Biden still leads US Democratic primaries, Trump’s ratings fall slightly after gun massacres, plus Australian preference flows



Joe Biden remains the favourite to win the Democratic nomination.
AAP/EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

After the first Democratic presidential debate on June 25-26, Joe Biden fell in Democratic national presidential polls, and Kamala Harris surged. In the lead-up to the July 30-31 debate, Biden recovered lost support while Harris lost some of her gains.




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Since the debate, the biggest movement is clear gains for Elizabeth Warren, while Harris has continued to fall. In the RealClearPolitics national Democratic poll average, Biden currently leads with 30.8%, followed by Warren at 18.0%, Bernie Sanders at 16.8%, Harris at 8.3% and Pete Buttigieg at 6.3%. All other candidates are at 2% or less.

As I wrote previously, four states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina – hold their primaries or caucuses in February 2020, while all other states need to wait until at least March 2020. So early state polls are important.

In the only poll conducted since the second Democratic debate in Iowa, Biden led with 28%, followed by Warren at 19%, Harris at 11%, Sanders at 9% and Buttigieg at 8%. In New Hampshire, there have been two polls since the debate. One has Biden at 21%, Sanders 17%, Warren 14%, Harris 8% and Buttigieg 6%. The other gives Sanders a lead with 21%, followed by Biden at 15%, Warren 12%, Buttigieg 8% and Harris 7%.

In general election polling, Biden has a high single-digit lead over Donald Trump, Sanders a mid single-digit lead, and both Warren and Harris have low single-digit leads. Biden’s perceived electability is crucial in explaining his continued strong polling, as this tweet from analyst Nate Silver says.

For the next Democratic presidential debate, on September 12, the threshold for participation has been increased. As a result there are likely to be far fewer candidates than the 20 in each of the first two debates.

Trump’s ratings slightly down after gun massacres

On August 3-4, 31 people were murdered in two separate gun massacres in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Trump’s ratings are slightly down since these massacres. With all polls, Trump’s ratings are 41.9% approve, 53.6% disapprove, for a net approval of -11.7%. With polls of registered or likely voters, his ratings are 42.6% approve, 53.3% disapprove, for a net approval of -10.7%.

Perhaps due to his anti-immigrant rhetoric, Trump’s net ratings have fallen about 1.5 points since my previous article a month ago, and this trend has continued after the massacres.

In the latest US jobs report, the unemployment rate remained at just 3.7% as 164,000 jobs were added in July. These jobs reports have been good news for Trump. I wrote an old but still relevant article on my personal website last year about how the low US participation rate holds down the unemployment rate compared to Australia.

The question that should be asked about Trump is why, given the strong US economic performance, his net approval is well below zero. FiveThirtyEight has historical data from 12 presidents going back to Harry Truman, and Trump’s net approval is only ahead of Jimmy Carter at this point in their presidencies. If there is an economic downturn before the November 2020 general election, Trump is likely to be far more vulnerable.

An economic downturn could occur due to Trump’s trade war with China, or due to a “no-deal” Brexit in the UK. I wrote for The Poll Bludger on August 2 that the UK parliament is running out of options to prevent no-deal, which PM Boris Johnson’s hard “Leave” cabinet suggests he will pursue. In my previous Poll Bludger article on July 23, I talked about Johnson’s crushing victory (66.4-33.6) in a Conservative members’ ballot.

Trump can still win the 2020 election, despite his low approval ratings, if he is able to either demonise his eventual Democratic opponent, or win the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote, as occurred in 2016. However, recent state by state polling has Trump’s net approval below zero in ten states he carried in 2016, and in some of those states his ratings are well below zero.




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If all the states where Trump’s net approval is currently negative were to go to the Democrat, the Democrat would win the presidency by an emphatic 419-119 votes in the Electoral College.

Australian election preference flows and the first Newspoll

On August 2, the Electoral Commission released data on how every minor party’s preferences flowed between the major parties at the May federal election. The Greens, who won 10.4% of the primary vote, flowed heavily to Labor (82.2%), but Clive Palmer’s UAP (3.4% of the vote) flowed at 65.1% to Coalition, and One Nation (3.1% of the vote) was almost identical in its flow (65.2%). Excluding the Greens, UAP and One Nation, Others preferences were 50.7% to Labor.

Analyst Kevin Bonham says there was barely any increase in the Greens preference flow to Labor since 2016. The Greens flow increased in four states, fell slightly in Queensland, and was weaker in SA as more moderate voters returned to the Greens after the collapse of Centre Alliance.

In 2016, One Nation preferences were just 50.4% to the Coalition, so the Coalition’s flow from One Nation increased almost 15%. In 2013, Palmer’s party preferences were 53.7% to the Coalition, so the UAP’s flow to the Coalition improved 11.4%.

Preference shifts advantaged the Coalition by 0.8% on the national two party vote compared to if no preference shifts had occurred. The Coalition’s overall share of minor party preferences (40.4%) was its best since 2001, when the Greens only had 5%.




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In the first Newspoll since the election, the Coalition led by 53-47, from primary votes of 44% Coalition, 33% Labor, 11% Greens and 3% One Nation. Scott Morrison’s ratings were 51% satisfied, 36% dissatisfied, for a net approval of +15, a big improvement from +1 in the final pre-election Newspoll that was biased against the Coalition. Anthony Albanese’s initial ratings were 39% satisfied, 36% dissatisfied. Morrison led by 48-31 as better PM.

