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Republican Party could split after U.S. election, says former Bush adviser

By Abbas Rana      

Steve Schmidt says both the Democrats and the Republicans are likely to be facing deep division in the wake of the Nov. 8 vote.

Top Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, left, says the Republican Party might be headed for a split after the election. Raymond Chrétien, former Canadian ambassador to the United States, says the protectionist rhetoric from both U.S. presidential candidates is worrisome for Canada. The Hill Times photograph by Abbas Rana/ Courtesy of law firm of Fasken Martineau

A top Republican strategist is warning that both the Republican and Democratic parties appear to be headed for deep divisions after next week’s U.S. election, and that the Republicans are even likely to break up into two different parties.

“[Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders supporters] both believe the system is rigged,” Steve Schmidt, a senior strategist for John McCain’s unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2008 and former senior adviser to U.S. president George W. Bush, said in an interview with The Hill Times. “They both believe it’s not on the level. They both believe there’s one set of rules for people at the top and a different set of rules for everybody else.”

Mr. Schmidt, who was also campaign manager for the successful re-election of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, said the way Republican candidate Donald Trump ran his primary and general election campaigns, using extreme right wing rhetoric, the alt-right wing of the party and the centre-right wing of the party will not be able to co-exist in the same organization.

“Trumpism and Republicanism are not compatible. You have to think about Trumpism like an organ that’s been transplanted into the body, that’s being rejected by the body. It’s not compatible,” said Mr. Schmidt, who now is an analyst for MSNBC News. “What happens ultimately, I don’t know. But someone is moving out of the tent or the house.”

In the primary and general election campaign, Mr. Trump made numerous divisive comments against women, visible minorities, some U.S. war heroes, appeared to back Russian annexation of Ukraine, questioned the utility of NATO, and called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

As of late last week, 12 women had accused Mr. Trump of sexual assault. Mr. Trump has denied all of these allegations, claiming he is a “victim” of political smear campaigns aimed at undermining his presidential campaign.

On the Democratic Party side, Mr. Schmidt said Sanders supporters believe the party establishment and the Hillary Clinton campaign colluded to undermine Sen. Sanders’ primary campaign. This is the reason, he said, a significant number of Sanders supporters are still reluctant to vote for Ms. Clinton. These supporters were also reluctant to declare their support at the Democratic Party convention in Philadelphia in July.

“To some degree at the establishment level, the Democratic Party process was rigged,” said Mr. Schmidt. “Bernie Sanders came as close as he could have come under the rules of the Democratic Party against an establishment favourite like Hillary Clinton.”

Right before the start of the Democratic convention, leaked internal DNC emails suggested a bias from party Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, along with other senior party officials, in favour of Ms. Clinton over Sen. Sanders. As a consequence, Ms. Schultz stepped down from her position at the start of the convention.

Mr. Schmidt said another reason for internal discord between the two Democratic rival groups is that Sanders’ supporters believe Ms. Clinton is “untrustworthy” and represents the corporate establishment they fought against in the primary elections. If Ms. Clinton, a former secretary of state, wins the election next week and chooses to appoint corporate leaders unacceptable to Sanders supporters to key cabinet positions, the divisions in the party will be further exacerbated, said Mr. Schmidt.

On the U.S. foreign policy side, a number of Sanders supporters have expressed their reservations on the apparent direction of Ms. Clinton’ campaign.

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Sean Kay, a professor at Ohio Wesleyan University and a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Sanders during his primary campaign, said the Clinton campaign’s outreach efforts to the Republican Party establishment is dampening the enthusiasm of Sanders’ supporters.

“When those voters that rallied around Bernie Sanders start hearing stories about how they want to reach out to Henry Kissinger and how Paul Wolfowitz has reached out to Hillary Clinton, that doesn’t help. I think it weighs down the campaign,” Mr. Kay said. “I don’t think it was helpful to the Clinton campaign that the first steps out on this were how to reach out to the neo-con GOP foreign policy establishment, as opposed to first really having a conversation with the core base of the Democratic Party, then broadening out from there.”

As of last week, polls were showing a favourability trend toward Ms. Clinton for the Nov. 8 presidential election. According to a CNN report on Oct. 27, the average of the five most recent national surveys showed her with 47 per cent support compared to Mr. Trump at 41 per cent. But, Mr. Trump and his campaign said last week that polls that showed the Republican candidate trailing Ms. Clinton were “rigged.”

“I have no doubt about it,” Mr. Trump told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly in response to a question whether he believed the polls were fixed to favour Ms. Clinton. “I won the third debate easily. It wasn’t even a contest and everybody had me winning. Every poll had me winning, big league. And then CNN did a poll and they had me losing somewhat, and I said, ‘How did that happen, I wonder.’ ”

Mr. Trump’s supporters were warning in media interviews that if Ms. Clinton wins, it will be only through a “stolen election” and the country could face a violent conflict.

“People are going to march on the capitols,” call-centre worker Jared Halbrook, 25, of Green Bay, Wis., told The New York Times, late last week. “They’re going to do whatever needs to be done to get her out of office, because she does not belong there.”

“If push comes to shove,” Mr. Halbrook added, Ms. Clinton “has to go by any means necessary. It will be done.”

Meanwhile, Canadian political and diplomatic observers told The Hill Times they were watching the presidential election with interest as both countries have a close trade, security, and defence relationship, and the outcome is of critical significance to this relationship.

“Who’s elected will influence the management of the relationship and will influence the management of the issues involved in the relationship,” said Raymond Chrétien, Canadian ambassador to the U.S. from 1994 to 2000, and now is a partner in the law firm of Fasken Martineau.

Mr. Chrétien who also served as Canadian ambassador in France, Belgium, Mexico, and the Congo, said one of the worrying aspects of the current presidential campaign was that both of the main candidates were using protectionist rhetoric. He said it remains to be seen if the winner readjusts the position on trade issues after the election or maintains the protectionist position.

Mr. Chrétien, who was recently appointed by the Quebec government as the provincial representative on the softwood lumber issue to negotiate with the U.S., said the winning candidate’s take on trade issues between the two countries will determine the future of this relationship. He declined to speculate on what position each candidate might take on such key issues such as softwood lumber, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Keystone XL Pipeline Project.

“It’s too early to know,” said Mr. Chrétien, who is the nephew of former prime minister Jean Chrétien.

According to a fact sheet from the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, Canada and the U.S. have the largest bilateral trade and investment relationship in the world. The fact sheet states that about 400,000 people and some $2-billion worth of goods and services cross the border everyday.

Liberal MP Wayne Easter (Malpeque, P.E.I.), chairman of the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group, declined a comment on the U.S. presidential election, describing this an internal issue for the U.S. He said that Canada would continue its close trading relationship no matter who wins next week.


The Hill Times

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