There are a lot of reasons to doubt US president-elect Donald Trump’s incoming national security and foreign affairs team.
But his choice of Iowa governor Terry Branstad as the next US ambassador to China isn’t among them.
Branstad, it’s true, doesn’t speak Mandarin like former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, rumored to be under consideration for Trump’s State department. Nor is he an American of Chinese descent like former Washington governor Gary Locke. Both Huntsman and Locke served as ambassadors to China in the Obama administration.
Branstad has been elected to six terms as Iowa’s governor (for the first time in 1982 and most recently in 2014), and he has increasingly seen the effects of closer trade with China from the vantage point of a state that, after California, produces more agricultural output than anywhere else in the United States.
More importantly, however, Branstad has something of a personal relationship with Chinese president Xi Jinping (习近平). Branstad was serving as governor when Xi made a two-week trip as part of a Chinese delegation to rural Muscatine in Iowa. Since that time, Branstad has visited China many times, most recently at a trade delegation in 2011, and Branstad hosted a dinner for Xi in 2012 when China’s paramount leader returned to Iowa. Continue reading Why Branstad is such a smart choice as ambassador to China→
Earlier in January, I gamed out what I thought would be the more toughly fought of the 2016 primary fights — that on the Republican side.
By and large, my analysis held up — Ted Cruz and Donald Trump will both live to fight another day and a third candidate (Marco Rubio) will now have fresh momentum in New Hampshire to consolidate ‘establishment lane’ supporters.
Polls, in the days leading up to the Iowa caucuses on the Democratic side, showed a very tight race between Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and, as of this post, she’s up by 49.9% to 49.6%.
It’s great news for Clinton, because the Sanders campaign always seemed best fit to states like Iowa (and New Hampshire, where Sanders is currently projected to win by a double-digit margin).
But 49.9% in a race for a former first lady, New York senator and the 2008 presidential runner-up? Losing by a nearly 4-to-1 margin among young voters, the future of the Democratic Party? Weak tea.
Very broadly, in 2008, Obama crafted a coalition of three sets of voters: African Americans and Latinos, so-called ‘wine track’ white voters (typically higher income and professional) and the young, while Clinton attracted women and so-called ‘beer track’ white voters (typically lower income). Demographics were destiny, so much so that you could plausibly predict a primary’s winner in 2008 on the electorate demographics alone.
Last night showed that 2016 is scrambling those coalitions. Sanders is winning a dwindling contingent of ‘beer track’ voters (many of whom are trending Republican), a handful of ‘wine track’ voters and the young. Clinton is winning women, minorities and a plurality of ‘wine track voters.’ For example, Clinton leads among those who make over $100,000 in income, Sanders less than $50,000.
Each candidate in 2016 is winning around 50% of Obama’s 2008 supporters and around 50% of Clinton’s 2008 supporters:
That makes relatively ‘whiter’ states like Iowa and New Hampshire fertile ground for Sanders; it’s a different story in more diverse states like Nevada and South Carolina, to say nothing of California or New York or Florida.
So his post-New Hampshire challenge will be to win over more ‘wine-track’ white voters and minorities.
Many voters still think Sanders doesn’t have the right experience to be president. But he has decades of legislative experience building relationships in Congress and, perhaps most importantly, executive experience as Burlington’s mayor, where he governed as a pragmatic progressive, championing things like mixed-use housing, green space and bike paths — urban policies that seemed outlandish, perhaps, in the 1980s but are commonplace today. Sanders has left that record completely out of his campaign’s narrative.
Sanders has struggled to demonstrate his understanding, let alone commitment, to the priorities of the Black Lives Matter movement. But even in the second term of the first non-white US president, racial injustice remains stubbornly commonplace in American justice and economic systems, and Sanders must give racial inequities as prominent a role as income inequality if he wants to have any real chance at the nomination.
It’s not often that I write about American politics because there are already so many pundits doing it, and the comparative advantage of a website like Suffragio lies in deeper analysis of global electoral politics and foreign policy informed by that analysis.
But we’re now just over three weeks away from the most competitive Republican presidential nomination contest in memory, and we’re six months into the era of Trumpismo. For what it’s worth, no one knows exactly how the spring nominating process will end because there are so many variables — and you shouldn’t trust anyone who says otherwise.
Still, we’re not on Mars and, while there are certainly new factors in 2016 that matter more than ever, there is deep precedential value from prior contests.