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US Politics Round-up: Government shutdown, 2020 election speculation and more

Michael Webb

Michael is a first year Politics and IR student who focuses on US politics and international politics. He loves to debate issues and is an events officer in the Kent Model United Nations society. He has been to MUN conferences in Oxford, Reading and Cardiff. He is also USG communications for CanterburyMUN Kent’s inaugural Model UN conference for high school students.

Donald Trump was elected a year ago. The US political climate has since witnessed ferocious party infighting, scandals, a government shutdown and yes of course many tweets. Here’s an update of what the political climate is like and a rundown on recent events.

The US recently experienced its first government shutdown under a party with majority control of the entire US political system for the first time in history. However, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnel (Republican) and Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer (Democrat) punched out a deal to pass another CR (continuing resolution) to keep the US government open. The deal saw the reinstating of CHIP (healthcare for American children) and further tax cuts. This deal also includes provisions from Senate Republicans to negotiate on DACA as part of a larger immigration package. To many onlookers the shutdown is over, and a crisis has been averted given that the shutdown only lasted 3 days. However, the CR passed by the Senate will only provide the US Government with funding until February the 8th and a full budget for the 2018 fiscal year must be passed soon. There remain many roadblocks to a deal where Democrats and Republicans retain their largely different opinions regarding immigration reform. Democrats want the legal status of ‘dreamers’ (children that where born in the US to illegal immigrants) protected; this initiative started as an executive order by President Obama and has been ended subsequently by President Trump. It is known as DACA. The Republicans on the other hand desire funding for President Trump’s infamous border wall. This CR merely papers over the deep cracks that have been evident in the US legislature for the past 20 years. Running a government by passing multiple CRs is inefficient and inevitably leads to pork barrel spending (Pork Barrel spending explained) causing an increase in the American deficit. The Senate is going to have to punch out a deal sooner or later, and meanwhile Democrats seem more willing to back down than the Republicans, which is in stark contrast to the constant republican obstructionism the Obama administration experienced. So, the question is who won this shutdown and how, if at all, will it impact on the 2018 midterm elections?

The American mainstream media has been incredibly inaccurate on this issue, like it is for most political events that happen in the US. Mainstream news outlets have seen polls that suggest the American people blame Democrats and Republicans equally for the shutdown and hence have reported it in this way; however, this is completely inaccurate. Political scientist Harry Enten (Enten article) of 538 politics has written a good article explaining why Republicans overall have been blamed more for the shutdown than Democrats. The simple upshot is that President Trump has seen a dip in his approval ratings because of this shutdown and rightly so. This is the first time in US history that a government shutdown has occurred with one party control of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives. It is terrifying to think that US lawmakers now only do business when the country has fallen to its knees and despite the shutdown only lasting for three days, this funding war is far from over. Overall President Trump will come out the worst from this diplomatic failure. The President is seen by the public as Washington’s chief negotiator and even though we live in hyper-partisan times, there is precedent for this. Obama received the bulk of the blame and a hit to his approval ratings when he experienced a government shutdown over the funding of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Trump’s first year has not been particularly impressive considering that a President is strongest right at the start of his first term due to the trend of the party controlling the White House losing seats in congress at midterm elections (Midterm elections). Trump’s failure to get healthcare reform passed is dogged by the Russian scandal and still finds himself at the mercy of historically low unapproval ratings. (Trump approval ratings ) While he has a booming economy to fall back on, it still looks possible that a Democratic landslide could occur in the 2018 midterms.

Most political commentators in America will tell you that Trump is unlikely to be reelected and will face systemic losses in the midterms. While you can find some polling that suggests this, I would insert an enormous ‘don’t be too hasty caveat’. Trump’s popular support was vastly underestimated in swing states and leaning blue states. He managed to pull off a stunning election victory despite the polls showing Hillary Clinton as the strong favorite. At the moment Trump is out there on his own and he’s not running against anyone; his vast unpopularity might impact on the 2018 midterms, but I doubt very much that his approval ratings will be as significant in the 2020 Presidential election. We must remember that Trump won the election with similar approval ratings, the reason? He was running against an equally unpopular Democratic her namesake, Hillary Clinton. Trump campaigned in a way that exposed all of Clinton’s weaknesses, he destroyed her on her links to the political establishment, her ‘liberal elitism’, free trade and immigration. This strategy combined it must be said with some shocking mistakes from the Clinton campaign and consequentially resulted in Donald Trump occupying 1600 Pennsylvania avenue. Democrats have, in the last 20 years shifted to the political right: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are prime examples of this phenomenon. This has led to Democrats leeching voters amongst the white working-class to populists like Trump. This is why they lost former democratic strongholds in the midwestern industrial states in 2016. Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Iowa went for Trump and won him the election. The question is, have Democrats learned from their mistake? The answer currently is a resounding no! Clintonites still control to a large extent the Democratic party apparatus. They have most of the Senate Democrats in their pocket and have been pushing establishment neoliberals like Kamala Harris, Corey Booker and Andrew Cuomo to run for the Presidency in 2020. While attacking Democrats with a genuine alternative economic message like progressive icon and 2016 Presidential primary runner-up Bernie Sanders. Despite Sanders being the most popular politician in America, with ever increasing popular ideas. (Bernie Sanders Popularity ) This is why I still rate Donald Trump as the favorite to win the Presidential election in 2020. An even more recent update to this trend of pushing disastrous candidates is the hilarious reaction of Democrats to Oprah Winfrey’s apparent desire to run for President. Democrats, rather than re-thinking their strategy after the disaster of 2016 have decided to promote their own version of Donald Trump. Oprah is a billionaire reality TV star with no political experience and unpopular neoliberal ideas. Remind you of anyone? Would you believe it if I told you that Winfrey was a supporter of the Iraq war? Well she was. The guardian penned a good article on Winfrey that goes into more detail (Oprah article).

Overall the US political climate remains where it has been for the last 20 years, in a mess. While there are many different ideas on how to fix the US political system, everyone, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, know the system is in dire need of a restructure. The current climate is hurting everyday lives of Americans and sewing seeds of division not just in the US but the entire planet.

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