This poll was conducted July 25-28 from a sample of 1,600. Bonham says there is no indication in The Australian’s report that anything has changed at Newspoll since the election’s poll failure. As I wrote after the election, there was, and still is, a lack of adequate documentation of Newspoll’s methods.




Read more:
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Spain’s Socialists fail to form government

The Spanish Socialists won the April 28 election, but as I wrote on my personal website on August 1, a lack of cooperation between the Socialists and far-left Podemos could mean another election. Also covered: a landslide for former comedian Zelensky’s party in the Ukraine, and the conservatives easily retain their hold over Japan’s upper house.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Risk of shooting war with Iran grows after decades of economic warfare by the US



Iranian officials show off the U.S. drone they shot out of the sky.
Meghdad Madadi/Tasnim News Agency

David Cortright, University of Notre Dame

Many are worried about the risk of war between the U.S. and Iran. But the truth is, the U.S. has been fighting with Iran for decades in an economic war waged via sanctions – which is about to get a lot worse.

Concerns about a war of guns, warplanes and missiles grew after Iran shot down a U.S. spy drone amid already worsening tensions. President Donald Trump says he ordered a retaliatory strike in response – only to reverse course at the last minute.

Whether or not a shooting war does break out, the United States’ economic war has already been intensifying over the past year. On June 24, Trump imposed “hard-hitting” new sanctions on Iran in response to the attack on the drone.

Existing sanctions have already devastated innocent Iranians. Not only that, they’ve undermining long-accepted principles of international cooperation and diplomacy, a topic I’ve been researching for the past 25 years.

Carrots and sticks

Many nations have recognized that sanctions work best as tools of persuasion rather than punishment.

Sanctions by themselves rarely succeed in changing the behavior of a targeted state. They are often combined with diplomacy in a carrots-and-sticks bargaining framework designed to achieve negotiated solutions.

Indeed, the offer to lift sanctions can be a persuasive inducement in convincing a targeted regime to alter its policies, as was the case when successful negotiations involving the U.S. and Europe led to the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. That deal ended sanctions in exchange for Tehran shutting down much of its nuclear production capacity.

A year ago Trump withdrew the U.S. from that accord and not only reimposed previous sanctions but added further restrictions, including so-called secondary sanctions that penalize other countries for continuing to trade with Iran.

Protesters hold anti-war signs outside the White House.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Multilateral vs unilateral sanctions

In an increasingly globalized world, unilateral sanctions like these – in which one country goes it alone – are rarely effective at achieving their end result, which in this case is regime change.

Multilateral sanctions involving several or many countries have greater impact and make it more difficult for targeted individuals or regimes to find alternative sources of oil or other goods. And getting authorization through the United Nations or regional organizations provides legal and political cover.

When the U.N. Security Council imposed targeted sanctions on Iran in 2006 over its illicit nuclear activities, for example, members of the European Union were able to join the U.S. and other countries in applying pressures that brought Iran to the bargaining table. That’s what led to the negotiated nuclear deal nine years later.

The U.S. circumvented this voluntary multilateral process when it withdrew from the accord and unilaterally imposed “extraterritorial secondary sanction.” These barred nations or companies that buy Iranian oil or other sanctioned products from doing business in the U.S.

Although most countries disagree with the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal and some reject such sanctions as an infringement on their own sovereignty, they are powerless. They cannot afford to lose access to dollar financing and the U.S. economy and thus are forced against their will to do Washington’s bidding.

Iranians pay the price

And the Iranian people are paying the price.

Oil exports and national income are dropping, inflation is rising and economic hardships are mounting. The Iranian rial lost more than 60% of its value in the last year, eroding the savings of ordinary Iranians.

Life is becoming increasingly difficult for working families struggling to make ends meet. There are indications that the new sanctions are inhibiting the flow of humanitarian goods and contributing to shortages in specialized medicines to treat ailments such as multiple sclerosis and cancer.

Cargill and other global food giants have halted shipments to Iran because of the lack of available financing.

Punishment of the Iranian people seems to be a deliberate policy. When asked recently how the administration expects sanctions to change the behavior of the Iranian government, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged they won’t be able to do that and instead suggested it’s up to the people to “change the government.”

In other words, the pain of sanctions will force people to rise up and overthrow their leaders. This is as naïve as it is cynical. It reflects the long-discredited theory that sanctioned populations will direct their frustrations and anger at national leaders and demand a change in policy or the regime. Sanctions have never worked for this purpose.

The more likely result is the classic “rally around the flag” effect. Iranians are critical of their government’s economic policies, but they also blame Trump for the hardships resulting from sanctions. Governments subjected to sanctions are adept at blaming economic hardships on their external adversaries, as Iran’s religious and elected leaders are doing now against the United States.

Tehran is likely to respond to tightening sanctions by giving greater authority to companies associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, a major branch of the Iranian military, further empowering the very hard-line forces Washington claims to oppose.

