Geopolitical notes from India
M D Nalapat
THERE is an apocryphal story about Bill and Hillary Clinton stopping at a petrol bunk and her being greeted by the employee manning the pump and washing cars. An old boyfriend from her youth, it turned out. Bill asked her if she was not glad that she married the President of the United States rather than a petrol pump attendant. “Bill”, was the reply, “if I had married him, he would have been President”. During the period when Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas and afterwards, President, it was obvious that Hillary was his most influential counsellor. In the White House, even on matters as loaded with import as the selection of a Secretary of State, it was Hillary’s choice who got selected. While another strong woman and decisive spouse, Nancy Reagan, played a big role during Ronald Reagan’s Presidency, this was on relatively few issues.
Hillary, by contrast, got involved across the board in matters of policy, although after the healthcare debacle in the US Congress, she operated mostly out of public view, armed with a suite of advisors both male and female, from whom she got total loyalty. The managerial abilities of Hillary Clinton were on display during the months when Senator Bernie Sanders was seeking to wrest the Democratic Party nomination from her. Often openly, the Democratic Party establishment, led by Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, operated on behalf of the Clinton candidacy, although it may be argued that this was because they regarded ageing socialist from Vermont as too weak politically to defeat the Republican candidate (whom they expected to be Jeb Bush).
In these columns a year ago, the contrary was argued, that (1) Donald Trump was likely to be the Republican nominee, contrary to what the experts said, and (2) that Bernie Sanders had a better chance of defeating him than Hillary Clinton Donald Trump clearly believes in destiny, or otherwise he would have managed his political campaign at least as carefully as he does his businesses. Those in India who know Trump say that he is not racist, and is at heart a liberal rather than a hidebound conservative.
This latter quality was on display during the Republican convention, when for the first time, a “gay” man admitted to his sexuality, not to jeers but to a standing ovation from the packed auditorium that was filled with party faithful. While it may be almost impossible to entice African Americans to vote for him, Trump could have won over a significant number of Hispanic voters, despite his pledge to build a wall along the border with Mexico. However, his comments on a Mexican-American judge who ruled against him in a case have resulted in the Hispanic vote moving away from him, a factor that has given Hillary Clinton the confidence that she can win Florida and even put up a fight in Texas (especially with the Bush family sulking at Jeb’s failure in the primaries) and New Mexico, while in several other states throughout the east coast and the south, the Clintons are relying on their complete mastery of African American votes giving them the edge.
Hillary Clinton is betting that Donald Trump will not be able to shed the anti-minority cloak that some undiplomatic and unrehearsed comments made by the Republican nominee for President of the US. However, Trump has an ace, his daughter Ivanka, who will be working hard to rebuild bridges to non-white voters in a context where Clinton campaign is casting Donald Trump as a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and (playing subtly on his German heritage) as a neo-Nazi.
In fact, Trump is far more liberal than Hillary Clinton’s Vice-Presidential pick, Timothy Kaine, who believes that only Catholics can enter the portals of heaven and not those of any other faith. Should Hillary Clinton for some reason leave the Presidency halfway, incoming President Kaine would be as conservative in his views as any Republican in Texas or South Carolina Hillary Clinton is betting that African-Americans, Muslim Americans, Hindu Americans and Hispanics would overwhelmingly vote for her,as would women,and hence that her focus needs to be on voters who are leaning towards the Republican Party.
In other words, white males and social conservatives, including Catholics, a group heavily represented in the manufacturing belts that Donald Trump is seeking to win. Hillary Clinton has chosen as her Vice Presidential pick a non-liberal who has zero history of paying special attention to the needs of African Americans or Hispanics, despite his fluency in Spanish. As for Muslim Americans, despite both Clinton and Kaine being totally on the other side so far as the Palestinian issue is concerned, the expectation is that Trump will be as toxic to this group as (the Clintons expect) he is to African-Americans and Hispanics.
Interestingly, Timothy Kaine has been a leading critic of both Narendra Modi as well as the Modi government, and again the Clintons are looking forward to the carefully crafted racist image of the Republican nominee standing in the way of Hindu Americans moving away from the Democratic Party because of Kaine’s hostility to the Modi government. Indeed, as Secretary of State,Hillary Clinton also was deeply opposed to then Chief Minister Modi, changing her stance only after he won a promotion in 2014 as Prime Minister of India.
As for Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, they have been ignored as completely as the other groups mentioned have. The Clintons are betting that their base has nowhere to go and therefore ,that they need to focus on winning over segments of the Republican base. They are also assuming that Donald Trump will not – or cannot – walk back from the anti-minority interpretation that the Clinton campaign has portrayed his speeches. This columnist stands by the forecast made a year ago, that Donald Trump is likely to prevail against Hillary Clinton, the formidable efficiency of her political machine notwithstanding.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.