US Democratic presidential primaries: Biden leading, followed by Sanders, Warren, Harris; and will Trump be beaten?



Joe Biden is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.
AAP/EPA/Justin Lane

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The next US presidential election will be held on November 3, 2020. Incumbent president Donald Trump will almost certainly be the Republican nominee, but there is a contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. The Republican and Democratic nominees will be the only candidates with a realistic chance of winning the presidency.

Both major parties will hold presidential primaries and caucuses in the various states between early February and early June 2020. These contests select delegates to the party conventions in mid-July (Democrats) and late August (Republicans), at which the party’s candidate is formally nominated. Primaries are administered by the state election authority, while caucuses are managed by the party.

Democratic delegates are allocated proportionally to candidates who clear a high 15% threshold, both within each Congressional District (CD) and state. The more Democratic-leaning a CD is, the more delegates it will receive. The total number of delegates for a state depends on that state’s population and how Democratic-leaning it is.

There will be a grand total of 3,768 pledged delegates, so 1,885 is needed to win on the first ballot at the Democratic convention. Superdelegates (Democratic members of Congress, governors and party leaders) cannot vote in the first round, but if no candidate has a first round majority, it becomes a “contested convention”, and superdelegates can vote.

Four Democratic contests are permitted in February 2020: the Iowa caucus (Feb 3), New Hampshire primary (Feb 11), Nevada caucus (Feb 22) and South Carolina primary (Feb 29). Relatively few delegates will be chosen at these contests, but they are still very important for establishing front runners and winnowing the field.

On “Super Tuesday” March 3, 14 states will vote including delegate-heavy California and Texas. 1,358 pledged Democratic delegates, or 36% of the total, will be determined as a result of these contests, so this could be the decisive moment of the Democratic presidential nomination.

Current Democratic primary polling

In the RealClearPolitics poll aggregate, Joe Biden has 28.4% support from national Democrat-aligned voters, followed by Bernie Sanders at 15.0%, Elizabeth Warren at 14.6% and Kamala Harris at 12.6%. Everyone else is at 5% or less.

The first Democratic presidential debate was held over two nights, June 26-27, to cope with the 20 candidates who qualified. As a result of this debate, Biden dropped from the low 30’s to the mid 20’s, but has recovered a little. Harris surged from 7% to 15%, but has fallen back since.

The next Democratic debate will also be held over two nights, July 30-31. For the following debate on September 12, the qualification threshold has been raised, so fewer candidates will qualify.

In early-state polls taken since the first debate, Biden had 24% in Iowa, Harris 16%, Warren 13% and Sanders 9%. In New Hampshire, Biden averaged 22.5%, Warren 18%, Sanders 14.5% and Harris 13.5%.

On current polling, Biden would win the Democratic nomination as he would be the only candidate certain to pass the 15% threshold in the vast majority of CDs and states. Unless one of Sanders, Warren or Harris can build their support beyond 20%, this is a viable scenario.

Biden appeals to older and more conservative Democrats, but an important reason for his lead is his perceived electability. After Hillary Clinton’s shocking loss in 2016, Democrats are desperate to ensure Trump is a one-term president. In a Quinnipiac poll of California, 45% of Democrats thought Biden had the best chance of any candidate to beat Trump, with no other candidate getting more than 12%.

By the time of the 2020 general election, Biden will be almost 78, Sanders will be 79, and Trump will be a mere 74. Warren will be 71. Harris is easily the youngest top-tier candidate; she will be 56 by the election. According to CNN analyst Harry Enten, only 33% of Democrats would feel comfortable with a nominee aged over 75.

Another reason for scepticism about Biden’s electability is that, like Clinton, he is an established politician who was first elected to the Senate in 1972. There are likely to be some things in Biden’s long political career that Trump will be able to exploit in the general election.

For the record, Trump has over 80% support for the Republican presidential nomination.

What about the general election?

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Trump’s ratings are currently 42.4% approve, 52.8% disapprove with all adults. With polls of registered or likely voters, his ratings are 43.3% approve, 52.4% disapprove.

With the official US unemployment rate at just 3.7%, Trump’s ratings are weaker than they should be given economic data. There has been little change in his ratings since a slump during the January 2019 government shutdown, followed by a recovery once the shutdown ended.

Trump’s current ratings show that, if the next election is a referendum on his performance, he should be defeated. Trump’s best chance of re-election is if the Democrats nominate somebody who is also unpopular, as Clinton was in 2016.