The White House is ignoring these realities and adding to the already draconian sanctions, while threatening and making preparations for military strikes, hoping that economic pain and military pressure will make Iran’s leaders cry uncle. There is no sign of surrender yet from Tehran, nor is there likely to be, until the two sides pull back from the brink and agree to negotiate a diplomatic settlement.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on May 23, 2019.The Conversation

David Cortright, Director of Policy Studies, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Mueller testimony does not produce smoking gun, but the issues it raised are far from resolved



Democrats are frustrated that Robert Mueller did not make a clear-cut case for impeaching President Donald Trump.
AAP/EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

Brendon O’Connor, University of Sydney and Daniel Cooper, Griffith University

According to much of the early commentary, Robert Mueller’s testimony on Wednesday before two US congressional committees was a disappointment.

Democrats are frustrated the special counsel did not make a clear-cut case for impeaching President Donald Trump. Mueller answered questions in the most minimalist way possible, often suggesting congresspersons simply read his report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Democrats wanted Mueller to testify in the hope the American public would start paying more attention to his findings on how Trump obstructed justice.

It turned out that Mueller’s testimony was more sophistic than animating. But it did again highlight damning things about the president’s behaviour.

During the hearing, Republicans unimaginatively echoed Trump’s claims of a “witch-hunt” and asserted that the Mueller report turned up no evidence of collusion with Russia during the 2016 election or of obstruction of justice.

Like Attorney-General Bob Barr’s disingenuous summary of the Mueller report, these claims by Republicans this week were not true, but they have created a narrative that Trump is innocent. This claim is given ballast by Republicans’ allegations that FBI agents conducting the Mueller investigations were politically biased because some of them had said negative things about Trump in private correspondence or donated money to the Clinton campaign.




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If saying highly negative things about Trump behind closed doors disqualified bureaucrats and politicians from doing their job, Washington DC would grind to a halt. However, in public Republicans are sticking with Trump, doing his bidding in the Congress and tying their fortunes to him at least for the foreseeable future.

Democrats may initiate impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, but the trial ultimately occurs in the Senate, where the Republicans have a 53-47 majority. As a result of these numbers and the need for a two-thirds majority vote to dismiss a president, removing Trump from office via impeachment proceedings is very unlikely.

Republicans are showing no signs of abandoning Trump. It is worth remembering that no president has ever been removed from office by the Senate, although two – Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson – have been impeached by the House of Representatives.

Given these political rather than legal realities, will Democrats continue to push for Trump’s unlikely impeachment? The answer is yes. Although Democratic house leaders led by Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the house, are urging caution, the fresh wave of Democratic congresspersons elected in 2018 who rode a strong wave of anti-Trump sentiment in their congressional districts will continue to push hard for impeachment.

However, this divide can be overstated. As Pelosi’s comments following Mueller’s testimony demonstrate, the fact that Republicans control the Senate and are unlikely to convict the president may not factor into future considerations among the house leadership. Pelosi wants a strong case, not an act of political theatre. As she put it:

The stronger our case is, the worse the Senate will look for just letting the president off the hook.

Pelosi knows that the case against Trump continues to build. Democrats are pursuing the president in federal courts for a number of alleged financial improprieties, and the House Judiciary Committee is preparing to enforce a subpoena against Don McGahn – the former White House Counsel allegedly directed by Trump to fire Mueller during his investigation.

In his testimony on Wednesday, Mueller confirmed that Trump pressured McGahn in yet another attempt to obstruct justice. Those who have read the Mueller report would know that there were many such attempts. These include Michael Flynn’s lies to the FBI about his conversations with Russians during the transition, the pressuring and eventual firing of FBI director James Comey, and the attempted cover-up of Don junior’s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016 to get whatever dirt he could on Hillary Clinton.

The challenge for Democrats, if they go ahead with impeachment in the House of Representatives, is to articulate a clear case about why such drastic action is justified.

In legal terms, the case that Trump obstructed justice is strong, whereas the case for collusion with Russia is weaker.

It is easy to impute guilt by association with Trump and the Russians. First, there are Trump’s business dealings with Trump Soho and the push to have a Trump Moscow hotel. Then there is Paul Manafort’s close associations with Viktor Yanukovych. Finally, there is Steve Bannon’s appreciation of Putin’s support for ultra right-wing populists across Europe.




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However, the Mueller report and his testimony produced no smoking gun. Mueller rightly warned that the Russians have an ongoing campaign to undermine the faith of Americans in democracy. Given the existing levels of frustration and apathy about politics in America, Mueller’s alarm on this issue should be taken seriously. This was one of the few issues that the reluctant witness Mueller became more animated and forceful about.

Many of us are following the vast cast of characters central to the Trump era, the complex details of the Mueller report and Trump’s financial dealings, as well as the congressional hearings into Trump’s behaviour in office.

However, there is a simpler reality to keep in sight. That is that during the Trump presidency, the truth has been more politicised than ever. Increasingly, the truth is presented as a lie and a lie as the truth.The Conversation

Brendon O’Connor, Associate Professor in American Politics at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney and Daniel Cooper, Lecturer, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Being a Trump ‘bestie’ comes with its own challenges for Scott Morrison



It’s now widely observed that Morrison and President Donald Trump have struck an early bromance.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

“How good is this?” Scott might have said to Jenny, when word came that he’d be the first Australian prime minister since John Howard in 2006 to score a White House state dinner when he visits Washington in September.

