Clinton versus Trump: Who would be best for India? : The Statesman

US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (left) and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (left) and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.PHOTOS: REUTERS

In Indian conversations on the elections, supporters of Trump, aged 70, are derided with disbelief and scorn, but the moot question is, which of the candidates would be best for India? There is no easy answer, but one assessment could be that Trump would be the best choice for India.

The big prize in the recent New York primaries was 291 delegates for the Democrats and 95 for the Republicans.

It is the home state of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. 

Clinton stopped Bernie Sanders’ run of victories in six of the last seven contests to move strongly towards the Democratic candidacy, while Trump won 60 per cent of the votes and the lion’s share of the Republican delegates on offer, which somewhat reduces the chances of a contested nomination at the Republican Party’s Philadelphia  convention in July. 

With more than five state elections still to go, Trump could now argue that he should be the party’s nominee even if he does not win the 1,237 delegates necessary to claim the nomination outright.

The presidential elections in the United States are a complex and long drawn-out process but there are four main contenders -- the Republican Party represented by Trump and Ted Cruz in that order, and the Democrats by Clinton and Sanders. 

The election itself is on Nov 8 but the preliminaries have attracted wide interest not only because of the central position of the USA in global affairs, but because of the identities of the four contestants.  

Senator Cruz, 47, is on the far right of the political spectrum, so far to the right that he is one of the most disliked men in Washington. 

Trump, 71, is a lapsed Democrat, now independent Republican, but has never held political office. 

He is a billionaire real estate businessman who has funded his own campaign. 

Clinton, 70, contested for the presidency in 2008 and was foreign minister under Obama. She will be the first woman President if elected. Senator Sanders, 74, is a self-proclaimed anti-capitalist.

In Indian conversations on the elections, supporters of Trump, aged 70, are derided with disbelief and scorn, but the moot question is, which of the candidates would be best for India? 

There is no easy answer, but one assessment could be that Trump would be the best choice for India.

To begin with trade , all four candidates are exercised about ‘outsourcing’ and the deficit, namely, that America buys more foreign goods than it sells abroad which they see as a result of unfair trade agreements where the US is losing out. 

This is in contrast with the view of mainstream economics that trade liberalisation is beneficial for all that do it. 

By removing barriers that raise the cost of imported goods, countries can specialise in producing what they do best, and consumers and businesses can buy goods more cheaply. 

But a protectionist backlash, like an immigration backlash, is one of those things that has been coming in America. 

“I have voted against and led the opposition to every one of these disastrous trade agreements,” Sanders said. 

“Clinton has supported virtually every one.” 

The issue of international trade deals has swayed blue-collar voters in favour of Sanders because the North American Free Trade Agreement, which incorporates the US, Canada and Mexico, cost American 850,000 jobs and trade relations with China following its accession to the WTO led to the loss of another 3.2 million jobs.

Clinton is the only candidate who has held an executive position, and is the best known in India, She has a calculating, hawkish reputation, with her votes for interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and preference for such tactics in Libya and Syria. 

She can be described as a hold-over from the Cold War, and it was during her time as foreign minister that the US ‘tilt to Asia’ was initiated, whereas India has traditionally opposed great power presence in Asia. 

She has opted to play the woman-power theme and feminism to prove her ‘progressiveness’ against Sanders whose left-wing credentials are far stronger than her’s. 

Her weakness is among three key voting blocs: working-class white men, independent voters and reaching out to voters who feel betrayed by the Democratic Party’s embrace of free trade and left behind by the forces of globalisation and deregulation

Her platform is opposition to racial and sexist and homophobic inequality. 

But it is not likely that her’s will be a pro-woman presidency, since her record of female advocacy is uneven -- she has evaded the abortion and maternity leave debates in the past and expediency is her watch-word. 

She has not hesitated to cry ‘sexism’ in dodging uncomfortable questions. 

Women are 52 per cent of the electorate, of which single women are 25 per cent, but her popularity is with minority voters of both sexes rather than females, other than educated white women. 

Corporations and foreign governments that made donations to the Clinton Foundation received preferential treatment from the State Department during her tenure, which her opponents have used to attack her. 

Though Trump and Sanders differ widely, they both claim that the political system is broken and that this calls for new leadership and radical measures. 

Sanders focuses on class and income inequality; he promises to make university education free and medical care universal. Many young women back him. 

Sanders makes attacks on Clinton’s six-figure-payment speeches to Wall Street firms, her foreign policy views and her position on environmental issues.

“I think we’ve got a lot of young people’s vote, working-class people’s vote,” Sanders said, “this campaign is about creating a political revolution.” He calls for European allies to contribute more financial support to Nato, echoing Trump, and though Jewish, he said the US cannot continue to be partial in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sanders will need to attract black, Jewish and Hispanic votes in numbers he has not yet achieved. 

If he cannot do that, Clinton is the clear front-runner. 

New York, however, showed that Sanders’s campaign is stumbling. 

