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Trump, the midterms and their impact on Australia

Analysis

The results of this week’s US midterm elections could have a significant effect on Australia. Peter Mitchell explains.

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Two years ago Donald Trump did what was considered unlikely.

He defied poll after poll, prediction after prediction and not only beat Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the US but also helped his Republican Party maintain control of the two chambers of Congress – the Senate and House of Representatives.

Americans, even Republicans, were shocked.

Australians, particularly in Canberra, were also left wide-eyed.

That is why US political pundits, pollsters and Australian government officials are all taking a cautious approach to predicting the outcome of Tuesday’s (Wednesday AEDT) US midterm elections, which could once again shake up the American political landscape and have a major impact on Australia.

Just how surprised was Canberra about Trump’s 2016 win?

Then Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull had a channel open and was ready to put in the customary congratulatory phone call to Clinton.

A phone number for Trump?

Nope.

They didn’t think they would need it.

It was left to Australian Ambassador to the US Joe Hockey to reach out to Australian golf great Greg Norman, who has played with Trump in the past, to get a phone number for the president-elect.

“Well, Greg Norman is a mate of mine,” Hockey laughed while recalling the story to an audience at California’s Stanford University a few weeks after the shock election win.

“Someone once said to me ‘Any port in a storm’.”

For months, there has been talk of a blue “Democrat” wave of anti-Trump supporters striking the midterm elections, taking control of Congress from Republicans and blunting Trump’s power.

Republicans control the Senate by a slim majority, 51 to 49, and 35 seats are in play this week.

Pundits and pollsters however are predicting Republicans will increase their margin in the Senate to around 52-48.

It is the House where the blue wave is expected to hit with Democrats forecast to take control with a majority of around 226-209.

Australia, after that disastrous January 2017, phone call between Trump and Turnbull over the asylum-seeker deal, has emerged during the Trump presidency better than perhaps any other ally.

It was Republican congressional leaders John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Paul Ryan who immediately stood up for Australia after Trump branded the deal “dumb” and claimed countries were “really terribly taking advantage of us”.

Trump appeared to listen to the senior Republicans and Australia has been in the good books since.

In June, Trump announced only Australia and Argentina would not be hit by his 25 per cent steel and 10 per cent aluminium tariffs.

If Democrats do take control of the House, Trump’s stalled infrastructure plan – something Democrats liked, could re-emerge on his agenda.

Hockey and Australian companies, with their history of asset recycling, are jumping out of their skins to get involved.

If Trump does lose control of Congress the biggest impact on Australia will likely be instability to world markets.

There are fears Trump, with his eyes solely set on winning the 2020 presidential election, will lash out and concentrate on his America First policy.

There is the real prospect of a government shut down over his demand for funding of a US-Mexico border wall.

Trump has already been criticised for skipping this month’s trip to the East Asia and ASEAN summits in Singapore and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings Papua New Guinea.

Democrats, with control of one chamber, and Republicans in the other, are expected to lead to legislation gridlock.

Trump is also expected to create more instability by firing, or demanding the resignation, of Attorney General Jeff Sessions as early as this week.

Special Counsel Bob Mueller, investigating Trump’s links to Russia, has been quiet in the weeks before the election but is tipped to show his hand soon – particularly if the president makes moves to shut him down.

Trump’s lame-duck session might not be so lame.

– AAP

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