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View from the campaign trail

No-power play

By Sasha Issenberg

Running against an opponent as unstrategic as Donald Trump has absolved Hillary Clinton of one of the routine indignities of the general election: renegotiating policy positions adopted out of primary-season convenience. In fact, it is Trump who has been compelled to moderate, albeit incoherently, his two most specific proposals of the primaries: the ban on Muslim immigration and a southern-border wall. Clinton is a relative model of consistency; the Hillary who faces Trump on the ballot will be the same Hillary that her party nominated this spring.

Yet Clinton still wears one of her wintertime positions like an unseasonal parka. When it became clear that her primary challenge would come from the economic left, she backed away from a lifelong enthusiasm for free trade. Party strategists saw the opportunistic shift – particularly against the North American Free Trade Agreement her husband signed and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) she called a “gold standard” as secretary of state – as temporary. Once she emerged from the primary to face, say, Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush, both within the broad pro-trade consensus that has dominated US politics, she would respond to pressure (especially from donors in the business community) to backtrack. Trump, however, is situated more or less where Bernie Sanders was on the issue, making her loath to hand him a populist cudgel as he tries to peel off working-class white Democrats.

Now if Clinton becomes president her accidental trade position will become a cornerstone of the foreign policy she brings into the White House. The TPP awaits congressional approval and the next president will have to decide whether to steward the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the EU into existence.

Whether Clinton will champion any of those causes has become a source of surprising anxiety among foreign officials and within the US’s centre-right establishment, where deep fear of a Trump presidency exists alongside a roiling mistrust of Clinton. “She was for trade agreements before she turned against them in this election campaign, just as she voted for the Iraq war in 2003 and then, several years later – in her first campaign for president – opposed the troop surge there,” says Robert Gates, the Republican who served alongside Clinton as defence secretary.

It will get harder for Clinton to flip again on the TPP if she has spent the autumn campaign sharing Trump’s scepticism about its effects. Ultimately it might take some reflecting on the election results to guide President Clinton’s approach to trade. Is she more concerned with disappointing the labour unions that helped her hold together the Democratic coalition or those such as Gates who permitted her to reach for votes beyond it? Pleasing the latter could help her develop a working relationship with Republicans in Congress while antagonising her party’s left: along with Sanders, Elizabeth Warren is a major trade critic.

Ultimately Clinton will probably pray that Barack Obama can save her from having to choose. The White House is hoping to make a push on TPP in the weeks after the election in the so-called “lame-duck session”, when legislators who have lost their seats get a final chance to make law before leaving office in January. “We’ll do it in lame duck,” is an old Washington maxim, a way of postponing difficult decisions in the political season. On trade there would be a perfect confluence of events that could prove beneficial for Clinton: Obama would be desperate to get one last major accomplishment and Republicans – particularly those eager to impress corporate figures who might hire them as lobbyists – would no longer be invested in denying him a win. Clinton could then throw up her arms and say that it’s beyond her control, welcoming the result without having to take responsibility for it. She could never be happier to be rendered powerless.

Cooling off British Columbia

Brazil’s economic turmoil is propelling locals to the Great White North: British Columbia alone has seen a 40 per cent increase in the number of Brazilian applicants coming to the province in the past year.

Q&A – Colin Robertson

Vice-president, Canadian Global, Affairs Institute, Ottawa

With 33 years of foreign-service experience, Colin Robertson has seen his fair share of political upsets. The vice-president of the Ottawa think-tank has been keeping an eye on the presidential election going on south of the border.

What is the most dangerous thing about Trump?
A Trump presidency would be bad for everybody. You never know how he’s going to behave. In international relations unpredictability leads to instability and that’s what causes wars.

How would a Clinton victory affect relations with Canada?
The players would change but the policies would remain the same with the exception of trade. TPP is in jeopardy if it doesn’t get through lame duck. As for the rapport between leaders, it won’t be as warm as it is between Trudeau and Obama.

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