Tuesday, Mar 31, 2020 | Last Update : 03:57 PM IST

Trump is on a roll now, India needs to cash in

The writer is an independent security and political risk consultant.
Published : Feb 8, 2020, 3:06 am IST
Updated : Feb 8, 2020, 3:06 am IST

President Trump’s victory in the Senate trial was a foregone conclusion with its Republican majority standing firm behind their leader.

Donald Trump
 Donald Trump

President Donald Trump’s triumph appears total after the collapse of his impeachment trial in the US Senate, leading to his acquittal Wednesday night. Not only that, his popularity ratings too have soared, according to the Gallup polls. The Democrats are in disarray, and as of now he looks a clear frontrunner in the run-up to the November presidential elections.

President Trump’s victory in the Senate trial was a foregone conclusion with its Republican majority standing firm behind their leader. Senate rules require a two-thirds majority for a successful impeachment, and it was clear from the beginning that the Democrats and Mr Trump’s rivals could never muster that figure.

Mr Trump continues to be the Republicans’ best and only bet now, and there’s simply no credible opposition to him within the party. Senator Mitt Romney, the lone Republican to vote against the President, whom he publicly accused of committing “an appalling abuse of public trust”, finds himself ostracised and staring at the end of his political career.

Massachusetts governor Bill Wield, talk show host and former US representative Joe Walsh, and realtor Rocky De La Fuente have thrown their hats into the ring, but nobody considers them serious challengers to Mr Trump. The Iowa Republican caucuses that took place on February 3 gave the President 97 per cent votes, illustrating clearly which way the wind is blowing.

The Democrats, on the other hand, present a much-divided house with as many as 11 presidential hopefuls and a diminished support base. Former vice-president Joe Biden is widely considered the Democrats’ favourite, but some reports suggest Bernie Sanders, the Brooklyn-born senator from Vermont, has a chance of taking the lead.

If the Iowa caucuses 2020 results are anything to go by, the results are significant. While President Trump got an overwhelming majority of Republican votes, the Democrats’ vote was split, with Pete Buttigieg securing an unexpected 26.2 per cent share, Bernie Sanders 26.1 per cent, Elizabeth Warren 18.2 per cent and Joe Biden trailing with just 15.8 per cent. These results are not just a big upset, but also reflective of the turmoil within the Democratic Party.

President Trump’s popularity, meanwhile, continues to grow despite his unpredictable behaviour, frequent gaffes and claims of past misconduct. According to the latest Gallup polls, approval for Mr Trump has shot up from 41 per cent in October last year to 48 per cent in January this year, which suggest that impeachment proceedings actually helped him!

Gallup’s economic confidence index shows an even sharper rise between October 2019 and January 2020, up from 21 (on a scale of 100 to 100) to 40. As much as 62 per cent of Americans said the economy is “excellent” or “good”, as against eight per cent, who described it as “poor”.

Clearly, the President’s hard-nosed economic decisions, particularly the renegotiating of trade deals (with Canada, Mexico, China and India), has the approval of large numbers of Americans. Also, employment is at a 50-year high and the economy has been doing consistently well over the past few years.

Not surprisingly, in the same period, the polls saw a happy rise in US “satisfaction levels”, or the percentage of Americans who are satisfied with the way things are going in the country, which is up from 28 to 41 per cent. Satisfaction levels haven’t been this high since 2005.

In short, President Trump is doing pretty good. Yet, on the flip side, Americans have never been as divided as they are today. While President Trump might have been acquitted in the Senate impeachment trial and is pushing ahead with a popular tailwind, it does not mean that the fundamental churnings within American society and politics have ended. Far from it.

Timothy Naftali, co-author of the book Impeachment: An American History, pointed out in an interview that wrongs do not necessarily lead to impeachment. Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 but like Mr Trump was later acquitted in a Senate trial.

However, a failed impeachment trial also does not suggest that the charges were wrong. In the end, as in the Clinton case, the Trump impeachment was all about politics and power. The substance of the charges was secondary and in the ultimate analysis of little consequence.

President Trump might have triumphed and is likely on the path for a second stint as US President, but he has not been able to unite the country behind him. If anything, it is more fractured today with the Gallup polls showing that 50 per cent Americans continue to disapprove of him.

Given the current political configuration in the United States, this disapproval rating will translate to little; politics, economics and the US strategic outlook can be expected to remain consistent over the medium term.

This can only be good news for India. For President Trump, despite his hard dealings in trade and business matters, does not appear to disfavour India.

Even his unwelcome offers to mediate between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue appears more a concession to the Pakistani leadership than an ill-intentioned snub to India. For Washington continues to negotiate with Islamabad over a possible deal on Afghanistan and President Trump has to keep the Pakistani leaders appeased.

Donald Trump will be visiting India later this month as a confident and relaxed President. He will be tough in negotiations and expect concessions from India, which he most likely will extract. Yet, in the overall scheme of things, the strategic engagement between the two countries can only be expected to intensify during his tenure.

India and the United States have a common opponent in the form of the great disrupter, the People’s Republic of China. President Trump has emerged as the first US leader to stop his country’s slide into total indebtedness to China. His “America First” slogan, slapping of import duties on Chinese goods and decision to enhance US military presence in the Indo-Pacific region suggest a mindset determined to resist China’s total domination of Asia and its spreading global ambitions.

An unrestrained hegemon in Asia is not in India’s interest either. Besides, India also faces an economic as well as a strategic challenge from China. New Delhi’s repeated requests for greater market access for Indian goods and services or a resolution of border disputes has met with prevarication or obfuscation.

New Delhi will do well to further cultivate a politically rejuvenated President Trump, fresh from his Senate triumph, and determined more than ever before to push through his overall agenda for America.

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