On current economic figures, Trump will probably be defeated in 2020, but this is by no means certain. However, there is a major political risk to the economy: a “no-deal” Brexit. Right-wingers have strongly advocated a hard Brexit, and they may get what they want with Boris Johnson certain to be the next British PM – as I wrote for The Poll Bludger on July 10. The result of the Conservative members’ ballot for leader will be declared on July 23.

If a no-deal Brexit occurs on October 31, there is likely to be a large negative impact on the UK economy, with knock-on effects for the world economy. A no-deal Brexit and Trump’s tariffs are likely to have some impact on the US economy. A US recession in 2020 would be very bad for Trump’s re-election chances.

As I said in the article I wrote immediately after the May Australian election, I believe the left’s only hope to consistently win elections is if there is a major economic disaster that is blamed on the right.




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Coalition wins election but Abbott loses Warringah, plus how the polls got it so wrong


Right wins Greek election, left wins Turkish Istanbul mayoral re-election

I wrote on my personal website on July 8 that the conservative New Democracy won the July 7 Greek election with 158 of the 300 parliamentary seats, ousting the far-left SYRIZA. In Turkey, the left won the June 23 Istanbul mayoral re-election by a much bigger margin than originally.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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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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Two dozen candidates, one big target: in a crowded Democratic field, who can beat Trump?


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.

Iran’s leader is losing his grasp on power. Does this mean diplomacy is doomed?



President Hassan Rouhani came to office with an olive branch, but his hard-liners rivals now appear to be setting the political agenda in Iran.
Iranian Presidency Office Handout/EPA

Shahram Akbarzadeh, Deakin University

Iran’s announcement last Sunday that it would break the limit on uranium enrichment agreed to in the nuclear deal with world powers was not a surprise. It came hot on the heels of another breach only a few days earlier on the 300-kilogram limit agreed to in the deal on stockpiles of low-enriched uranium.

Iran had warned Europe that it would start dismantling the nuclear accord if the promised economic benefits of the agreement did not materialise. A year after the US withdrew from the nuclear deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, and imposed very strict sanctions on Iran, the Iranian leadership appears ready to give up on finding a diplomatic solution to this deadlock.




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Iran’s nuclear program breaches limits for uranium enrichment: 4 key questions answered


This bodes ill for the future of President Hassan Rouhani and regional security. A weakened Rouhani will find it difficult to fend off his hard-line critics in Iran and keep the nuclear deal alive.

With every step away from diplomacy, the hard-liners have taken a step forward and appear to be now setting the political agenda in Iran.

Rouhani’s riskiest gamble

The JCPOA was signed in 2015 between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany.

This was Rouhani’s greatest achievement and riskiest gamble. He faced the ire of hard-liners in Iran who continue to have a formidable presence in the parliament, as well as the security and judicial system.

They accused Rouhani of selling out Iranian sovereignty and betraying the ideals of the Islamic revolution by scaling back Iran’s nuclear program and subjecting it to an unprecedented international monitoring regime.

Rouhani nonetheless pushed through his agenda of finding a diplomatic solution to Iran’s isolation because he believed that years of sanctions and mismanagement had pushed the Iranian economy to the brink of collapse.

He staked his political fortunes on bringing Iran out of isolation.

The JCPOA was the compromise deal to assure the international community that Iran would not pursue a nuclear weapons program in return for sanctions relief to revive the Iranian economy.

But US President Donald Trump never liked the deal. He campaigned against it and often questioned Iran’s commitment to it, though the UN International Atomic Energy Agency consistently reported on Iran’s compliance with the terms of the agreement.




Read more:
Why Donald Trump is backing the US into a corner on Iran


Despite much lobbying by European powers, Trump withdrew from the deal in May 2018 and reimposed severe unilateral sanctions on Iran, and anyone dealing with Iran.

Losing control to the hard-liners

Trump’s decision to tear up the nuclear deal was seen by the conservatives in Iran as a vindication of their feelings towards the United States. They lambasted Rouhani for putting his trust in the US.

In May 2019, the situation got even more tense after Trump announced that US warships were sailing to the Persian Gulf to counter potential Iranian hostility. No intelligence regarding a suspected Iranian threat was shared.

The escalation of tensions following the alleged Iranian attack on two oil tankers last month, and the downing of a US reconnaissance drone by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards has made it very hard to find a diplomatic solution. Drums of war are silencing voices of diplomacy.