It’s now widely observed that Morrison and President Donald Trump have struck an early bromance, demonstrated by the dinner Trump hosted for Morrison at the G20 and now the planned gold star reception.

Never mind that many Western leaders view with the deepest concern Trump’s erratic foreign policy, leading to caution in their comments.

Morrison last weekend happily praised the president as “a strong leader, who says what he’s going to do and then goes and does it. … I can always rely on President Trump to follow through on what he says.”

Key to this flourishing relationship is Trump’s assessment of Morrison. As Herald Sun columnist Shaun Carney, explaining “Why POTUS loves ScoMo”, wrote this week, “Morrison fits Trump’s requirements pretty much down to a tee. Morrison is a conservative and an election winner. Trump loves winners.”

And of course there is Morrison’s ministerial record on border security.

Even Malcolm Turnbull received some generally favourable rub-off from the government’s tough line on people smuggling. It was one point referenced positively (sort of) by Trump during that excruciating phone conversation in which Turnbull begged the then-new president to honour Barack Obama’s deal to take refugees from Nauru and Manus.

Turnbull and Morrison are very different, but there’s a similarity in their approaches to dealing with this idiosyncratic president. Turnbull sought, and Morrison seeks, to establish a link-in with Trump on a personal basis.

Turnbull made his pitch with the line that “I am a highly transactional businessman like you”. In the Turnbull time, Trump did reluctantly agree to honour the refugee deal, and Australia – aided by a range of US advocates, including members of Congress – won exemptions from Trump’s imposition of steel and aluminium tariffs. (These days Trump is somewhat irritated that Australian aluminium exports to the US have ballooned, as its position has been strengthened vis-a-vis competitors hit by the tariffs.)

It’s too early for a detailed read of how Morrison will handle foreign policy generally. But the description by a Liberal colleague has Trumpian overtones: “[Morrison] likes to establish relationships and he likes to be a dealmaker. He likes to be able to demonstrate back home the benefits of these international dealings.”

One crucial continuity in Australia’s handling of the Trump administration has been the work of Joe Hockey, Australia’s man in Washington. Hockey is the accidental ambassador, the former treasurer who was a casualty of the coup that took down Tony Abbott.

A hail-fellow-well-met character, Hockey has been the right man for the Trump era. Simon Jackman, CEO of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, says: “Much of what we’re seeing owes a lot to Hockey. He’s been a remarkably effective diplomat for Australia. He’s very tight with the inner [Trump] circle.” Topped by his golf diplomacy with the president himself.

As well as schmoozing, Hockey (to be replaced early next year by former minister and one-time Howard chief-of-staff Arthur Sinodinos) is also willing to remind the Americans in forceful terms of how solid an ally Australia has been.

That takes us to a key unknown in this evolving Trump-Morrison relationship. Were the US to resort to the use of military force against Iran, would Trump ask Australia for some involvement? Probably. In such circumstances, as we’ve seen previously, Australia’s presence would be for the sake of appearances.

If a request ever came, it’s close to impossible to believe Morrison would say no. Australia never does. But any involvement would likely be limited to joining international patrols and escorts of oil tankers. Morrison recently said that while he was not getting into hypotheticals, “it’s not unheard of to have Australian frigates in that part of the world engaged in maritime operations”.

Jackman detects “growing weariness” in Canberra strategic circles at Australia’s support of US efforts in the Middle East, especially given Australia’s priorities are increasingly with the “step up” in the Pacific.

That “step up” is driven primarily by the push of China deeper into the region.

Morrison has already marked out the Pacific as a priority in his foreign policy – one that fans out into the much broader issue of managing relations with China, on which so much of our prosperity depends.

The perennial talk about Australia facing a choice between the US and China is false. This is because the alliance will always have the stronger overall pull, however vital the China relationship is and however specific issues play out.

Despite the aim of keeping Australia’s dealing with China calm and pragmatic, experience shows that is near impossible. Irritants keep arising, whether it is Chinese interference in Australia via cyber attacks and the like, pressure in the South Pacific, or, as we saw this week, the fallout from an ABC expose about China’s appalling treatment of the Uyghurs.

On the Pacific stage, ANU professor of strategic studies Hugh White is highly sceptical of the effectiveness of trying to stop China’s encroachments.

Writing in the July issue of Australian Foreign Affairs, White argues that China’s “ambitions constitute a far bigger threat to US leadership in Asia than ever before, and a far bigger threat to Australia’s position in the South Pacific than we have ever faced. The costs of us of trying to keep China out of the region might simply prove impossible to bear.”

A cheaper alternative, White suggest, would be to boost our own military capabilities to deal with come what may; he argues we should engage in the region to the maximum but abandon “our traditional ideas about keeping intruders out of the South Pacific”.

Others see the situation in less stark terms, suggesting that while Australia can’t compete with China in dollars in the Pacific, it can give leaders of these countries more choice, allowing them to avoid getting sucked into a net of Chinese influence.

China will be a major item on the talks menu in Morrison’s Washington visit – for which he arrives September 19 – including the US-China trade dispute put on hold at the G20.

One challenge in being feted by Trump is capitalising on the “bestie” status while avoiding the appearance of over-familiarity and identification with a leader Australians don’t much like or trust.

This year’s Lowy Institute poll showed that, despite their strong recognition of the importance of the alliance relationship for Australia’s security (72%), only 25% of Australians had confidence in Trump “to do the right thing regarding world affairs”.

Allan Behm, former defence official and former adviser to Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong, suggests Morrison take “a long-handled spoon” to Washington. “Both are foreign policy novices. Morrison has to be very careful he doesn’t allow the developing personal relationship with Trump to draw him into decisions he might later regret – especially in relation to Iran.”

Morrison has already invited Trump to Australia for the Presidents Cup golf event in Melbourne in December. If he came, it might be a case of careful what you wish for. Especially when it’s Melbourne.

On his US visit, it will be important the PM be seen as his own man. He will have a significant opportunity when, as anticipated, he takes part in the leaders week at the United Nations in New York. He is expected to address the General Assembly.

However, one notable dilemma could be presented by UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ Climate Summit on Monday, September 23. If Morrison attends, there could be some awkward conversations; if he doesn’t, it’s a bad look for Australia.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

US House of Representatives condemns racist tweets in another heady week under President Donald Trump


Bruce Wolpe, University of Sydney

The past three days in US politics have been very difficult – and ugly.

President Donald Trump chose to exploit divisions inside the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives – generational and ideological – by attacking four new women members of Congress, denying their status as Americans and their legitimacy to serve in Congress. They are women of colour and, yes, they are from the far left of the Democratic Party. They have pushed hard against their leaders.

But Trump’s vicious, racist attacks on them have in fact solved the unity problem among the Democrats: they are today (re)united against Trump.




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You can draw a straight line from Trump’s birther attacks on Obama, to his “Mexican rapists” attack when he announced his run for the presidency, to his Muslim immigration ban, to equivocating over Nazis marching in Charlottesville, to sending troops to the US-Mexico border, to shutting down the government, to declaring a national emergency, to what he is doing today.

And his attacks on these lawmakers is based on a lie: three of the congresswomen were born in America. One is an immigrant, now a citizen, and as American as any citizen – just like Trump’s wife.

I worked in the House of Representatives for ten years. I learned early that you do not impugn – you have no right to impugn – the legitimacy of an elected member of Congress. Only the voters can do that.

Other presidents have been racist. Lyndon Johnson worked with the southern segregationists. Nixon railed in private against Jews. But none have spoken so openly, so publicly, without shame or remorse for these sentiments. So this is new territory.

And this is unlike Charlottesville, where there was vocal and visible pushback from Republicans on Trump giving an amber light to the Nazis in the streets. This is how much the political culture and norms have corroded over the past two years.

The Democrats chose to fight back by bringing a resolution condemning Trump for his remarks to the House of Representatives floor. Historians are still scurrying, but it appears this is unprecedented – the house has never in its history, which dates to the 1790s, voted to condemn a president’s remarks. (The Senate censured President Andrew Jackson over banking issues in 1834.)

The house passed the measure almost along party lines, with only four Republicans out of 197 – just 2% – voting for the resolution.

The concluding words in the resolution are these:

Whereas President Donald Trump’s racist comments have legitimised fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color: Now, therefore, be it resolved, That the House of Representatives […] condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimised and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of colour by saying that our fellow Americans who are immigrants, and those who may look to the President like immigrants, should “go back” to other countries, by referring to immigrants and asylum seekers as “invaders”, and by saying that Members of Congress who are immigrants (or those of our colleagues who are wrongly assumed to be immigrants) do not belong in Congress or in the United States of America.

So Trump is secure within his party – and he believes he has nothing to fear from the testimony of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, next week before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees.

Much attention will be paid to the examination of obstruction-of-justice issues when Mueller testifies. But the more meaningful discussion will occur in the assessment by the intelligence committee examining Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the persistence of a Russian threat in 2020.

Mueller ended his Garbo-like appearance before the media in May with these words:

The central allegation of our indictments [is] that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interference in our election. That allegation deserves the attention of every American.

The US presidential election remains vulnerable and it is not clear that sufficient safeguards are being put in place to protect the country’s democracy.

But it is the unresolved drama over impeachment that will colour Mueller’s appearance on Wednesday.




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Mueller concluded he could not indict a sitting president. However, he forensically detailed ten instances of possible obstruction of justice. Mueller said that if he believed Trump had not committed a crime he would have said so and that, as a result, he could not “exonerate” Trump.

The key question that will be asked of Mueller is: “If the record you developed on obstruction of justice was applied to any individual who was not president of the United States, would you have sought an indictment?”

And on the answer to that question turns the issue of whether there will be critical mass among House of Representatives Democrats, and perhaps supported by the American people, to vote for a bill of impeachment against Donald J. Trump.The Conversation

Bruce Wolpe, Non-resident senior fellow, United States Study Centre, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Two dozen candidates, one big target: in a crowded Democratic field, who can beat Trump?


Brendon O’Connor, University of Sydney and Dan Dixon, University of Sydney

An unprecedented 24 Democrats are currently running to be their party’s 2020 presidential nominee. Why are so many well-qualified, ambitious and smart people in the race?

The answer is Trump. The triumphant Democrat will face a president who was elected in 2016 with a historically high unfavourability rating, and the party is hoping this could mean an easy path to victory. In fact, many potential Democratic candidates are already significantly outpolling Trump.

In addition, those running view Trump as an existential threat to America, which means their candidacy can be spun as a calling rather than a career move.

On top of Trump’s ignorance, misogyny and frequent lying, he is despised by Democrats for his cruel immigration policies, loosening of environmental regulations, tax cuts for the wealthy, appointment of conservative anti-abortion judges, and habitual praise for dictators.




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Yet despite his policies and character, the president could well be re-elected. As Hillary Clinton discovered, running against Trump has its challenges. His attack-based, fear-mongering style is more electorally effective than many would hope.

Pundits frequently write about the loyalty of Trump’s base – rusted-on Republicans and whites without college degrees. However, Harvard voting data suggests that, in key swing states, registered independents and self-described moderates switched parties or turned out to deliver Trump victory.

So many Democrats are running for the nomination, the field was split in two for the first debate.
Giorgio Viera/EPA

The leader: Biden

Last week, we saw the 2020 election season officially kick off, with two televised debates featuring ten Democratic candidates apiece. But while the stages were packed, only a few candidates seem to have a genuine chance of taking out Trump: former Vice President Joe Biden; senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris; and Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

Currently, Biden is well ahead in the polls. He also claims to be the most “electable” Democrat in the field. However, primary voting does not start until February, and early leads can evaporate between the first debate and the first vote.

And since May, Biden’s polling average has declined from around 41% to 31%, according to an average of eight major polls. Right now, he’s riding name recognition and the warm glow of association with still-popular former President Barack Obama.

Joe Biden suddenly finds himself in unfamiliar territory as the front runner.
Tannen Maury/EPA

We’re particularly cautious about Biden’s chances, because when he campaigned to be president in 1987-88 and 2007-08, he was unimpressive. The former vice president remains notoriously gaffe-prone and his speech-making abilities are middling. In 2006, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote:

The only thing standing between Joe Biden and the presidency is his mouth.

Biden’s policy record is also full of controversial positions that are already being challenged. He supported the 2003 Iraq War, has a long-standing record of opposition to the federal funding of abortion clinics, and has been notoriously tough on urban crime. He also has a history of being on the side of financial institutions, backing a bankruptcy bill that was supported by credit card companies.

But in the race, Biden will look to highlight some of his positive policy achievements, such as his advocacy for landmark 1994 Violence Against Women Act and his involvement in promoting global poverty alleviation goals through proposed bills such as the 2007 Global Poverty Act.

The progressives: Warren and Sanders

Biden’s career of centrism and bipartisanship contrasts starkly to those of Sanders and Warren, his two closest competitors. Warren has been steadily improving her position in national polls in recent months, as Sanders’ has slightly declined – Sanders now averages around 17% of Democratic primary voters and Warren 13%.

Both have staked out left-of-centre policies the like of which have not been prominent in American presidential campaigns since the beginning of the Cold War. They support a progressive tax code and higher minimum wage. Both want to significantly cut US defence spending and curtail America’s overseas military involvements. Addressing climate change is also a priority.




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They have shifted the tone. Conversations about decriminalising illegal immigration to the US, expanding Medicare to all Americans, and cancelling more than a trillion dollars in student debt – all unthinkable in mainstream American politics even three years ago – are suddenly being taken seriously.

Why has America arrived at a moment where progressive policies are popular and it is conceivable Sanders or Warren could become the next US president?

The short answer is that status quo politics and economics have failed many Americans and the nation seems open to new solutions. Those “solutions” might still look like Trump, but they might also take the form of leftist policies that have long been considered irrelevant or unrealistic.

In the past, the Democrats have offered younger voters a less moralistic and more inclusive form of capitalism. Sanders and Warren, in particular, are now promising a social democratic vision that is far easier to communicate to the electorate than the complicated social policies promoted by the Clintons.

Gaining ground: Harris and Buttigieg

Harris and Buttigieg both sit to the left of Biden, but to the right of Sanders and Warren. Harris performed especially well in the debate – she effectively attacked Biden’s political history, and used her own past as a prosecutor to push for a ban on assault weapons. After the debate, one poll showed her moving from 6%-12% among Democratic voters.

Harris’ own history as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general, however, could prove a weakness, particularly in an environment where candidates are being challenged on progressive terms. In January, a New York Times op-ed argued that, when in power, Harris failed to push criminal justice reform and worked to uphold wrongful convictions.

A debate clash with Biden helped raise Kamala Harris’ profile among voters.
Etienne Laurent/EPA

Buttigieg is attempting to stake out the ground of the “scholar politician,” echoing Obama’s Ivy League credentials. He’s a graduate of Harvard and Oxford, and reportedly speaks seven languages. He also served in the US military and would be the first openly gay presidential nominee.

Popular among progressives, Buttigieg has made electoral reform a central policy platform – supporting abolishing the electoral college and introducing automatic voter registration – and has called for restructuring the Supreme Court to enshrine political balance.




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Among the challenges confronting Buttigieg is his response to the shooting of a black man by a police officer in his city, South Bend. At the Democratic debate, he was asked why he has been unable to improve African-American representation on the city’s police force. Buttigieg responded, “Because I couldn’t get it done”.

