I just spent four days in Washington and Virginia ahead of the US presidential election, meeting congressional staffers, party officials, diplomats, think tanks, journalists and ordinary people. After the latest events, the presidential race looks uncomfortably close.
There is even a small chance that there will be no overall majority in the electoral college (in the event of a dead heat, or if Evan McMullin wins in Utah and holds the balance), in which case the House of Representatives will elect the president (with one vote for each state delegation), which would favour Trump.
But the likelihood remains that Hillary Clinton will still win. If she does, she will still face huge problems:
- The Republicans will now probably retain their majority in the Senate. Their caucus will be more radically right than ever before and there is little bipartisanship left in American politics. There is talk of them blocking ANY Clinton nominee to the Supreme Court, leaving it at least one member short for at least four years. They may even block her appointments to head various departments, though probably not Secretary of State or Treasury Secretary. They will to keep the email affair going and may seek to impeach her.
- Gridlock on legislation and on budgets seems assured. No great domestic reforms or programmes are likely — and will be difficult even if the Democrats do manage a slim majority in the Senate and the House.
- On trade, the Trans Pacific deal will depend on Clinton securing some safeguards and then on Congress, where the protectionist turn of the Republicans under Trump might not be balanced by their strategic concerns about leaving the Pacific region to China. Some Democrats also have reservations. TTIP is seen as less problematic — but it is, of course, a problem in Europe unless some of the proposals initially on the table are dropped.
- On foreign policy, the president will have a greater margin of manoeuvre (dangerously so should it after all be Trump). Clinton is at least experienced and knowledgeable, but the various current crises are volatile and dangerous.
- On Brexit, all Democrats and most Republicans think Britain has gone down a dangerous road and that its government seems unaware of the full extent of those dangers. They want the softest Brexit possible and still hope Britain might re-think, but they fear an acrimonious Brexit driven by hard line Brexiteers.