While Rouhani came to office with an olive branch, he realises that he has effectively lost the political contest against his hard-line critics. He has another two years in office, but is at risk of losing the presidency if the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who yields ultimate power in Iran, is disillusioned with his performance.

This realisation has seriously undermined Rouhani, who appears to have adopted the language and posture of the hard-liners in relation to the US. It is unclear if this can save him in office, or embolden his critics who seem to be gaining significant momentum.

In May, the Supreme Leader appointed a battle-hardened General as the commander of the Basij paramilitary force, an arm of the Revolutionary Guards that suppresses domestic dissent.




Read more:
Iran nuclear deal is hanging by a thread – so will Islamic Republic now develop a bomb?


This was a significant development for the hard-liners in case they seek to assert political control. Basij has been a ruthless security force inside Iran and can provide the necessary street support for a potential coup against Rouhani.

Another notable military commander is General Qasem Soleimani, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise in Iran due to his performance as commander of Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guards’ international arm operating mostly in Iraq and Syria to defeat the Islamic State.

He is considered a war hero by the public and now has the confidence of the Supreme Leader. This is an ominous development for Rouhani.

A woman carrying a picture of Qasem Soleimani during an anti-US demonstration in Tehran earlier this year.
Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

Breaking with the tenets of the nuclear deal was also clearly not Rouhani’s objective, as it would reverse his hard-won diplomatic gains and discredit his legacy.

Iran’s recent breaches on uranium enrichment and stockpiles were incremental steps to exert pressure on European leaders to adhere to their promises of sanctions relief. This strategy was predicated on the assumption that Europe has more to lose with the collapse of JCPOA than a rift with the United States. It can only be described as a desperate move, showing that Rouhani is fast running out of options.

The window of opportunity for a diplomatic solution is fast closing and the alternative scenario of the return of a combative government in Tehran is looking more and more unavoidable. This would shut the doors to diplomacy and increase the chance of confrontation with the West.

Trump accused Iran of not wanting to sit at the table. He may be fulfilling his own prophecy.


An earlier version of this article implied General Qasem Soleimani was the leader of the Basij security force, when he is actually the commander of the Quds Force.The Conversation

Shahram Akbarzadeh, Professor of Middle East & Central Asian Politics, Deputy Director (International), Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

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.




Read more:
Democrats should avoid pledges to overturn the Trump revolution – there hasn’t been one


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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Fighting words for a New Gilded Age – Democratic candidates are sounding a lot like Teddy Roosevelt


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.

Senate president Scott Ryan launches grenade against the right


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Senate president Scott Ryan has called out the right within the
Liberal party and among commentators, declaring that Liberal voters
“don’t want views rammed down their throats”.

In a trenchant critique of federal influences in the rout of the
Victorian Liberals, Ryan, a former vice-president of the state
division, pointed to the swings in seats “that are the cradle of the
Liberal party”.

They were areas that were in federal seats like Goldstein, Higgins,
Menzies and Kooyong, he told the ABC.

These voters were the “real base of the Liberal party. They sent us a
message,” he said. “They don’t want litmus tests for what it means to be a real Liberal”.

Many Liberal voters were fairly conservative in their own lives,
raising kids, working hard, running small businesses, supporting
strong local communities. “But they’re pretty liberal in their
political outlook. They don’t want views rammed down their throat, and
they don’t want to ram their views down other people’s throat.

“And that has historically been the Liberal way. We’re often
conservative in our disposition – I am – but I’m very liberal in my
political outlook”.

He said part of the problem was “tone” – while Victoria was a state
election some of the noise that came out of Canberra “did strongly
influence the scale of the loss, where it happened”.

Ryan said after the loss of Wentworth some had “tried to dismiss those
voters as not part of real Australia … labelling people, dismissing
them – that’s not the Liberal way.

“I want to cast the net wide in the Menzies and Howard tradition [so]
as to give people a reason to be Liberals, not come up with litmus
tests and say if you don’t hold this view on a social issue, or if you
don’t hold this particular view on climate change or renewable energy,
then somehow you’re not a real Liberal.

“This is not the path to electoral success. And I’m sick of being
lectured to by people who aren’t members of the party, by people who
have never stood on polling booths, about what it means to be a real
Liberal”.

Ryan declined to name names, but his reference to the media was
directed at commentators on Sky in the evening and the Sydney shock
jocks.

Liberal voters wanted the government to focus on their issues and “I
think the federal government is doing that,” he said.

