581 days down; 11 days to go. If it feels like the U.S. presidential race has been going on forever, you’re not too far off. The election is not quite over, but the winner is already known. Though the New York Times gives Donald Trump a 9 % chance of victory, he actually has no chance. Hillary Clinton has run a solid campaign, but at this point Trump would lose to Sonic the Hedgehog, Pennywise the Clown, or an inanimate carbon rod.
There have been so many Trump outrages that it is hard to know for sure at what point his election hopes were dashed. It could have been the recording of him casually boasting about sexually assaulting women to Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush. It could have been his progressively more insane debate performances, which exposed his “views” to much larger audiences than had even been paying attention to the election before. Or it could be Trump’s assault on American democracy-- threatening to jail Hillary Clinton if he won; claiming that there was too much press freedom; his constant refrain that the election is rigged; or maybe his refusal to say that he will honor the results.
It may be that Trump himself knows the race is over, which could explain why he held an event on 25 October touting how wonderful his Florida golf course is, or why his 26 October was a celebration of his new Washington DC hotel and why the press attending that event received promotional materials about the hotel. If you can’t win, cash in!!!
To become president a candidate needs 270/538 electoral votes. The polling (and 20 years of precedent) show that Hillary Clinton can lose both key swing states of Ohio and Florida and still win the election. The minimum she will win is 278, and could be as high as 367. Trump might even lose Utah, the most heavily Republican state in the U.S., to third-party candidate Evan McMullin.
So if the outcome of the presidential race is known, why stay up to watch the returns on 8 November? I’ll give you two reasons. The first is to see the nature of the outcome-- by how much will Clinton win? Will Trump continue to claim the outcome is rigged, even in a landslide? Will he overtly or subtly call for violence when he loses? Or, will he gracefully concede.
Spoiler Alert: He is not capable of grace. So that last possibility is out.
The second reason to watch is to see if the Democrats take back control of the Senate. It is likely that they will, as the Republicans who support Trump in heavily Democratic states are likely to all lose their races, and Trump may even bring down the Republicans in Democratic states who have denounced him. It is likely that the Democrats will take back the Senate, but without a 60 seat majority, their power is limited. These races have the potential to shape Hillary Clinton’s picks for key foreign policy positions-- National Security Advisor; Secretary of State; Secretary of Defense; and Ambassador to the UN.
Let’s take a quick look at the possible nominees for these positions. The National Security Advisor does not need to be confirmed by the Senate and is likely to be Clinton’s long-time advisor Jake Sullivan. Mr. Sullivan is a professor at Yale Law School and was the Director of Policy Planning at the State Department, which is typically a stepping stone to a major position foreign policy position. He is also a Clinton loyalist, which is perhaps his most important qualification for a candidate who surrounds herself with loyalists and yesmen and yeswomen-- albeit well-qualified and intelligent loyalists and yespeople.
Michele Flournoy is another Clinton loyalist and is highly likely to become the first female Secretary of Defense. Ms. Flournoy is a former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy in the Obama Administration, founder of the Center for New American Security, has held positions at Center for Strategic and International Studies and National Defense University, and Defense Department positions in the Bill Clinton Administration. She is widely respected and will be confirmed with no problems.
Not all of Clinton’s potential picks will be confirmed easily by the Senate, and the selection for Secretary of State may hinge on the balance of power in the Senate. Clinton may want to appoint women at State and Defense, and the likeliest female candidate for Secretary of State is former Undersecretary of State for Policy Wendy Sherman. Sherman was the Clinton Administration’s policy coordinator for North Korea and lead Obama Administration negotiator with Iran. Neither position has endeared her to the Republicans, or to many Democrats, and her confirmation would be far from certain without a 60-seat Democratic majority.
The other strong possibilities are two former U.S. Ambassadors to NATO, Ivo Daalder and Nicholas Burns. Either of these choices would send a post-Trump message, both to NATO and to the Russians, that we take our NATO commitments seriously and that the U.S. is committed to countering Russia on NATO’s Eastern border. Burns is a career foreign service officer, whose most prominent positions were in a Republican Administration, though he vocally opposes Trump; and if the Democrats don’t do as well in the Senate as expected, he could find himself the nominee. Both Daalder and Burns would also be strong candidates for UN Ambassador, as that position can be seen as a consolation prize for being passed over for Secretary of State.
The “dark horse” in the running for Secretary of State is Vice President Joe Biden, whose name has recently come up as Clinton’s favored choice. However, while it is normal in some countries for top political leaders to move up and down in position (for example, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was Prime Minister, then Finance Minister, then Prime Minister again) it would be highly unusual for that to happen in the U.S. My personal view on the matter is that “Biden at State” is the sort of thing the media likes to write about and pundits like to ponder about, but that ultimately will not happen. But I’ve been wrong about almost everything in this election, so I certainly wouldn’t bet my life against it.
So have fun on 8 November everyone… soon the U.S. election nightmare will be over, and in just a few weeks, this miserable year will be over, too!
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Cover Image: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during United States presidential election campaign 2016 [via Wikipedia].
What is your opinion on the dynamics and positions of the candidates in the closing phase of the US presidential election campaign? What are the key drivers for a potential success of the two major candidates in the race,? Leave your comments and opinions in the comments section below.