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If Donald Trump secures the Republican nomination and wins the US presidential election in 2024, what could that mean for Australia: for our regional security, our political culture, our democracy? What could it be, anyway? And with this looming possibility, what should we begin to think and do now?
These are the questions that Bruce Wolpe sets out to answer in his recently released book, “Trump’s Australia.”
Mr. Wolpe, who worked as a senior adviser to Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California and former member of the US House, and as chief of staff to former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, spoke to The Times about what will happen next. This interview has been edited and condensed.
In your book, you write that the possibility of a Trump presidency in 2024 raises an existential question for Australia. The way you put it is: “Does Australia want to stay in an alliance with the dis-United States under Trump?” Can you unpack that?
If Trump becomes president again, there will be two types of issues. There is the whole agenda of foreign policy, economic policy, trade, international institutions, values. Things that Trump stands for and will prosecute – and it needs to be managed.
But underneath that is something that I think comes down to an existing issue in the US-Australian alliance: If Trump sends troops into the streets to promote and protect “law and order,” if he starts making arrests of journalists, if he refuses to obey the laws passed. through Congress, if he refuses to comply with the orders of the US Supreme Court, if he interferes in elections and overturns the results of elections – if he engages in that pattern of activity, those are the first steps to begin at the end of America. democracy as we know it.
Australia associates and aligns with the US because they share certain values: liberty, freedom, human rights, democracy, rule of law. If the US doesn’t stand for things, what is Australia adapting to and why? That has huge implications for Australia’s position in this region and what it does globally, and it’s something that I think we need to start thinking about.
What do you think Mr. Will Trump win the 2024 US election?
I think his chances for the nomination are now over 50 percent. I think his election chances are less than 50 percent.
There are two things that hinder his re-election prospects. The first is just his raw extremism – I think most Republican voters can live with it, but most of the rest of the country can’t.
The main driver of the election is the economy and the perception of the economy. I think right now, Biden feels that if you look at the horizon, inflation is going down, interest rates are probably going to come down, job growth is going to be strong, employment is going to be strong. If there is an increase in the economy, that will increase the presidential vote. But when things are bad in the economy, that’s Trump territory.
What are the implications of Trump’s second term on Indo-Pacific security?
I think Trump feels most strongly about trade and making sure that America’s trade relations with China are in favor of the US Trump has a less strong relationship with the security arrangements that the US has in the Pacific and Asia- Pacific. Within an hour he was signing a piece of paper on his desk to remove all United States troops from South Korea. He complained about the cost to the US of having troops and bases in Japan.
One scenario: Trump sees that he can get a big trade deal that will benefit the US And perhaps President Xi Jinping of China says, “The Quad agreement and the US is a BENEFIT – I don’t like it very much. This is a threat to me. Let’s just reduce the profile and engagement of those two entitlements.”
And then of course, with Taiwan – will Trump, in order to get trade and reduce America’s profile in the Asia Pacific, tell President Xi: “I understand your wishes for Taiwan, and I will not be a big obstacle . for those who will be fulfilled. I don’t want a war. I don’t want you to do anything terrible. But I don’t want to be an obstacle.”
For me, that’s a scenario that could develop.
How does Australia protect its interests in the face of such a possibility?
This is what all of these senior officials from both parties across the two countries are saying: It is in Australia’s interest to establish and deploy a command posture in the Asia Pacific engagement, to have deeper strategic engagement throughout the region, finding partners, with high quality. trade deals, strengthening Australia’s independent relationships with countries across Asia. Lots of foreign aid, and lots of assets in Washington to handle that part of the equation.
And that actually happened. That is exactly the path that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong have taken since this government came to power.
You wrote about how someone like Trump will not succeed in Australian politics the same way he has in the US Can you say that?
Before I started writing the book, I observed that things happen in America and people here are very afraid that they will happen here. Can we have some extremist like Trump leading the country?
The answer is absolutely not. Australia has guardrails which I think a lot of Americans like them.
First and foremost, no blow-in like Trump can be prime minister. To become prime minister, you must be the leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives. So you can’t have an outsider come in and just get support somewhere and become the leader of the country.
Number two, compulsory voting means that the extremists will never win. Issues like guns or abortion are very strong in the US because they are a driver of voting participation. Gun owners are among the most active voters. If you have compulsory voting, that means it always goes center-left or center-right. This means that minorities cannot control the direction of the country on important issues.
But has Trumpism, to some extent, permeated our political discourse?
It’s as if the things Trump said are entering the debate. Politicians are now talking about fake news. They never did that before. Pauline Hanson suddenly stood up in the Senate and she did not like the “Welcome to Country” that greeted the Senate every day. So there are these echoes of extremism coming from Trump that are leaching around Australia, and politicians are picking them up and imitating them.
During the last election in Australia, the candidate of Prime Minister Morrison, Ms. Katherine Deves, runs a huge anti-trans agenda. America took it. There are many bills introduced in many states across the US that are anti-trans, anti-gay. But that doesn’t happen in Australia. He was badly beaten in the last election.
So we hear it, but we don’t follow it. And I think that’s a tribute to the strength of the Australian political culture and its resilience.
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