Ryan said that the days before Wentworth “were distracted … talking
about what some people call religious freedom”. In Victoria people
weren’t raising anti-discrimination law with him on polling booths.

“What we need to do is say the Liberal party has people with various
views, and all of those views can be accommodated, and internally the
idea of compromise is actually a good thing”.

Too often compromise was seen as a sell out, he said. But John Howard
and Peter Costello had compromised to achieve historic tax reform;
Peter Reith had compromised with the Australian Democrats to get
industrial relations change.

“This idea – and I think this is another thing that a lot of our
voters are tired of – that somehow to compromise to address a problem,
and move on to one of the other plethora of problems governments need
to address – that is not selling out – that is getting the jobs done”.

Tim Wilson, the member for Goldstein, criticised those who were being
ideological about energy policy.

“If anybody thinks that there’s this great public sentiment out there
that people really deep down hate renewables and they’re hugging
something like coal, I say again — get real,” Wilson told Sky.

He said he had sat on polling booths where “every second person either gave you deadly silence, which is a very cold, deadly silence, or there were people mentioning energy, climate, or the deposing of the prime minister”.

Victorian senator Jane Hume wrote in the Australian Financial Review:
“Our quest should always be to raise the standard of living – whether
through economic policies, energy, health or education. If we allow
good policy to be infiltrated by even the perception of an ideological
crusade, Labor will win the messaging war”.

After the Prime Minister met Victorian Liberal federal MPs on Monday
morning Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who is deputy Liberal leader, said
“We had a good, honest discussion about lessons to be learned from the
state campaign. As a group we will continue to be focused on
delivering for our local communities.”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.

China, North Korea and trade the key talking points when Turnbull meets Trump



File 20180220 161908 1br71rj.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Malcolm Turnbull will be relieved to have some time away from the Barnaby Joyce affair when he arrives in Washington this week.
Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Malcolm Turnbull was no doubt relieved when the prime ministerial jet lifted off from Australian soil yesterday, bound for the United States and his first formal round of discussions in Washington with an American president.

In Turnbull’s own words – applied to Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s domestic troubles – he will be hoping to leave behind a “world of woe”.

After a steadier start to the new year, the Joyce scandal, involving an affair with a political staffer, has cut the ground from under those improved prospects.

This has been reflected in the latest round of polling, which shows the Coalition slipping back against the Labor opposition. Turnbull’s own approval rating has taken a hit.

For these and other reasons, not least the need to establish a sound working relationship with a new administration, the prime minister will be looking to a circuit-breaker.




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Whether Turnbull’s “first 100 years of mateship” visit to Washington – with state premiers and business leaders in tow – provides a diversion from his domestic woes remains to be seen.

The hokey branding for the mission refers to the centenary of American soldiers fighting under Australian command on the Western Front in the Battle of Hamel in 1918.

In Washington, Turnbull’s discussions with President Donald Trump will focus primarily on China’s rise, the North Korean nuclear issue, and trade.

How to respond to North Korea’s provocations represents an immediate problem. But in the longer term, China’s expanding power and influence constitute the greatest security challenge facing Australia since the second world war.

In his public statements, Turnbull has been alternately hawkish and conciliatory toward Beijing, but it appears his instincts tend to align themselves with an American hedging strategy.

The Turnbull view of how to manage China’s rise was given particular expression in a speech in June 2017 to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. In this speech he called for “new sources of leadership [in the Indo-Pacific] to help the United States shape our common good”.

Turnbull’s Shangri-La speech was forthright for an Australian prime minister. He sharply criticised China’s “unilateral actions to seize or create territory or militarise disputed areas” in the South China Sea.

Beijing denies it, but it is clear it has been constructing a defence perimeter on islands and features in disputed waters. This prompted the following from Turnbull:

China has gained the most from the peace and harmony in our region and it has the most to lose if it is threatened … A coercive China would find its neighbours resenting demands they cede their autonomy and strategic space and look to counterweigh Beijing’s power by bolstering alliances and partnerships, between themselves and especially with the United States.

That speech was followed by increased efforts to expand a quadrilateral security dialogue between Australia, Japan, India and the US.

Turnbull’s visit to Japan in January for high-profile talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emphasised shared regional security goals with other members of the so-called Quad.

What steps might be taken to further develop security collaboration between Australia, the US, India and Japan will almost certainly be on the table in Washington.

The Trump administration’s appointment of Admiral Harry Harris, the outgoing head of the US Pacific Command, as the ambassador-designate in Canberra is a signal of its intentions.

