Anyone with misgivings about Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions had them confirmed in spades by Clinton’s appalling speech this week on the Israel/Palestine conflict. In one stroke, Clinton vowed to defy any UN attempts at a resolution, to cozy up to Benjamin Netanyahu and to roll back even the minor pressure being exerted on Israel by the Obama administration. In short, Clinton promised to revert to naked, partisan support for Israel.
In her speech, Clinton tried to convey that U.S.-Israel relations would significantly improve under her leadership, noting that one of her first actions would be to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House. “We will never allow Israel’s adversaries to think a wedge can be driven between us,” she said.
And as for the Israeli settlements – which even our Foreign Minister Murray McCully has pointed out are eroding the space (diplomatic and physical) for that elusive ‘two state’ solution? According to Clinton, Palestinians have an obligation to avoid taking any ‘ damaging actions’ against them :
She lightly criticized the Israeli government’s policy allowing settlement construction across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, considered by most world leaders as a violation of international law that inhibits the peace process. “Everyone has to do their part by avoiding damaging actions, including with respect to settlements,” she said.
And as for the United Nations and international law… forget it.
At the same time, she garnered a wave of applause by promising to “vigorously oppose any attempt by outside parties to impose a solution, including by the U.N. Security Council” to the Israel-Palestine conflict, a proposal floated by some Obama administration officials but never acted upon.
Clinton’s main target in her speech was Republican contender Donald Trump who – compared to Clinton – has come across of late as something of a pinkish moderate on the Palestine issue.
In February, Trump said he would be ‘sort of a neutral guy’ when brokering peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in order to secure the ‘deal of all deals….It’s probably the toughest negotiation anywhere in the world of any kind,’ Trump has said.
To Clinton, that kind of neutrality on this issue is heinously wrong in principle :
“We need steady hands, not a president who says he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday, and who-knows-what on Wednesday, because everything’s negotiable,” she said. “We can’t be neutral when rockets rain down on residential neighborhoods, when civilians are stabbed in the street, when suicide bombers target the innocent,” she added. “Some things aren’t negotiable.”
This highly selective roll call of atrocities is bound to be dispiriting and de-motivating for the supporters of Bernie Sanders. Polls have consistently shown that the young and minority voters are far more even-handed about Israel, and are increasingly sympathetic to the Palestinians. Gratuitously, Clinton has just given young Democratic Party activists every reason not to campaign for her, or to vote for her in November. As one commentary on the speech has noted, Clinton either believes her own rhetoric on Israel, or is cynically using it against Trump – and it is hard to tell which is worse.
For the rest of the world, the Clinton speech is a reminder of the truly terrible choice looming in this year’s presidential campaign. It is coming down to a contest between a flaming egotist with a hawkishly aggressive foreign policy agenda, and Donald Trump.
As the primary process rolls on, two factors are emerging as being crucial to Trump’s presidential ambitions (a) his choice of running mate and (b) his ability to reach and inspire people who normally do not vote. Trump is painting himself as the king of voter turnout.
The running mate. Once Trump has secured the nomination at the convention in Cleveland in August, a running mate could help Trump to seem like a more re-assuring, mainstream candidate. Trump could choose to pursue a chairman of the board/CEO split, in much the same way that George W. Bush came to rely on Vice-President Dick Cheney to run his administration. For Trump’s purposes, the ideal CEO figure would be Paul Ryan, the 46 year old House Speaker. The Republican Party would unite behind such a ticket, and it would stop the “Republicans for Hillary” movement in its tracks. Ryan, of course, is more likely to conclude that Trump 2016 is already a lost cause, and saving himself for the 2020 nomination is a better investment of his political capital than trying to make Trump look palatable this year.
By default, Trump is more likely to choose a biddable subordinate who might counter Trump’s all too obvious weaknesses. Given Trump’s reputation for misogyny, New Mexico governor Susanna Martinez and Arizona governor Jan Brewer are both VP contenders. Martinez would also help counter Hillary Clinton’s obvious edge among Hispanics. However, this audiotape (in which Governor Martinez tries to creepily intimidate hotel staff and police 911 dispatchers over complaints about a rowdy party in her hotel room) will do her no favours. I particularly liked the bit where Martinez claims that she and her guests have been quietly ‘eating pizza’ in her room, and nope, no-one has been throwing bottles off the hotel balcony…‘for the past six hours’ anyway. Theoretically, wealthy Florida governor Rick Scott should help to deliver a perennial swing state for Trump, but Scott has not been a popular state governor.
Voter Turnout. One of Trump’s big, big themes has been that he is generating a massive uptick in voter turnout in the Republican primaries, while the turnout on the Democratic side of the contest has been down, especially when compared to 2008.
While superficially true, the underlying realities do not make this story quite such a positive one for Trump. Contested primaries always boost participation, and much of the turnout this year has been among Republicans trying to stop Trump. On the Democratic side in 2008, the contested Obama/Clinton primaries created an artificial high water mark, and in fact, this year’s turnout has otherwise been higher than in any other election in the past 24 years
…other than 2008, it is higher than any year since 1992. In other words, Democratic primary turnout this year is doing a bit better than was typical in the three elections before the 2008 aberration.
More to the point, there seems to be no connection between voter turnout in primaries and subsequent success in presidential elections.
Moreover, even if there was such a link, Trump’s ability to mobilise hitherto disenfranchised white voters only underlines the narrow demographic basis of his appeal. Come November, any voting surge created by his appeal to white extremists is likely to be countered by a corresponding surge in those groups – blacks, Hispanics and women voters – who oppose him. Democratic Party strategist Ruy Teixiera has already made that case:
[Teixeira] pointed out that while there are large numbers of conservative, working-class white voters in key battleground states like Florida and Virginia, who could provide a fertile support base for Trump, there are also a lot of African-American, Hispanic, and college-educated white voters, who will have noticed the kinds of things he has been saying over the past eight months. “I find it just so implausible that we could have this massive white nativist mobilization without also provoking a big mobilization among minority voters,” Teixeira said. “It is kind of magical thinking that you could do one thing and not have the other.”
The real danger would be if those minority groups came to see Clinton and Trump as being mutually repellent. Amazingly, Clinton’s Israel speech this week did a lot to accomplish that difficult feat, among the left in the Democratic Party at least.
Cautions and Consolations
If the prospect of a Clinton/Trump contest drives you to drink and/or if, like Governor Martinez, you find yourself to be ‘eating pizza..’ among friends….here are a few suggestions and cautionary messages :
and from 1928, this is still a spooky, cautionary track :