When asked about Israel, he said he did not know the answer or was not qualified to respond. 

He did not know the right policy to deal with IS. He demurred on whether the US government has the authority to order the break-up of banks that the President determines are too powerful. 

After his New York defeat by Clinton, he may have to consider withdrawing from the race.

Trump’s arrival was manna from heaven to a US media in decline with competition from the Internet and social media. 

Trump used Twitter to energise his supporters and his US$2 billion free media coverage was because journalists found to their horror they were distanced from the pain of working-class Americans and the jobless. 

They no longer had control over what was acceptable for a candidate to say in public, and they realized that big institutions like political parties or media outlets were not trusted. Trump is leading the race to be the Republican candidate because he does not talk or act like a typical politician.

After 2012 and the rise of the Tea Party, the Republicans felt they had to appeal to the youth, women and minorities. 

Trump is unpopular with all those groups, popular with Tea Party diehard conservatives, older less-educated whites and disaffected blue-collar Democrats. 

He is on the verge of a hostile take-over of the party. 

He is the ‘candidate of grievances,’ not least the move of the US from a manufacturing to a services economy. 

The Republican Party had engineered an electoral process to assist establishment candidates like Jeb Bush, but Trump’s celebrity has brushed these obstacles aside despite questions about his bankruptcies, tax returns and charitable donations. His is a protest campaign which appeals to those who want change.

What Trump has to say on abortions, waterboarding, Muslims and a wall against Mexican immigration is the American electorate’s business, as is his call to make America great. 

We may note in passing that India has constructed a fence against Bangladeshi illegal immigrants, and Israel has one against Palestinians.

Trump wants better relations with Russia and eschews interventions abroad, which should be welcome to New Delhi. 

“We cannot be the policeman of the world,” he says, “unfortunately we have a nuclear world now.” 

For that reason, he said, Japan and South Korea may want to build nuclear arsenals so that they can protect themselves. 

He is not the only advocate of the deterrence theory. He wants Europe, Japan and South Korea to pay for the cost of keeping US troops stationed in their countries. 

He would refrain from America guaranteeing regional security abroad. Instead of NATO, he is open to the possibility of a new kind of Europe-based organization that focuses on fighting militant groups. 

He said that if the US decided to send troops to Syria, he would want other countries to participate in the undertaking, the essence being burden-sharing of fighting IS with other countries.

Cruz is described by a member of his own party as ‘a jackass’. 

Yet he is highly intelligent, a skilled debater, and takes insults as a badge of honour to show he is not part of the Washington élite, rather that he is an insurgent fighting the ultra-conservative battle. 

He is a hard-charging, hard-headed conservative who once delivered a 21-hour speech in the Senate to oppose Obama’s health programme. 

His platform is to abolish the tax administration, levy a flat-rate tax, restrict abortion and immigration, and dismiss the risk of man-induced climate change. 

Like Trump, he opposes any Middle East interventions.

The Republican Party is deeply worried that any Cruz administration would be packed with activists further to the right than the Party itself. 

However a number of senior Republicans back him, fearing that Trump would be a weak candidate in the November election without the support of swing voters, women, Latinos and Afro- Americans.

Trump’s insurgent presidential candidacy has proven extremely successful in besting a fractured Republican field, propelling him to a commanding lead in the race for the nomination. 

He will go to the Cleveland convention with more delegates than Cruz, with many more votes than Cruz, and the moral high ground for saying he and nobody else should be the candidate. 

Without a majority of declared supporters, however, the convention could become a free for all with any amount of backstairs manoeuvering. 

For believers in democracy it will be deeply unsettling, and for Trump it might mean defeat. 

If Trump falls short of the number of delegates needed to secure the nomination before the convention, that would result in a ‘contested convention’ where voting for candidates starts again from scratch.

The majority present will be diehard conservatives, so Cruz could win from second place as did Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Mitt Romney and Mitt Ryan are spoken of as ‘white knights’ coming at the eleventh hour to the rescue of the party, but if Cruz is a close second to Trump in a contested convention, he might well emerge the winner.

After New York, Cruz is now in the business of  ensuring that the convention is packed with loyalists who in a nominating free-for-all will stand by him. 

Should that happen, Trump’s supporters would have every right to feel aggrieved. It would be like the Republican Party saying, ‘thank you for your millions of votes and your exercise of democracy these past months, but we know what’s best’. 

In this contentious US primary season, the veneer of accountability is rubbing off, exposing the unseemly mechanisms that drive the US political system.

It is difficult for anyone, whether Democrat or Republican, to claim the moral high ground.

Should the final round for the US presidency turn out to be Clinton versus Trump, it will not be a walk-over for Clinton. 

There are already signs that Trump’s previously brash campaign is being retuned for the remaining months. 

He has tapped into a huge popular groundswell of dissatisfaction with the American political establishment, and will also draw disaffected Democrats away from Clinton. 

There may be long odds against him, but he may still be India’s best bet.

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary.