Next US president will face intractable problems

Dr. Norman Bailey

The US presidential election is a confusing spectacle, and it's not clear who will ultimately be up to the task, or how it will pan out for Israel.

So far, this presidential election season in the US has been very unusual. The emergence of radical candidates of both the right and the left, who have made significant strides in the polls, the debates and in the Iowa caucuses has challenged the establishment figures in both the Democratic and Republican parties. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush was considered the front-runner on the Republican side, because of his name-recognition and huge campaign fund, with his only real competition coming from Florida senator Marco Rubio. On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton was expected to parade unchallenged to a coronation at the party convention.

No such thing. Clinton is challenged by socialist Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and his far-left agenda, which is appealing to large swaths of not only the democratic base in the unions and working class in general, but also to the Democratic youth. In the meantime the Clinton campaign has been harassed by an ongoing scandal concerning the private servers she used while secretary of state and by the threat that Vice-President Biden might challenge her for the nomination. Because of her poor showing in Iowa and the scandal hanging over her head, despite the fact that the vice-president had announced his decision not to enter the race, there is speculation that he might do so after all.

On the Republican side, the extreme right is represented by Dr. Ben Carson and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Carson is doing poorly but Cruz is surging ahead, having won the Iowa Republican caucus. Of the moderates still in the race, Rubio did well in Iowa but has still not shown the ability to seriously challenge Cruz, much less the wild card in the race, real estate mogul Donald Trump, who might be termed an equal-opportunity extremist, devoting himself to channeling the rage and fear of a substantial segment of the America electorate, angry over the failure of the political class to effectively address either economic growth or growing wealth and income disparities or terrorist threats at home and abroad.

Added to all this is the announcement by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, that if it looks like Cruz or Trump will be the Republican candidate and Sanders the Democratic candidate, he will enter the race as an independent, well able to finance his campaign from his own resources, as is the case with Trump. Bloomberg would be running to offer the voters a moderate alternative to the extremists on both sides.

The New Hampshire primary has sown even greater confusion. On the Democratic side Sanders swamped Hillary by over twenty points, a much greater margin than the polls had forecast. On the Republican side Trump won, as was forecast, but only about one in three New Hampshire republicans voted for him. Kasich was way up to second place and Rubio was way down to fifth. Perhaps most significant the two extremists won 47% of the vote versus 37% for the three moderates.

After future primary elections in Nevada, South Carolina and especially "super Tuesday", March 1st, with multiple states voting, it should be clear who are likely to be the candidates of the major parties, as well as whether Bloomberg will initiate an independent campaign. At that point three questions will arise, important to Israel: (1) which candidate would be most likely to reverse the economic disaster of the last two American administrations, especially with reference to the crushing debt burden; (2) which candidate is the most likely to reverse the decline of US influence around the world and especially in the Middle East, and (3) which candidate would be most pro-Israel.

As to the first, it will be extremely difficult for anyone inaugurated on January 20, 2017 to impose the fiscal and monetary austerity which will be required to reverse the economic slide and the programs and policies necessary to correct the social disaster of income and wealth disparities. Bloomberg would be the most likely to advocate the right mix of economic strategies, but his ability to get his program through a partisan Congress is questionable. As to restoring American prestige in the world, the inability to restart reasonable economic growth will make that very difficult for any new president, but of the various possible candidates, the most likely to try would be Cruz. Finally, the most pro-Israel of the candidates are Bloomberg and Cruz, but any Republican would be preferable to either Democrat.

Not a glorious prospect, to be sure. The next few months, and then the next four or eight years after that, will be crucial for the US and for its erstwhile allies, especially Israel.

Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and teaches at the Center for National Security Studies and Geostrategy, University of Haifa.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on February 11, 2016

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2016

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