Harris has a hawkish view of China’s expanding influence in the Indo-Pacific. His participation in a security conference in Delhi in January along with Australian, Japanese and Indian naval commanders was significant in light of stepped-up efforts to bolster maritime collaboration between Quad members.

However – and this is a sizeable “however” – Turnbull needs to be careful not to be sucked into an American slipstream where China is concerned. Australia’s commercial interests dictate prudence in how it positions itself between a rising China and the US under an unpredictable Trump presidency.

The new US National Defence Strategy exposed differences between Canberra and Washington in their views of “revisionist” China and Russia as threats to US hegemony.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop felt obliged to distance Australia from the Trump administration’s characterisation of attempts by China and Russia to “shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model”. She said:

We have a different perspective on Russia and China, clearly. We do not see Russia or China as posing a military threat to Australia.

Turnbull, for his part, provided a more nuanced response. He said:

We don’t see threats from our neighbours in the region but nonetheless every country must always plan ahead and you need to build the capabilities to defend yourself not just today but in 10 years or 20 years hence.

Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper and 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper (the two documents should be read in conjunction) sketched out a future in which the country needs to buttress its defence capabilities in light of China’s rise.

Apart from China and related security matters, Turnbull will focus on trade in Washington. He will no doubt try to persuade Trump to revisit his decision to pull the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, now rebranded as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

The US withdrawal from the TPP, as one of Trump’s first executive acts as president, was disappointing. A trading bloc in the Indo-Pacific accounting for 36% of global GDP would have served as a counterweight to China’s surging trade and investment ambitions.

The revised CPTPP – including Australia, Japan, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Chile, Vietnam and Brunei – remains significant. But clearly the abrupt US withdrawal has lessened its reach.

Significantly, Turnbull will discuss the CPTPP on the eve of the initialling of the agreement among the 11 remaining participants on March 8.

Trump has indicated he might be receptive to arguments for American re-engagement in the CPTPP process. However, this would require the renegotiation of provisions on such contentious issues as dispute settlements, copyright and intellectual property.

It is hard to see this happening in a timely manner. In a sense, the train has left the station.




Read more:
Trump and Turnbull have little cause for satisfaction over progress in Afghanistan


The Turnbull-Trump focus on China may also yield discussion about a competing regional infrastructure investment initiative to balance China’s “Belt and Road” program.

The latter is a vast Chinese infrastructure scheme. China is seeking to strengthen its influence in surrounding states by recycling a portion of its foreign exchange reserves in road, rail, port and other such projects.

It is not clear just how Turnbull and Trump might seek to provide alternative sources of infrastructure funding for projects to counter Chinese attempts to buy influence far and wide.

The ConversationSuch a scheme emerged from a pre-summit briefing in Canberra. The fact it is being floated attests to concerns in Washington and Canberra about China’s success in using its financial heft to extend its security interests.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Nationals president urges party: don’t act hastily on Joyce


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Nationals’ federal president, Larry Anthony, has appealed to the party to give Barnaby Joyce “time”, as Joyce’s future sits on a knife-edge.

Anthony, who flew to Canberra for talks on the crisis late Tuesday, said afterwards: “It’s been an extraordinarily difficult time for the National Party, and clearly for Barnaby Joyce and his family, and for the government.

“It’s important people think very carefully about making any significant decisions. You are never wise to make decisions in the heat of the moment. Barnaby should be given time.”

With speculation on Tuesday about whether he’d last the week, Joyce’s greatest protection in the short term remained the absence of a strong alternative. The atmosphere in Coalition ranks was fevered, with the pressure all the greater because Joyce is due to become acting prime minister next week, a prospect that appals many Liberals. No-one knows what the next media story might bring.

Joyce on Tuesday morning issued multiple apologies, as he desperately tried to contain the damage of his affair with former staffer Vikki Campion, who is expecting his child.

He was “deeply sorry” for the hurt he’d caused his wife and daughters, and “deeply sorry” Campion had been dragged into the controversy. The message to supporters and his electorate was that he was “deeply sorry” a personal issue had gone into the public arena.

Later there was a further apology in the Coalition partyroom, essentially for the trouble he’s caused.

“Every political career has a time of trial,” Joyce told the meeting, adding he was determined to work through his situation. He thanked colleagues for their solidarity.

To the extent there was solidarity, it was driven by necessity.

Angry Liberals are powerless – they have no say in who is Nationals leader.