As the campaign wears on, we will likely see increasingly heated debate among the winnowing field, with any weakness that puts a candidate at risk of being defeated in the presidential race ruthlessly confronted and thoroughly interrogated.

As we approach February 2020, when the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses, the Democrats will continue to go through an existential struggle between those who believe the time has come for fundamental social reform, and those who believe such a platform would make a candidate un-electable, even against Trump.The Conversation

Brendon O’Connor, Associate Professor in American Politics at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney and Dan Dixon, Research Assistant at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trump and Kim are talking (again). But the leaders have yet to find real common ground



Handshakes and symbolism only go so far – eventually, the US and North Korea will need to work toward something more concrete.
KCNA/EPA

Benjamin Habib, La Trobe University

Sunday’s trilateral meeting in the Korean Demilitarized Zone between US President Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and South Korean President Moon Jae In made for compelling viewing, the latest chapter in Korean peninsula summit diplomacy.

Indeed, such a meeting would have been unthinkable only 18 months ago. It was an unprecedented event – the leaders of the US, South Korea and North Korea meeting together, especially in the DMZ.

Critics have argued, however, that the meeting was merely a heavily manicured photo-op. While heavy on symbolism, it covered nothing substantive and signalled only that the parties are willing to restart the negotiating process.




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A couple of major questions remain unanswered. First, what is the ultimate purpose of negotiations? Are the US, North Korea and South Korea talking about the same thing when they talk about “denuclearisation”?

And is the endgame of negotiations ultimately about denuclearisation, or is it about reaching a permanent peace settlement to formally end the Korean War?

Symbolism vs substance

Given the abrupt failure of the US-North Korea summit in Hanoi in February, a symbolic photo-op at the DMZ is an encouraging sign that the parties are still interested in talking.

These kinds of symbolic gestures are the foundation upon which negotiations can move forward, given that all parties are starting from a place of mutual mistrust. Without this kind of patient state-to-state relationship building, the US and North Korea will never reach a stage where more substantive issues can be discussed.

The symbolism is also important in signalling intent to the public in all three countries. For the US and South Korea, building domestic support for engagement is key to the ultimate ratification of any future agreement.

Define ‘denuclearisation’

We also need to place the DMZ meeting in the proper context. There are several parallel games at play in which the US, North Korea and South Korea have diverging interests.

The first of these games revolves around the US demand of “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation”, or CVID, which has formed the basis of US policy on North Korea for successive administrations since 2002.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program represents a threat to America’s nuclear weapons supremacy – both in and of itself, and as an example to other countries that might seek to develop their own nuclear weapons capability. A nuclear-armed North Korea also demonstrates the diminished authority of the US as a regional and global power.

We see the CVID game at play in the rhetorical commitment of the US government to denuclearising the DPRK, despite the evidence that CVID has thus far failed, and in the pushback against Trump for his perceived willingness to sacrifice this aim in order to reach a deal with Kim.

The North Korean interpretation of a nuclear-free Korea, meanwhile, involves the full relinquishment of nuclear weapons by all nuclear powers, including the US.

With this in mind, the Kim government is committing to a negotiating process from which it can obtain sweeteners, not an end goal.




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This leads into the second game at play: Kim’s quest to modernise the North Korean economy, which is important to the legitimacy and longevity of his government. Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program was developed as a security umbrella under which the government can move forward with economic modernisation, while minimising the risk of state collapse.

As such, the North Koreans are likely to seek an easing of economic sanctions and economic assistance to accelerate the development of their economy in negotiations with the US.

One way to achieve these objectives is by stretching the negotiating process out for as long as possible – this allows the North Koreans to secure incentives for small concessions over a longer-term, incremental negotiating process.

The impromptu trilateral meeting on Sunday played well to audiences in the US, North Korea and South Korea.
Yonhap/EPA

The race to develop the North

The third game relates to the potential opening of North Korea to foreign investment. Kim’s economic modernisation drive means that extensive opportunities for infrastructure development will emerge for foreign investors when the political climate eventually warms sufficiently.

The contours of a contest to develop North Korea are beginning to coalesce, with South Korean, Chinese and Russian companies jockeying for position to develop this relatively untapped space.

Moon, for one, sees this engagement strategy as part of South Korea’s broader push to integrate northeast Asia through economic and infrastructure linkages, such as gas pipelines, railway connections, seaports, regional electricity grid integration, Arctic shipping routes, shipbuilding, labour exchange, and the development of agriculture and fisheries projects.




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Elements of this emerged in last year’s Panmunjom Declaration, which mentioned the potential opening of railway and road corridors across the DMZ.

A peace settlement, or at least a negotiating process towards that end, is the magic key that could unlock possibilities for infrastructure development in North Korea. This would remove economic sanctions as an obstacle to investment and reduce the political and economic risk for investors.

Trump’s unique diplomatic style

Finally, the fourth game relates to Trump himself. His businesslike approach to diplomacy and penchant for policy-by-Twitter are far removed from longstanding US diplomatic practices, in both style and substance.

Trump’s desire to reach an agreement with Kim has brought him to the brink of relinquishing the US demand for “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation” by the North.




