As 2017 draws to a close, how different might the last year have been if Hillary Rodham Clinton had been elected 45th president of the United States? Clearly, where one stands on the political scale defines this hypothetical answer. Yet, the tragedy is that the highly polarized, divisive and pernicious condition of American politics today suggests that no matter how unpopular President Donald Trump is today, a President Clinton may not have been much better received.
For Republicans, President Hillary would have been a catastrophe. In their view, America would have continued to proceed down the disastrous path of President Barack Obama. Obamacare would have survived. There would have been no tax bill. With a Republican Congress, the Supreme Court would remain deadlocked 4-4 as the Senate would not confirm her nominee. Pandering to minorities and special interest groups which is a Democratic priority would further divide the nation.
As bad, foreign policy under Clinton would have refused to take tough stands against North Korea and Kim Jung Un preferring to follow the failed policy of “strategic patience.” NATO would continue to remain “free riders” with the United States still shouldering the lion’s share of defense spending. Jerusalem would not have been recognized at Israel’s capital. The Islamic State would remain in control of large slices of its caliphate in Iraq and Syria. China would continue to manipulate trade and currency and expand its influence even more.
In sum, President Clinton would have made both the “swamp” in Washington and the “deep state” even deeper and more dangerous to the American public. Free enterprise would be less free. And he stock market and unemployment gains of the last year would never have been made.
Democrats of course would have made the absolute opposite case. At home, regulation would have remained the only way to govern given a Congress dedicated to ensuring President Clinton was a one-term chief executive. The complete deadlock on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue would have given President Clinton the opportunity to use the Executive Branch as the only means of defending the middle and lower classes against the rich. Her appointees as federal judges would have reflected this focus. While the Senate refused to confirm the ninth Supreme Court Associate Justice, that denial gave the White House the “bully pulpit” to attack Republicans.
In foreign policy, Clinton would have only threatened to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) instead negotiating changes that were acceptable thus diminishing China’s influence in Asia. As her forceful stand that led to American intervention over Kosovo in 1999 when her husband was president and in 2011 in Libya demonstrated, President Clinton would have been far tougher on the Islamic State and Russia. She would have ended the caliphate much sooner and rallied the Arab and Muslim nations more effectively against radical Islamists. As a woman, she would have pushed Saudi Arabia and the young crown prince far harder in modernization. Nor would she have ignored Russian interference in American elections. President Vladimir Putin would have had far tougher going and would not have been able to charm Mrs. Clinton as he has Donald Trump. Still, Clinton was not very popular with favorable ratings in the low 40% range.
Of course, no one knows what a Clinton presidency would have done to change the past year. A few observations are relevant. At home, the stock market would have risen and unemployment would have remained low irrespective of president. Both are more affected by longer-term forces than presidential elections which almost always have little short-term impact on the economy. No doubt, Clinton would have canceled TPP.
But she would have remained in the Paris Climate Change Accord and the nuclear deal with Iran which may prove to be two of the most damaging errors made by President Trump in withdrawing and de-certifying. About the Islamic State, every indication suggests a very aggressive stance. About North Korea, diplomacy would have played a stronger role. And the best (and perhaps only) benefit of President Clinton would be no more policy by tweet.
Given the explosion of cases of sexual misconduct, Bill Clinton would have been more than an embarrassment and a continuing source of controversy. The Russian investigation would have focused not on President Trump but on Russian interference. And it was possible that candidate Donald Trump might have filed suit challenging the legitimacy of the election.
All of this is speculation. Clinton did not win. Trump did. The sad conclusion is that neither may have had the “right stuff” to become an effective and unifying president.
______________________________ ______________________________ ________
Dr. Harlan Ullman is chairman of two private companies; senior advisor at the Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security. His latest book is Anatomy of Failure—Why America Loses Every War It Starts. He is @harlankullman.