A report that Malcolm Turnbull was ringing around senior Nationals was denied – Turnbull is said to have returned a call from a National who called him. A Liberal leader wading into a Nationals leadership matter would be as risky as jumping into crocodile waters.

The Nationals’ situation is perfectly described by the “rock-and-hard-place” cliché.

They have a diminished leader, discredited among their conservative base. But the alternatives are less than optimal for a small party that needs strong leadership to extract more for the bush than its numbers would justify.

Resources Minister Matt Canavan is a senator and so not an option. Darren Chester, whom Joyce dumped from cabinet in December, is a Victorian (and a social moderate) – if he were elevated, Bridget McKenzie would have to go from the deputyship because a party with its heartland further north couldn’t have two Victorians at the top.

That leaves Michael McCormack, from New South Wales, solid but not popular enough with his colleagues even to win the deputyship in recent ballots.

On anything to do with the Joyce issue Turnbull’s approach – in the partyroom, in parliament and in the media – is, figuratively, to hold his nose and point his finger at the culprit.

Turnbull on Tuesday again had to answer a batch of questions in parliament including about the definition of a “partner” for the purposes of the ministerial code.

That code bans “partners” working in ministerial offices. Joyce said on Tuesday that Campion was “without a shadow of doubt” his partner now but she wasn’t when she was on his staff.

“Partner is not defined in the relevant ministerial standards,” Turnbull said, directing attention to the definition used by the Department of Human Services.

The Human Services website says:

To determine if you’re a member of a couple … we’ll consider the following factors: financial aspects of your relationship; nature of your household; social aspects of your relationship; if you have a sexual relationship; nature of your commitment to each other.

Turnbull told parliament that “Centrelink considers a person to be in a de facto relationship from the time they commence living with another person as a member of a couple.”

The Joyce issue, however, has now gone beyond the detail of the arrangements made for Campion to move offices, and the like. As one journalist put it, it’s become “the vibe”. In many minds, a question of character.

Joyce’s present imbroglio is bringing out allegations of past tacky behaviour. A woman contacted the ABC on Tuesday recounting a strange incident that allegedly occurred at an early-evening cocktail party, hosted by the Collections Council (a peak body for galleries, libraries etc), in Parliament House in 2009 or 2010.

Joyce, then a senator, was one of the few politicians there. The woman, a senior academic and a director of the (now-defunct) council, says she chatted to him – he was charming and merry but not drunk. He gave her his card. When they parted “he grabbed my buttock and squeezed it,” the woman, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Conversation.

She said that before Tuesday she’d only related the incident to her family. A story in the Murdoch papers about alleged bottom-pinching elsewhere – totally denied by Joyce – prompted her to speak out. Joyce’s office said of her claim that it was “being asked to comment on an anonymous person who has never made a complaint”.

The ConversationJoyce, for all his campaigning strengths, has always been unpredictable, a potential time-bomb. He steadied and focused as he concentrated on pursuing the leadership and then in his earlier days in it. Now the time-bomb has exploded and the Nationals are in a deep funk, not knowing what to do.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump is an unfit president – when will his backers run out of uses for him?


Scott Lucas, University of Birmingham

A week after the release of a book depicting him as not intelligent enough and not mentally fit to be trusted as commander-in-chief, Donald Trump has done it again. On the same day he cancelled a visit to London to open the new US embassy there, a move many interpreted as an attempt to avoid embarrassing protests, he embarrassed himself further by demanding to know why the US deigns to accept immigrants from “shithole countries”.

Before this latest outburst, the White House had spent a week trying in vain to rise above the account of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, which uses the words of people in Trump’s White House and inner circle to argue that Trump, in the alleged private words of secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is a “fucking moron”. Having failed to block the book’s publication and instead hastened it, the White House pivoted instead to denigrating Wolff and one of his primary sources, the former White House chief strategist and Trump ally Steve Bannon.

Trump pursued the mission with both anger and enthusiasm via his favourite medium, Twitter, slamming the book as “really boring and untruthful” and dismissing Bannon as “Sloppy Steve”.

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Besides reinforcing his image as a temperamental, ill-informed man-child, Trump’s counter-attack misses the point. Even if Wolff is a huckster peddling dubious quotes, as more than a few journalists claim, others have been spreading the message publicly and privately since the day Trump took office.

Chief among them, via his own actions and words, is Trump himself. But there’s also Democratic senator Jack Reed, who in July 2017 told his Republican counterpart Susan Collins, “I think – I think he’s crazy. I mean, I don’t say that lightly and as a kind of a goofy guy.” Collins responded: “I’m worried.” Republican senator Bob Corker, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, first said that Trump “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful” and later called the White House “an adult day care centre”.

