FBI Director James Comey’s ethically questionable decision to note in a vaguely worded letter to Congress the discovery of a new batch of emails potentially linked to Secretary Clinton certainly is an “October Surprise.” It’s an unwelcome distraction for Clinton who sought to turn the remaining days of this long election season as Americans go to vote as a referendum on Donald Trump’s fitness more so than her own. While her ethically questionable use of a private email server is back on voters’ minds, it’s not likely to derail the overwhelming probability of Hillary Clinton becoming the first woman to be elected president of the United States.
This moment may be a brief reprieve for the bloodletting and chaotic end of days of the Trump candidacy, but arguably, the damage has been done too much for Trump to secure the electoral votes needed to become president.
His message certainly still resonates among a number of voters and the “movement” he helped energize will live well beyond Trump. However, Donald Trump’s inability to control his temperament, repeated personal misjudgments, and boorish remarks underscore that Donald Trump “the candidate” versus “the man” is a chasm too great to bridge to attract any voters beyond his constituency.
In many a sense, Donald Trump, similar to Jean-Marie Le Pen in the case of his daughter Marine Le Pen, may need a more sophisticated successor for his politics to succeed if there ever were any. It’s not surprising then to imagine Ivanka Trump running in 2020 or 2024 against Time Kaine. Ivanka similar to Marine may have to cut the chord from her father to succeed.
The idea that the increasingly federal scandalized Gov. Chris Christie or former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich could pick up the orange populism torch and finish this “Olympic” marathon to the White House in 2020 seems far off. If one is betting on Gov. Mike Pence, as popular within the party as he is compared to his running mate, Pence is a candidate who likely wouldn’t have won re-election as governor in his home state.
While Trump will unlikely go quietly into the night after Nov. 8, the moment is now for Hillary Clinton. Unlike President Obama, Clinton will not have as strong of political mandate to govern as he does nor will she have the popular resonance he exudes. However, Clinton will likely get a lot more done as president than Obama ever did.
Her steely pragmatism and vague commitment to ideology will allow her to make the deals to advance her domestic agenda that Obama could never do. This simply is why many of the more ideological and populist figures within her party such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren so belatedly embraced her, but still frankly don’t trust her.
For all the talk about her support for leftist policy issues, a President Clinton will likely do just enough to satisfy the more ideological aspects of her party’s base, but not enough to alienate the centrist and undecided voters she needs to both win control of Congress in 2018 and be re-elected in 2020. It’s not a surprise then that there’s not a lot of deep love for Clinton as different factions within her party jockey to empower and block potential officials from filling key administration positions once she’s elected.
It’s then in this moment President Clinton will govern come January 2017. If she wins the Senate in November, she will certainly have a lot more space to take risks both domestically and abroad. If the Democrats fail to retain control of the Senate, Clinton will likely focus her first two years in office on domestic challenges to regain control of the Senate and possibly, the House in 2018.
One shouldn’t then expect a complete bold about-face in US foreign policy. A President Hillary Clinton may have more hawkish instincts and less ideological baggage about America’s role in the world as President Obama did, but unlike Obama, she’s more determined than he is to stay in power through 2024, an upward challenge for a political party in power since 2008.
Clinton will have to temper those instincts with a country still not very keen on internationalist engagement abroad whether it’s the Middle East, Asia, or Eastern Europe. Her commitments to the US’ allies will not be as forward reaching then as some may have hoped. Russia, more so than any challenge, will be the first bellwether to watch out for of what Clinton’s moment means abroad.
* Andrew J. Bowen, Ph.D. is a Global Fellow in the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.