In Depth

‘It’s the economy, stupid’: what would four more years of Donald Trump look like?

Republican National Convention eschews official policy platform - so what is the sitting president’s plan for America?

If US voters were hoping this week’s Republican National Convention (RNC) would provide clarity on Donald Trump’s vision for America, they will be disappointed. 

On Sunday, the party released a statement saying that no new platform of policies would be presented at the convention, “despite it traditionally being the way to give details on ideas and goals for the next four years”, The Independent says.

But what might another term for Trump mean for America?

The economy

The economy is - to the Republicans, at least - the president’s trump card.

In the run-up to the November election, the party aims to turn the “spotlight back on to the economy as polls show it remains the core concern of voters, and the only main policy area where President Trump retains a lead” over his Democratic rival Joe Biden, says The Times.

“Ordinarily, a double-digit unemployment rate” like the one that the US is currently experiencing “would be crippling for a president seeking re-election”, says NPR, pointing to George H.W Bush’s loss following the “relatively mild” recession in 1992. 

Yet while the current recession is much worse and unemployment is at record levels, Trump's economic approval rating “continues to hover near 50%”, notes the Washington D.C.-based news site.

According to Republican pollster Whit Ayres, this apparent anomoly is down to voters’ “memory of the economy before the pandemic”, when “unemployment was at historic lows” and “the economy was in great shape before the pandemic killed it”.

Whether voters’ faith in Trump’s handling of the economy will remain unwavering over the coming months may be crucial to the election outcome - and to his potential future economic policies.

Republican strategist Mike DuHaime says that “during a re-election campaign, you basically are making the argument that the status quo is really good and that the challenger is insufficient to do the job”, reports The Washington Post.

“And for more than three years, [Trump] could credibly make that argument about the economy. The problem comes when the status quo isn’t good and there is hard data - both on the economy and with Covid - that shows that.” 

Domestic (dis)unity

As Black Lives Matters protesters took to the streets of cities across the US in June, the Australian Financial Review’s US correspondent Jacob Greber wrote that the county was being “torn apart by a president who is incapable of showing empathy out of fear of being seen as weak”.

“Add in a botched pandemic response which has left more than 108,000 Americans dead, triggering an economic crisis that has hit black communities among the hardest, and top it off with a video of a black man being killed by a policeman in broad daylight while three of his colleagues do nothing,” he continued.

Gordon Flake of the Perth USAsia Centre think-tank told Greber that “there is no way to sugar-coat the seriousness of the current combination of crises currently facing the United States”. 

In 2020 alone, “America has had to address an impeachment process reminiscent of 1974, a global pandemic exceeded only by the Spanish Flu of 1918, the greatest economic slowdown since the Great Depression began in 1929, and now the eruption of racial divisions arguably worse than than those exposed in 1968,” Flake said. 

As pundits pointed the finger of blame at the president, his former defence secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis also weighed in.

In what The Atlantic described as an “extraordinary condemnation”, Mattis accused his former boss of misusing the US military to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens.

“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people – does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us,” claimed Mattis, who quit in December 2018 over the withdrawal of US troops from Syria.

And many pundits fear that a second term for Trump could only further these social chasms.

Immigration

The second night of the RNC, on Tuesday, featured a video showing Trump hosting a naturalisation ceremony at the White House at which five immigrants became US citizens.

“Today, America rejoices as we welcome five absolutely incredible new members into our great American family. You are now fellow citizens of the greatest nation on the face of God’s Earth. Congratulations,” Trump said.

Yet the president’s wider record on immigration makes it difficult to predict his future stance on the issue.

As former CIA agent A.J. Fuentes Twombly writes in an article for NBC News, the Trump administration has “handled a flow of migrants at the Mexican border by locking them in cages, incarcerated the most immigrants in US history, and separated children from their parents, many of whom have yet to be reunited”.

Foreign policy

The Republican Party has this week rallied around Trump’s foreign policy goals, “largely encapsulated by his America First slogan, which he debuted during his 2016 campaign and repeated Monday”, Voice of America reports.

Trump’s son Eric told the RNC yesterday that under his father’s administration, “never-ending wars were finally ended”.

Yet while the official America First foreign policy includes a pledge to “stop endless wars and bring troops home”, other, seemingly incompatible, goals include to “maintain and expand America’s unrivalled military strength” and “wipe out global terrorists who threaten to harm Americans”.

Many Republicans seem unfazed by these apparently contradictory aims.

Defence Secretary Mike Pompeo boasted about Trump’s shock decision to approve a drone attack that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in January - a move that threatened to destabilise parts of the Middle East and greatly increased tensions between Iran and the US.

China

According to Al Jazeera, another major talking point for the Republicans at the RNC was “ending reliance on China”, through a programme that would include “bringing back one million manufacturing jobs” from the Asian superpower.

The Trump admistration has also pledged to implement tax credits for companies that bring back jobs from China and “withhold federal contracts for companies that outsource to China”, the site says.

In addition, the party plans to “hold China fully accountable” for “allowing” the Covid-19 coronavirus to “spread around the world”.

Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, told Voice of America that if re-elected, Trump is likely to continue to become more confrontational with China.   

“Both parties, but particularly the Republican Party, have come to see China not just as an economic rival, but as a growing security threat,” Alden said.

Under Trump, “the United States has completely abandoned the notion of allies being important and abandoned the notion of international cooperation as being important”, he added. 

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