The cabinet, too, are more than worried. Besides Tillerson’s reported contempt, Trump’s secretary of defence, James Mattis, and his chief of staff, John Kelly have reportedly made a pact that one of them will be in the US at all times.

But in Wolff’s account, the foremost figure to question Trump’s faculties is Steve Bannon, the hard-right ideologue who arguably propelled Trump to victory.

Treasonous and unpatriotic

Wolff depicts a Bannon out for himself and his agenda, even at the cost of tearing down Trump and his family. “Javanka”, the husband-wife team of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka, meet with Bannon’s unbridled derision: Kushner is financially compromised, including by Russians, and Ivanka is “dumb as a brick”. The elder Trump himself, meanwhile, is a pliable simpleton.

But far more importantly, Wolff’s Bannon inserts the Trumps into the middle of the alleged collusion with Russia during the 2016 campaign. Donald Trump Jr., Kushner, and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort are “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” for a June 2016 meeting with three Kremlin-linked envoys in Trump Tower in New York City, arranged by Trump Jr. to discuss Russia’s provision of material damaging to Hillary Clinton.

In Wolff’s rendering, Bannon thinks the ultimate downfall of Trump and Co. will be revelations of Russian financial input into the campaign: “It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit. The Kushner shit is greasy. They [Mueller’s team] are going to go right through that.”

After the book dropped, Bannon did not deny any of his statements. Under pressure from his billionaire backers the Mercer family, he clarified that the words “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” refer only to Manafort, who is already under indictment on financial, tax and lobbying charges related to the Trump-Russia investigation.

Bannon has become the most conspicuous casualty of the Fire and Fury fallout, not only dismissed as “sloppy” by Trump but now ousted from his position at far-right soapbox Breitbart. But even with Bannon mostly stripped of his influence, the complaints against Trump raise a disturbing question: why are so many people who think Trump is mentally unfit still willing for him to remain in office?

The answer is that no matter how unstable and vacuous he may be, Trump is a very useful vehicle for other people’s ambitions.

The useful idiot

Even after his supremely unedifying first year, Trump still serves as a conveniently empty vessel for all manner of enablers. Having resuscitated his career after six bankruptcies by playing a businessman on reality TV, he now plays the role of chief executive so industries can get pesky regulations rolled back.

As he keeps up his stream of offensive, irresponsible pronouncements, GOP legislators put up with it so they can finally secure their $1.5 trillion tax giveaway. And as white supremacists proclaim their moment has come: as David Duke, former KKK Grand Wizard, explained at the violent Charlottesville march in August 2017: “We are going to fulfil the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in.”

As long as Trump serves that purpose, it does not matter how many conflicts of interest he has, how many women accuse him of sexually harassing or assaulting them. It does not matter how many memoranda or constitutional clauses he does not read or understand. And it does not matter how many Russians he and his inner circle might have met and assisted.

The ConversationBut Trump’s usefulness might well expire when Robert Mueller completes his work. That could be sooner than many people would like – with Manafort indicted and former national security advisor Michael Flynn pleading guilty to lying to the FBI, the next probable target is Kushner – and from there, it’s only one rung up the ladder to Trump himself. Then again, Mueller’s probings could take months or years more to get there. Until then, this emperor’s new clothes nightmare continues with no end in sight.

Scott Lucas, Professor of International Politics, University of Birmingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why a Mnangagwa presidency would not be a new beginning for Zimbabwe


Hazel Cameron, University of St Andrews

Despite claims to the contrary by the Zimbabwean military spokesperson Major General Sibusiso Moyo, Zimbabwe is in the throes of its first coup d’état since independence in 1980. Robert Mugabe, the only head of state the country has known in its 37-year existence, is today under house arrest, and the former vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has long aspired to succeed Mugabe, has returned to Zimbabwe from South Africa, after having fled on November 6.

It appears that Mugabe’s decision to sack Mnangagwa – possibly at the behest of his wife, Grace Mugabe – may turn out to have been his last major decision as president.

These events have provoked much interest and anticipation around the world, and not least from Zimbabwe’s former colonial master, the UK. The British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, stated in the House of Commons on November 15 that:

this House will remember the brutal litany of [Mugabe’s] 37 years in office; the elections he rigged and stole; the murder and torture of his opponents … Authoritarian rule, whether in Zimbabwe or anywhere else, should have no place in Africa.

