Interview to Lara Alameh
One day before New Hampshire primary, OLHAR DIREITO spoke with Lara Alameh, an American International Affairs Consultant based in Lisbon, about some issues of the main candidates to the White House, and the results of Iowa Caucus. President Obama´s legacy was also part of the conversation.
"I believe history will view the election of first African-American President in the United States as a positive change"
Which States are crucial in this election?
While all states play an important role in the presidential election process through the Electoral College, more emphasis will be placed on Iowa and New Hampshire in the beginning during the Primaries and later on, on what are commonly referred to as “swing states” or “battleground states.” As we can see the early primary states are important because it sets the momentum for the race, the ability to fundraise and reduces the numbers of candidates in the playing field. Once the parties have announced their candidate, parties will focus on states where neither party can claim a majority of electoral votes. These states are not always the same and determining them depends on several factors including, the demographics of the state and who the candidates are. But the big ones to watch out for will be Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
What was the impact of the Iowa Caucus for Senator Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump?
The results of the Iowa Caucus were a great success for Senator Sanders with his opponent claiming a small 0.2% lead. Iowa showed that Senator Sanders is a serious candidate and it amplified his fundraising ability, having raised $3 million in just 24 hours following the Iowa results. As of right now, polls indicate that Senator Sanders’ lead over Clinton is waning, but he is expected to win New Hampshire. The Iowa results were surprising for Donald Trump who expected to come out on top. But what it shows is that while he enjoys grassroots popularity, he still has a lot of work to do to convince establishment Republicans that he is the right choice for them. Trump is not a traditional candidate and he does not represent the core Republican values and principles that are important to the voting base. If Trump does well in New Hampshire as he is expected to do, then it will keep him in the game and help him for future wins.
What are the main differences between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz?
On the Republican side it seems to be less of a debate about issues and more about who can invoke the most fear and criticize their opponents to the best of their advantage. With that said, the differences between Donald Trump and Senator Cruz have less to do with policy and more to do with their backgrounds and value system. Cruz is a Southern Baptist and has a more natural appeal to the religious conservative base of the Republican Party. Also, he has a strong background in law and has held elected office, whereas Trump is a rich businessman with a Playboy reputation that is largely out of touch with the base he seeks to represent. However, there are some specifics in policy where they do differ that could matter to some voters on the fence about whether to support Senator Cruz or Trump. Trump’s fear mongering immigration policy has been critiqued and shunned by the Republican establishment—Specifically, his call to ban all Muslims from entering the United States and a controversial deportation force to round up and expel all illegal immigrants. Cruz holds hawkish views on the subject but he draws the line at the deportation force and believes that limited entry into the United States should be focused on countries sponsoring terrorism or where terrorist groups have strong influence as opposed to all Muslims. And while most Americans, according to a 2015 Gallup poll do not believe counterterrorism legislation should sacrifice civil liberties, Trump supports violating civil liberties as a means to enhance security. Cruz on the other hand has rejected calls to increase data surveillance as a matter of policy.
Between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders?
The debates on the democratic side appear to be more collegial and substantive. I would say that the major differences between Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton have less to do with their views on domestic issues such as health care or a woman’s right to choose and more to do with the power structures they represent and the methods they support to achieve their policy outcomes. In this campaign the word “establishment” has been used a lot. Sanders refers to Clinton as a part of the “establishment” as a way to undermine her credentials as a progressive, yet he has technically served in elected office far longer than Clinton. What he is really saying is much deeper than this and he is echoing the sentiments expressed by former President Jimmy Carter, when he said that America’s electoral process is “an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery.” And this is where the main difference is between Sanders and Clinton. Even though Clinton has devoted her life to activism and social causes, she is heavily perceived by Sanders’ supporters as being entrenched in the old financial power structures that Sanders believes is corrupting American democracy. Furthermore, Clinton favors a more incremental process of change whereas Sanders espouses a more revolutionary approach, which is criticized by Clinton as not being realistic.
Where did Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush go wrong?
I think it’s important to understand that the Republican Party has been suffering setbacks since George H. Bush lost to President Clinton. Despite the election of his son George W. Bush after President Clinton, the Republican Party has become extremely factionalized between mainstream Republicans of the Ronald Reagan era, neoconservative hawks and Tea Party supporters. The vitriolic levels of partisanship that have taken over the American political climate have also moved the Republican ideology to the right making it difficult for the Republican establishment to find a unifying personality. If you asked me one year ago, I would tell you that we would see a Bush/Rubio Republican ticket. The prospect of that happening now is dismal. I believe where these two went wrong was by working against each other instead of joining forces early on.
What are the policies that distinguish Hillary Clinton from Barack Obama?
One of Clinton’s main campaign promises is to continue the success of the policies of the Obama administration. It is really hard to say what policies distinguish Clinton form Obama since she now sees herself as carrying on the Obama legacy. We can look at where the two differed eight years ago when they were political opponents but that does not seem very useful to us now, except only to reinforce the fickle nature of politics. The only area I can confidently say where there could be profound differences is in the foreign policy arena. As a former Senator of New York, Clinton adopted more hawkish foreign policy positions to appease her constituency. I would say that in the area of foreign policy Clinton would be more aggressive and more interventionist.
Will President Obama’s legacy be positive or negative?
Well, I think this really depends who you ask. But I truly don’t believe it is possible for any leader’s legacy to be definitively positive or negative. Overall, I believe history will view the election of the first African-American President in the U.S. as positive change, but one that also brought to the surface some of the ugly realities of extremism and racism that permeate our society. While the election of Obama fostered feelings of hope and healing in the world after the disastrous war in Iraq, he really disengaged from the region throughout his Presidency and this led to a deteriorating security situation and hundreds of thousands killed in Syria. On the other hand, his successful negotiation of an agreement with Iran was a necessary step in building a more stable region.