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While one could argue, as I have, that CVID has long been a fantasy anyway, Trump’s apparent willingness to make concessions on this front puts him at odds with many in his administration and within the broader US foreign policy establishment.

This may explain one notable absentee from Trump’s entourage in South Korea – National Security Advisor John Bolton, who was dispatched to Mongolia instead. Bolton’s hardline stance on North Korea is well known, so his absence was significant. In February, the North Korean media criticised Bolton for trying to be a spoiler in the negotiations in Hanoi.

More work to be done

Engagement with the North is hugely preferable to the uneasy status quo on the Korean peninsula that carries with it a heightened risk of conflict escalation. However, for this engagement to continue, the parties need an agreed purpose to keep negotiations moving forward.

The DMZ leaders’ meeting shows just how far apart the interests of the US, South Korea and North Korea are, and how much work needs to be done to build trust and align the parties to a basic common goal.

Handshakes and symbolism only go so far. Eventually, the parties will need to work towards something more concrete for the process to be sustained.The Conversation

Benjamin Habib, Lecturer in International Relations, Department of Politics and Philosophy, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australians’ feelings sour towards China: Lowy poll


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The attitudes of Australians towards China have soured dramatically in the past year, according to the Lowy Institute’s annual poll released on Wednesday.

Only 32% trust China to act responsibly in the world – which is a drop of 20 points from the 2018 poll and the lowest level in the 15 years of the poll.

Despite this, more Australians have confidence in China’s President Xi Jinping than have confidence in United States President Donald Trump.

Only 25% have confidence in Trump to do the right thing in world affairs (down five points since 2018), compared with 30% for Xi (a fall of 13 points since last year). Among those aged 18-29, none expressed “a lot” of confidence in Trump and 66% had “no confidence at all” in him.

The poll was done March 12-25, of 2130 people.

The results come as Scott Morrison, ahead of attending the G20 in Japan later this week, will address Australia’s relations with China, the increasing US-China tensions and the changing regional power balance in a major foreign policy speech on Wednesday.

He will say that while Australia will be “clear-eyed” about the fact political differences will affect aspects of its engagement with China, “we are determined that our relationship not be dominated by areas of disagreement.”

Lowy senior fellow Richard McGregor, who has previously reported as a journalist from Beijing, said the relentless coverage of China’s political system, allegations of interference in Australia’s politics, and its poor relations with its neighbours “seems to have finally registered” with the Australian public.

The results for China might have been worse if it were not for the Trump factor muddying the picture, he said. “There’s a recognition that we’re in for a much tougher time with China, and that’s accurate,” McGregor said.

On the Lowy “feelings thermometer” Australians’ feelings towards China have cooled nine degrees to 49 degrees since 2018, while their feelings towards the US have fallen four degrees to 63 degrees. The US rates behind both New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Lowy says: “In 2019, trust in and warmth towards China are at their lowest point” in its poll’s history.

“Most Australians say that Australia’s economy is too dependent on China and Australia should do more to resist China’s military activities in our region. Scepticism continues about Chinese investment in Australia and China’s intention in the Pacific.”

Nearly three quarters (74%) agree “Australia is too economically dependent on China”. Almost half (49%) say foreign interference in Australian politics is “a critical threat” to Australia’s vital interests – a rise of eight points from last year.

Some 77% believe “Australia should do more to resist China’s military activities in our region”. This is up 11 points since 2015. Six in ten people would support the Australian military conducting freedom of navigation operations in the South China sea.

There remains high concern about Chinese investment, with 68% saying the government is “allowing too much investment from China”, although this is a little lower than the 72% high point of last year.

Reflecting Australians’ mixed feelings as the country balances its relations with the US and China, 50% believe the government “should put a higher priority on maintaining strong relations with the United States, even if this might harm our relations with China”.

But 44% believe it should “put a higher priority on building stronger relations with China, even if this might harm our relations with the United States”.

With Australia’s policy pivot towards the Pacific being driven in substantial part by China’s expanding interest and influence in the region, 55% think that “if China opened a military base in a Pacific island country” this would be “a critical threat” to Australia’s interests. 73% agree “Australia should try to prevent China from increasing its influence in the Pacific” – although views are split about spending more money there.

When people were asked about their confidence in nine leaders, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern rated highest – 88% have a lot or some confidence in her. Behind her are Scott Morrison (58%), then opposition leader Bill Shorten (52%), Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (34%), Xi (30%), Trump and Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi (both on 25%. “This means President Trump is only ahead of Russia’s Vladimir Putin (21%) and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un (7%),” Lowy said.

The Trump factor has complicated attitudes to the US but the alliance retains overwhelming support with 72% saying it is very or fairly important for Australia’s security (down four points in a year). But 66% think Trump has weakened the alliance and only 52% trust the US to act responsibly in the world. This is little changed from last year but the lowest trust in the US since the question was first asked in 2006 and 31 points lower than in 2009.

In other results:

  • climate change is rated highest among the threats to Australia’s vital interests. Nearly two thirds (64%) rated it as a “critical threat”, up six points since last year and 18 points since 2014.

  • 75% say free trade is good for their own standard of living, and 71% believe it is good for Australia’s economy.

  • 47% (a fall of seven points since 2018) say the number of migrants coming is too high.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.