Election

Isolationist or Imperialist?

In the hit musical Hamilton, King George, newly estranged from the revolutionary American colonies, challenges his former subjects to justify their choice. “What comes next?” he asks, “You’ve been freed. Do you know how hard it is to lead? You’re on your own. Awesome, wow! Do you have a clue what happens now?”

We might well ask the same question.

The unexpected elevation of Donald Trump to the Presidency presents a failure for pollsters, a reorientation of American politics, and raises the fundamental question of what kind of policies a Trump administration is likely to pursue. On foreign policy, Trump’s statements throughout the campaign have been profoundly incoherent, ranging from more traditional hawkish Republican views on issues like the Iran deal, to more unorthodox, restrained views on Syria and other Middle Eastern conflicts, to his more conciliatory approach to Russia and truly bizarre fixation with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.

So what comes next? How will the Trump administration approach foreign policy? As Elizabeth Saunders notes over at the Monkey Cage, advisors wield substantially more power under an inexperienced president. So to a large extent, Trump’s foreign policy choices will depend on who he chooses, not just to be his key foreign policy advisors, but to staff his administration’s foreign policy positions more generally. There are two potential scenarios that we can imagine:

GOP Shouldn’t Mistake Clinton Loss For a Nativist Mandate

Donald Trump’s signature policy issue during his campaign was forcing unauthorized immigrants out of the United States. But it would be a mistake for Republicans in Congress to fund any effort to make this dream a reality during his administration. Trump won the presidency, but he failed to convince anyone, including Republicans, on the issue that he spent the most time promoting, and history still shows that an anti-immigration agenda could become incredibly damaging to the GOP’s electoral prospects long-term.

Here are six reasons why congressional Republicans shouldn’t confuse a Hillary Clinton loss with a mandate to target immigrants.

1. The vast majority of voters still want to let the immigrants stay. A supermajority of Americans favors legalizing immigrants who are in the country illegally, according to exit polls from CNN (70%), Fox News (70%), the New York Times (70%), ABC News (71%), CBS News (70%), and the Wall Street Journal (71%). In fact, even more Trump voters favored legalization than favored deportation. This jives with Pew Research Center’s most recent poll that found that fully two-thirds of Republicans favored legal status for unauthorized immigrants. As the figure below shows, Trump failed to persuade Americans during his campaign despite making it his number one talking point. It would be foolish for the GOP to think that this will suddenly change.

Figure: Should undocumented immigrants be allowed to stay in the United States?

Sources: Pew (October 2014–March 2015); Wall Street Journal (November 2016)

Early Thoughts on Trump’s Peace through Strength

With Republicans retaining control of the House and Senate, President-elect Donald Trump might think it will be easy to push through his plans for “peace through strength” but he’s offered dubious rationales for why we need a much larger military. And his proposals for how he would pay for the additional spending are incomplete and inadequate.

He outlined his plans in a speech in early September. The high points include:

  • Active-duty Army: 540,000, up from 491,365 today, and currently projected to hit 450,000 in 2018, and stay there through 2020;
  • Marine Corps: 36 battalions, up from 23 now;
  • Navy: 350 surface ships and submarines, up from 276 today (the Navy’s current plans call for 308 ships by 2021, peaking at 313 in 2025);
  • Air Force: 1,200+ fighter aircraft; which is close to today’s inventory of 1,113;
  • A “State of the art missile defense system”; and
  • Major investments in cybertechnology, both offensive and defensive.

Estimates for what it would cost to implement these changes vary, but most experts doubt that Trump can make up the difference without raising taxes or adding to the deficit. His call for “common sense reforms that eliminate government waste and budget gimmicks,” is extremely vague, and it seems unlikely that Democrats will agree to relax the Budget Control Act caps on defense spending while leaving non-defense caps in place.

The bigger question is what Trump plans to do with this much-larger military. He is right to be skeptical of nation-building in foreign lands. He scorned Hillary Clinton’s support for the regime-change wars in Iraq and Libya. Those types of missions often require vast forces, especially ground troops, willing to remain in those countries for decades, or longer. But if he doubts that such missions are needed or wise, why does he call for increasing the active duty Army and Marine Corps? What does he expect them to be doing that they aren’t already?

President Trump’s Immigration Plans

Trump’s victory in the Presidential election is a tremendous political upset. The biggest issue raised by Trump was immigration—and he didn’t waver from his restrictionist position. Although the polling data doesn’t show support for Trump’s position and the election was not a blowout, depending on whether he wins the popular vote (unclear at this time) he and other restrictionist Republicans will take this as a mandate to follow through on his immigration promises. 

Trump’s stump speeches were superficial but his immigration position paper was detailed and specific. Simply, it calls for a 20 percent to 60 percent cut in green cards and a huge increase in immigration enforcement. Here are the details from his immigration position paper fleshed out:

An Early Attempt to Explain What Happened Yesterday

As I write, the presidential race has just been called by the media: barring fantastical litigation, Donald Trump will be moving into the White House. But even if he had fallen just short, it’s no understatement to say that Trump shocked the nation and the world—or at least the elites (conservative, progressive, libertarian, and every other kind). Pollsters are eating crow, as are political campaign professionals. I’m not either of those, but here’s my first stab at sketching an explanation for what we just witnessed.

Voters Deserve a Better Debate

We had our second debate of the primary season on Wednesday, a grueling five hour affair pitting fifteen Republican hopefuls against each other in two debate sessions. When CNN’s hosts weren’t asking inane questions – i.e., whether candidates had considered their Secret Service nickname or whether they would trust Donald Trump with the nuclear codes – they did find some time to focus on foreign policy issues.

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