Johnson also warned against any transition “from one unelected tyrant to the next”.

For the past three years, the British government has displayed an interest in reengaging with Zimbabwe. It is an open secret that Britain’s re-engagement identified Mnangagwa as the candidate they could best work with. When the current British ambassador in Harare, Catriona Laing, took up her post in September 2014, her mission was to “rebuild bridges and ensure that re-engagement succeeds to facilitate Mnangagwa’s rise to power”. In September 2017, it was reported that British diplomats were working to secure a Mnangagwa succession “with a US$2 billion economic bail-out underwriting the project”.

According to diplomats with direct knowledge of succession discussions surrounding the rebuilding of post-Mugabe Zimbabwe, Laing has not wavered in her support for Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe and, since Mnangagwa’s hasty retreat to Pretoria on November 6, it seems the British have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to facilitate Mnangagwa’s unhindered return to Zimbabwe and installation as president of the ZanuPF government. It has been reported that plans to take over the country by force have been in place for some time – and that Mnangagwa was instrumental in those plans

There are unconfirmed reports that a new post-Mugabe deal is under discussion. Under its terms, Mnangagwa would lead a transitional government in Zimbabwe with the support of other political parties leading to full elections in five years’ time. There are suggestions that Mnangagwa has the backing of the Chinese – who recently met with the commander of the coup, General Constantino Chiwenga – while the South African government allowed him to return to Zimbabwe unimpeded on November 15.

So it seems the end of the Mugabe era has come. But one has to ask whether a Mnangagwa presidency would really be a new beginning.

The Crocodile’s credentials

Mnangagwa, known as The Crocodile, has throughout the history of Zimbabwe been complicit in the manipulation of the ZANU-PF election process by promoting violence, intimidation and repression as well as illegal administrative strategies to ensure ZANU-PF election success. He has also long faced allegations of corruption and diamond looting in both Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In 2012, the NGO Global Witness released an investigative report that revealed how ZANU-PF and the military elite used the proceeds from looted diamonds to fund human rights abuses. The report specifically points to the complicit conduct of Mnangagwa and his ally Chiwenga.

Mnangagwa has also been accused of playing a pivotal role in the Matabeleland Massacres of 1982-1987. In January 1983, Mugabe launched a massive security clampdown on the unarmed citizens of the Matabeleland region, violence that was both politically and ethnically motivated. This episode of relentless and persistent state-orchestrated violence, known as Gukurahundi, was perpetrated by an elite army unit known as the Fifth Brigade. It is estimated that 20,000 people were massacred and many hundreds of thousands of others tortured, beaten or raped. Mnangagwa has denied involvement and has blamed the army.

On March 4, 1983, at a rally held not far from Lupane in Matabeleland, Mnangagwa publicly conflated being a citizen of Matabeleland with being a political dissident. According to news reports at the time, he told his audience the government had “an option” of “burning down … all the villages infected with dissidents”, saying “the campaign against dissidents can only succeed if the infrastructure which nurtures them is destroyed”.

He described dissidents as “cockroaches” and the Fifth Brigade as “DDT” brought in to “eradicate” them. In short, he made it clear that the destruction of the civilian population of Matabeleland was part of a deliberate state policy – and the very next day came the country’s worst massacre yet, on the banks of the Ciwale river, when 62 people were killed.

The crimes against humanity perpetrated in Matabeleland left hundreds of thousands traumatised – many still don’t know where their loved ones are buried. The victims of Gukurahundi are deeply divided, stigmatised and discriminated against. Their plight will go unaddressed if the person who succeeds Mugabe is himself responsible for appalling political crimes and harms to which millions of Zimbabweans have been subjected.

If Zimbabwe is to step back from the brink of state failure, it must find a way to address the Mugabe regime’s crimes, including Mnangagwa’s role in Gukurahundi. At the very least, Zimbabwe’s neighbours and the international community alike must stand in the way of those responsible for state-sponsored atrocities and corruption that have been the hallmark of Mugabe’s government for 37 years obtaining or maintaining positions in the post-Mugabe government of Zimbabwe.

The ConversationIn order to promote a stable, secure and reconciled Zimbabwe, the crimes of the regime of Mugabe must be addressed, and this includes Mnangagwa’s crimes and his role in Gukurahundi. The British government seems to have other plans.

Hazel Cameron, Lecturer of International Relations, University of St Andrews

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.