A Donald Trump presidency? ‘Not very likely’
This June 9 and 10, Lawrence LeDuc, a professor emeritus in political science at the University of Toronto, will host “Presidential Politics in America” at the spring 2016 Workshops on Social Science Research (WSSR).
In advance of his visit, we caught up with LeDuc to talk about the current political scene in the United States — from “Feel the Bern” to the rise of Donald Trump.
Can you provide a preview of what you’ll be discussing when you come to Concordia?
Lawrence LeDuc: We will be addressing two parallel themes in the workshop — the presidency and the American electoral process.
The talk comprises only two days in the middle of a very long process. As it’s taking place near the conclusion of the last primaries, but before the conventions, we will only be able to follow the first part of the current story. But there will be a lot more to come before November. Fasten your seat belts!
We are witnessing an interesting time in U.S. politics — reality TV star and real estate tycoon Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, while Hillary Clinton’s path to the Democratic nomination has faced considerable competition from socialist Bernie Sanders. Would you have predicted this a year ago?
LL: No. Trump was treated as a joke in some circles and was not seen as a serious candidate. Neither was Sanders, who is not even a Democrat (although he caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate).
How do you explain the current situation and what does it say about the mindset of American voters?
LL: I would be careful about attributing too much of the explanation to voter sentiment.
True, there is some voter discontent. But the situation has more to do with the candidates. The Republican field was initially large, but generally regarded as weak. Jeb Bush was the early favourite, but there was a clear lack of enthusiasm for another Bush presidency. The fact that Ted Cruz eventually emerged as the "last man standing" against Trump shows how weak this field of candidates really was.
Clinton fatigue is also a factor in the Democratic primaries. She followed the same strategy as in 2008 — trying to discourage potential competing candidates by locking up support and funding very early. This opened the door to a candidate like Sanders, who does tap a constituency within the Democratic Party, but who also benefits from "anybody but Hillary" sentiment.
Do you think Bernie Sanders truly has a chance to win the Democratic nomination?
Part of his problem now is the same as the one that Clinton had in 2008. Democratic delegates in most states are assigned proportionally, either based on the statewide vote or by congressional districts. Thus, once a candidate establishes a clear lead, it is very difficult for the other to catch up.
How likely is a Donald Trump presidency?
LL: Seen from the vantage point of today, not very likely. The odds are that he will lose badly and take much of the party down with him.
But this doesn't mean that it couldn't happen.
We have yet to see what the campaign will be like, and whether Trump has the capacity to attract votes across party lines to compensate for those Republican voters who are likely to desert en masse.
Trump has made a lot of wild campaign promises — from building a giant wall between the U.S. and Mexico, to shutting down jobs that are being outsourced to China. To what extent do you think he would be able to enact these policies if he was elected?
LL: Perhaps in part. But it has to be placed in the context of the structure of the American government. The presidency is a much weaker office than most people realize. It was quite deliberately designed that way. Where congressional support is needed (e.g., appropriations for a wall) it may not be forthcoming. However, he says that he will get Mexico to pay for it. If he can do that, he won't need a budget line!
On the trade issues, probably not much. Manufacturing jobs have migrated out of North America for reasons having mainly to do with globalization. Trump might be able to alter or abrogate various trade treaties (including NAFTA) in the short term.
But there are economic forces at work in the world more generally that are not easily reversed. It is telling that Trump likes to attack China in particular. But the U.S. has no trade treaty with China that he could simply tear up or renegotiate.
Register for “Presidential Politics in America,” taking place on June 9 and 10 at Concordia with visiting professor Lawrence LeDuc.
Find out about other Concordia Workshops on Social Science Research.