The presidential race is about to enter that critical stage when just about everyone is paying at least a little attention to the candidates, to what they are saying and to what their election might portend for the country. Current polls notwithstanding (and they are tightening, in case you haven’t noticed), Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are decidedly different candidates, with decidedly different prospects for governing. And the prospects for each encompass a range of possibilities, much akin to the range of possibilities baseball scouts consider when analyzing the merits of draft picks for major league teams.
Those scouts often identify the likely floors and ceilings of the prospects they watch, thereby indicating the least productive career a potential draft pick could have and the highest level of performance that prospect might attain. Donald Trump has a floor and a ceiling as a potential president. So does Hillary Clinton. Here’s my assessment of each possibility for both of them.
Before I begin, I need to clarify that for purposes of this discussion, I am not considering the doom’s day scenario that has Trump leading the country into some kind of fascistic totalitarian state with concentration camps for minority groups and a potential Armageddon in a nuclear conflict with the rest of the civilized world. That potential may well exist, but so might the possibility that he declines the job after being elected, his ego having been satisfied by the election itself.
Instead, I assume Trump would take on the job with something less than Hitlerian ambitions. But the floor for that presidency would be bad enough. It would feature little interest by the president in policy details, meaning he would turn much of the governance part of his job over to his advisors, who, at this point, are not a very reassuring group.
At its worst, then, a Trump presidency might be controlled by a mix of evangelical social policies (led by then VP Mike Pence), and free-market economic initiatives, marked by extensive tax cuts for the wealthy and a likely repeal of Obamacare. The country’s foreign policy would be hazy at best, probably reactive to perceived threats from terrorist groups, and possibly restrictive in terms of international trade. Specifically, the country might be engaged more heavily in military conflicts, but only in reaction to actual attacks on U.S. interests and personnel. The country would be less safe under this scenario, but more belligerent, reacting to attacks instead of seeking ways to prevent them.
The floor of a Trump presidency would also see immigration become a more divisive issue, although the “wall” of Trump’s campaign rhetoric may be more evident by the way undocumented immigrants are treated when they are found in the U.S. than by any physical structure the candidate currently promises. Minority groups would have greater reason to protest and less reason to feel protected by their government.
The ceiling for a Trump presidency would not be a whole lot better. It would see a reduction of spending and greater reliance on free enterprise. The nation’s economy might suffer only a mild recession in the short term. (The bigger one would follow his tenure in office as the effects of his policies were felt.)
Militarily, the country would spend more on defense and might engage more heavily in the ongoing battles in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Domestically, law enforcement would get greater attention, and police forces would feel emboldened to engage in more aggressive crime prevention and apprehension. Not much would change for most Americans, at least for those who are white and well-off.
At its best, a Trump presidency would value new ideas, especially those that were politically incorrect. This trend might produce some interesting sociological developments, perhaps including a retro embrace of “separate but equal” environments for the races. The advantages for white Americans who seek that kind of country would be greater; for minority communities, not so much. It would be a mix of the best of times and the worst of times, with the best going to the few and the worst going to the weakest and poorest.
The floor for a Clinton administration would be much of what the Obama administration has looked like for the last seven and a half years. Congress would refuse to consider any meaningful legislation from the administration and would instead engage in any number of investigations into alleged wrong-doing by the president and her inner circle. It is entirely plausible to envision impeachment hearings being conducted in the House shortly after Clinton’s election. It is also likely that she would never have a Supreme Court nominee confirmed.
In terms of foreign policy, Clinton would be more hawkish than Obama, resulting in a greater likelihood of a recommitment of ground troops in countries like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. She would continue to fight ISIS, perhaps more aggressively than Obama has. The result might be the creation of more terrorist cells and greater hatred of the United States in those countries where collateral damage is suffered.
The ceiling for a Clinton administration would be a renewed spirit of cooperation with Congress, which would be less heavily dominated by Republicans and more willing to adopt policy proposals submitted by the administration, as the president’s willingness to “give a little to get a little” would result in marginal progress towards a more egalitarian society. The economy would continue to grow out of the great recession and would see unemployment reduced to functional zero with better jobs developing in the mid-term, as investment in infrastructure and clean energy took hold.
Militarily, the country would continue to fight ISIS but would refrain from engaging elsewhere. Climate change would be a focus of the president, as she sought to build on the international accord Obama achieved. International trade would increase, with greater protection offered for American workers in the form of targeted tariffs and increased emphasis on workers’ rights in foreign countries.
In short, the country would move forward, still struggling with its many problems, but with the focused direction of a leader who worked hard at the job.
So, to sum up, the floor for Trump is very low, and the ceiling is not much higher. The floor for Clinton is pretty much the status quo, and the ceiling is a good bit higher.