He unveiled an eye-popping plan to raise taxes by $5 trillion” on corporations and rich people, and reversed himself on financial regulation joining Representative AOC in promising to impose a 0.1 per cent financial transaction tax and crack down on Wall street. He is now no longer an alternative to the Democrat “progressives” but merely an echo. (See Kimberly Strassel: “Bloomberg says Me Too to Leftism”, WSJ, February 20).
The super primary results on March 3 should make things clearer. But, with neither Senator Sanders nor Mr Bloomberg likely to fold, the Democratic primaries will end up in a brokered convention, where the establishment will likely try and nominate Mr Bloomberg as the “moderate” nominee even if Senator Sanders has the most but not a majority of the delegates. This will exacerbate the current rift in the party between the progressives and moderates to President Trump’s advantage.
Illustration by Binay Sinha
So what are Mr Trump’s reelection prospects? A WSJ/NBC poll shows Mr Sanders winning a hypothetical race with Mr Trump. But similar 2016 polls, which Republicans feared would cost them the White House and Congress, proved wrong.
No doubt Mr Trump will be running on his record. But his personality and seemingly uncouth behaviour will also be an issue with many voters.To understand this and Mr Trump’s presidency to date, the best guide is provided by the classicist and war historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, Victor Davis Hanson in his book The Case for Trump (basic Books, 2019)
Hanson argues (Chapter 11) that to understand Mr Trump and his presidency, it is best to compare him with the tragic heroes from Homer’s Illiad and Sophocles’s plays (eg. Ajax, Antigone, Oedipus Rex, Philoctetes) and modern Western films (eg Shane). These heroes are not intrinsically noble or likeable. But, their tragic uncivilised flaws can at times be of service to the community. “Trump’s cunning and mercurialness— honed in Manhattan real estate, global salesmanship, realty TV, and wheeler-dealer investments —may have earned him ostracism from polite Washington society. But these talents can also for a time be suited for dealing with many of the outlaws of the global frontier, such as the Iranian theocracy or North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. And those outlaws are many and they are formidable”. (p.319)
But there is also a method in Mr Trump’s ostensible madness. As Andy Kessler (“President Donald J. Mac Guffin” WSJ, February 10) reminds us “On taking office, Mr Trump proceeded to hire smart people and create a massive diversion (tweets, border walls, tariffs) as a smokescreen to let them implement an agenda of tax cuts, deregulation and originalist judges. Those reforms have left the market to do its magic and got the economy grooving like its 1999. The daily Trump hurricane makes the media focus on the all-powerful wizard while ignoring the policy makers behind the curtain.” These tweets enrage the media without their understanding and dealing with Mr Trump’s substantive agenda.
As the contest progresses, there will be well known differences on domestic policy. Given the socialist turn by even the “moderate” Democrat contenders, I suspect that Mr Trump will be able to slice off only a small proportion of the politically incorrect element of the Democratic nominees base to win the election.
It is on foreign policy that the policies of the two likely Democrat finalists — Mr Sanders and Mr Bloomberg — could differ. As the establishment progressive Sanders like most Democrats is a hawk on China (witness Speaker Pelosi’s recent Munich speech) he would not differ from President Trump on China except as an idealist he would like more virtue-signalling on Xinjiang. By contrast, Bloomberg is a China dove, given the Chinese interests of his company.
This suggests two possible out-of-the-box policy initiatives in north-east Asia President Trump could take in the months before the election. The first is to announce the opening of a US embassy in Taipei. China would object saying it would go against the One-China policy agreed with Nixon and Kissinger. But on assuming office, Mr Trump took a call from the President of Taiwan to which China objected citing the One-China policy, and President Trump reportedly replied “What One-China policy?” It is time to end it, at least symbolically.
The second is more speculative. There is one observation most experts on North Korean-Chinese relations make: The deep-seated Korean animosity for the Chinese and their anger as having to depend on them in a hostile world. Witnessing the sheer childlike joy shown by the young Kim Jong-un wandering around the market in Singapore during his summit with Mr Trump, a thought struck me: Could a deal be done with Kim with the offer of ending the sanctions and massive private US investment creating a north Korean capitalist paradise in exchange for changing the direction of his nuclear missiles from Los Angeles to Beijing!