Glick: American Bread and Circuses

A perfect foil to Obama is not a mercurial Republican.

The first votes of the 2016 US presidential elections will only be cast next week in the Iowa caucuses. But the sense you get from the news reports is that the race for the Republican presidential nomination has already been decided.

Although no doubt there are differences between them, the question of whether the Democratic nominee will be former secretary of state Hillary Clinton or Vermont’s socialist senator Bernie Sanders is far less important to America’s allies abroad than the identity of their Republican rival. After all, both Clinton and Sanders are committed to maintaining President Barack Obama’s foreign policy.

Only a Republican president can be expected to change America’s course in the world from the one Obama has carved out over the past seven years. And there is every reason to believe that a good Republican candidate can be elected today.

According to the Real Clear Politics polling average, 63 percent of Americans believe that their country is on the wrong track. An angry electorate historically goes with the party that has been out of power.

For Republican voters, it is hard to find any common ground with the current resident of the White House.

At every turn, on every issue, most Republicans believe Obama has made America worse.

Republican fury does not end at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. For primary voters in particular, the Republican congressional leadership and political elite are perceived not as their champions, but as willing accomplices of the Obama White House. Hence, this primary season, the most hated word for Republican voters has been “establishment.”

Since last summer, the Republican candidate who has polled the highest both in state and national surveys has been businessman Donald Trump.

Trump’s unique gift is his ability to capitalize on the widespread frustration and anger that Republicans feel. Trump channels the rage of those who sense that the essence of America – the land of the free and the home of the brave – has been trampled on for the past seven years of Obama’s tenure.

Trump’s greatest advantage to date has been his uncanny ability to drive the news cycle. As a former reality television star, Trump’s celebrity status has made him a ratings bomb the likes of which the GOP has never seen.

If former Florida governor Jeb Bush had made statements about Jews and money or Megan Kelly and her menstrual cycle, he would have been uniformly condemned and his candidacy would have been over before the end of the Today show. But when Trump said these things, he was in a position to engage the media as an equal.

Trump’s media ratings are so high that he can make genuinely problematic statements about people and groups of people, and come out stronger for it. Like the bread and circuses at the end of the Roman Empire, at the end of the day, everyone loves the spectacle.

Viewers tune in. Readers buy the paper. Advertisers are enriched. Trump’s polling numbers rise.

Many commentators argue that Trump is the natural consequence of the Obama presidency. Writing along these lines in The New York Times on Monday, Obama’s former adviser David Axelrod claimed that Trump is to Obama what Obama was to George W. Bush. That is, Trump is Obama’s perfect foil.

Axelrod explains, “Relentlessly edgy, confrontational and contemptuous of the niceties of governance and policy making, Mr. Trump is the perfect counterpoint to a president whose preternatural cool and deliberate nature drive his critics mad.”

Axelrod’s analysis is correct, but it also ought to be irrelevant. The fact that the personality clash between Obama’s campaign persona and Trump’s campaign persona is not irrelevant, but central to the popular discourse about the presidential race in the US today, is a sign of the precarious position of the American political system seven years into Obama’s tenure in office.

The problem with Obama has nothing to do with his demeanor. The problem with Obama is his policies.

Consider what he has done to the US’s position in the world.

This week, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Saudi Arabia. A week after Kerry, his European sidekicks and his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif met and announced the end of the international sanctions against Iran, Kerry met with US embassy personnel in Riyadh. Before an audience of people whose paychecks he signs, Kerry announced, “We have as solid a relationship, as clear an alliance and as strong a friendship with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia as we have ever had, and nothing has changed because we worked to eliminate a nuclear weapon with a country in the region.”

This is nonsense, of course.

Due to the Obama administration’s relentless preference for Iran over its traditional Sunni Arab allies, led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, US-Saudi relations are in crisis.

But really, who cares? In the last year of the Obama presidency, statements like Kerry’s make no impression on anyone anymore. Obama has destroyed America’s credibility in the Middle East. That is why the US secretary of state has been reduced to bloviating baloney before a captive audience of subordinates.

Which brings us back to Trump.

On the surface Trump seems like Obama’s polar opposite. But the issue is not style. It is substance. And on that, the difference is far from assured.

True enough, Trump regularly criticizes Obama’s foreign policy on substantive issues. This distinguishes him from Clinton and Sanders, and means that under a Trump presidency, US foreign policy is likely to be different than it is under Obama.

So for US allies that have been spurned by Obama, the prospect of a Trump presidency is more desirable than the prospect of a Clinton or Sanders presidency.

But Trump’s foreign policy positions are inconsistent at best, and therefore undependable. Moreover, his mercurial personality, that makes him such a dramatic foil for “no drama Obama,” means that his positions on key issues may change on a dime. In other words, there is a strong possibility that under a Trump presidency, the US will remain an unreliable ally.

Consider Trump’s changing positions on Israel.

In his speech last month before the Republican Jewish Coalition, Trump wouldn’t take a position on whether he agrees with US law, recognizes that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and intends to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

In so doing, Trump struck out a position on Jerusalem that was more anti-Israel than then-candidate Obama took on the issue during his presidential bid in 2008. In his 2008 speech before the AIPAC conference Obama pledged that in a final deal between Israel and the Palestinians, “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”

Not only would he not recognize that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, Trump said that if this is Israel’s position then there can be no peace between the Jewish state and the Palestinians. Trump also blamed Israel for the absence of peace with the Palestinians, saying, “I don’t know that Israel has a commitment to make a deal.”

When his Jewish audience booed his remarks, Trump used rank anti-Semitic stereotypes to attack them.

“You’re not going to support me, even though I’m the best thing that could ever happen to Israel,” Trump taunted Jewish Republicans, continuing, “You won’t support me because I don’t want your money.”

Last week, Trump reversed his position on Jerusalem.

In an interview with CBN from the evangelical academic flagship Liberty University, Trump insisted that he backs moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, “one hundred percent.”

Given the dramatic swing in his position on a key issue, there is no way to know if Trump is a friend of Israel. (And let us not forget Obama’s frequent claims that he is the best friend Israel has ever had in the Oval Office.) How can Israel believe Trump’s pledges to stand by it when it took but a smattering of boos at the RJC to elicit Trump’s bigoted broadside against American Jews looking for a reason to support him? Trump’s personality does not make him a perfect foil of Obama. Like Trump, Obama has lost his cool plenty of times – particularly in his dealings with Israel.

Obama’s one consistency is not his abhorrence of drama. The one area where Obama has been consistent throughout his presidency is his commitment to his radical foreign and domestic policies. A perfect foil to Obama is not a mercurial Republican. His perfect foil is a Republican with the power of his convictions who can be depended on to consistently adopt policies that repair the damage at home and abroad that Obama’s policies have caused.