Don’t think that the US presidential race won’t have an effect on Britain


Whether you are a passionate Cameronite, a Corbynista or one of the last two remaining supporters of the Lib Dems, you probably don’t agree with most of what comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth. To us sensible residents of the British Isles he mainly comes across as a racist, a misogynist and in a slightly odd development, a guy who has a fairly serious crush on his daughter. Like me, you have probably been fairly outraged by most of his comments but in the traditional British manner have laughed them off and thanked your lucky stars that his sudden ‘rise’, and the US election in general, doesn’t really affect you. That is sadly where you are wrong.

On Monday night the first votes of the US election were cast in the Iowa Caucus and an election that already feels like it has been going on for years, finally officially began. In a little under a year, after several billion dollars, endless campaign rallies and no doubt many more outrageous quotes, a replacement for Barack Obama will be sworn into office. Who this person will be is still pretty difficult to predict, so first let’s have a look at where we are in the fairy tale so far.

On the Democrat side the late surge of Bernie ‘Feel the Bern’ Sanders did enough in Iowa to leave him tied with Hillary Clinton, no doubt filling her supporters with dread that much like eight years ago a candidate may appear out of nowhere from the Iowa snow and steal her crown. This battle is likely to go on for some time as the primary season continues, but the smart money would still suggest that Hillary will prevail in the end and be the Democratic candidate. She is the safer option and people tend to be less risky in the voting booth than they might admit outside of it.

The Republican race is much more open, and dare I say, pretty entertaining. Ultra-conservative Ted Cruz has now emerged as the frontrunner thanks to a win in Iowa, generating momentum he will be hoping to carry into the next few states. Donald Trump came a close second in Iowa and is very much still in contention. His speech after the results sounded like he had edited about two words from the speech he would have given if he had won. The open dislike between the two frontrunners should also make for some interesting headlines over the next few weeks, especially as neither man is known for holding back. Unlike the Democrats, there is a third likely contender in the Republican race, Marco Rubio. Rubio is the moderate Republican’s last hope, to whom middle ground voters will cling to the way Jack clung on to that floating door in Titanic. His stronger than expected performance in Iowa is not to be underestimated and one way or another he may well end up on the Republican ticket.

To many across the world the process of a US election seems somewhat mad and incredibly drawn-out. These people aren’t wrong. We still have several months of primaries to decide who will represent each party and then another three or four months before America finally chooses its next leader on the second Tuesday of November. Yes, the US election is so far away that we’ll probably see the next John Lewis Christmas advert before we know who will be president after Obama. So, if it is months away and they are squabbling like small children in the playground, why should we in Britain take any interest?

Well, the simple answer is that it comes down to the old cliché. Like it or not, the President of the United States is still the most powerful person in the world and therefore their foreign policy will have a substantial impact on Britain and British interests. We only need to think back to the days of George W. Bush to be reminded of that. So when the two leading Republican candidates are arguing over who would build a bigger wall along the Mexican border and who will launch more missiles into Syria, it is probably worth taking some notice. A Trump or a Cruz administration is likely to push for some fairly major and aggressive changes to US foreign policy. Trump’s rants about China and the European response to recent terror attacks are extreme even for most right-wing tastes, and his threat to give Sarah Palin a cabinet position doesn’t do much to instil confidence that he can be trusted with the nuclear codes.

It would be a perfectly fair argument to say that this is all a long way down the road and unless Trump or Cruz actually gets the nomination then we in Britain don’t need to be too concerned about how this election might impact us. However, the fearmongering rhetoric that both candidates are using is clearly resonating with a lot of Americans and whether they win or not, the fears they are playing on will still be there. That is why I will be keeping a close eye on the race to the White House and if Trump comes out of Super Tuesday with a comfortable lead, I will invest heavily in some real estate on the moon. Feel free to come and join me.

By Philip Howard

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