts in al­le­giances re­shap­ing the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal land­scape.

“So the big ques­tion is, is this one of those re­align­ment elec­tions in which Trump takes back those blue-col­lar Democrats from the Clin­ton cam­paign? And do Repub­li­can in­ter­na­tion­al­ists pivot to­wards the Democrats?”

He ex­pects a solid Clin­ton win on Novem­ber 8, but Twin­ing says Aus­tralia should pre­pare for a more hawk­ish pres­i­dent. He’s talk­ing here about a tougher ap­proach to a range of chal­lenges, from the rise of China to Rus­sian ag­gres­sion in Europe and the threat of Is­lamic State.

One senses that more hawk­ish times might suit Twin­ing, who thinks Aus­tralia has been too ac­com­mo­dat­ing of China.

“I’ve been re­ally sur­prised by the role of Chi­nese money in your pol­i­tics,” he says. “There’s no other coun­try I know of where a for­eign govern­ment or for­eign funds openly could get be­hind po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates.

“China is pur­su­ing a de­sign to wedge apart the US al­liance sys­tem in Asia and it’s naive not to un­der­stand that the tools at their dis­posal are of­ten eco­nomic.” There’s no doubt­ing Twin­ing when he says that, de­spite his de­ci­sion to en­dorse Clin­ton, “there’s noth­ing kind of squishy about my Repub­li­can iden­tity”.

He’s still a Repub­li­can, but he’s far from be­ing very still.

If he’s right and Clin­ton wins, the world may reckon with a hawk­ish Demo­crat pres­i­dent, urged on by Repub­li­can for­eign pol­icy hawks. That can only mean more pres­sure from our ally to con­front chal­lenges posed by China.

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