There ought to be a unit of measurement, a kind of Moneyball-like stat, to gauge the impact of a certain kind of career in politics: the business tycoon who leaps off his mountain of money and aims for the top of the legislative heap. Sadly, no such unit exists, but with Donald Trump’s inexorable ascension to the Republican nomination, I will propose one: the PKP.
Loosely based on Pierre Karl Péladeau’s condensed career as leader of the Parti Québécois, the formula would be PKP=T x S, where T represents the length of time spent as leader and S represents the value assigned to the significance of the contribution. In Péladeau’s case, his PKP value would be a mere one. His quixotic, empty political adventure never made sense. A capricious CEO with a track record of locking out his own workers, Péladeau led a separatist party rooted in unionists, democratic socialists, desperado idealists and bloody-minded academics. It was like a baby-seal hunter being elected leader of PETA.
Contrast that to billionaire media mogul Michael Bloomberg, who has a massive PKP score. He began his term as mayor of New York with the city still reeling from 9/11 and its finances in the red. Twelve years later he left a city newly considered to be one of the safest, most attractive places on the planet—with a surplus to boot.
Bloomberg’s PKP would be a whopping 144. Impressive.
Other moguls, like Ross Perot, or Steve Forbes, neither of whom were elected, nonetheless made a difference to their movements. Ted Cruz is still parroting Forbes’s flat-tax promise all these years later. They get a score. Here in Canada, as Kevin O’Leary muses about running for the leadership of the Conservative party, there are bets as to how long he might last and what impact he may yet have on the political landscape.
But the only urgent question right now is Donald Trump. How long will his run last and how significant will it be? Hard to believe that he only declared his candidacy on June 16, 2015. Is it too early to measure his impact? Not at all.
There’s a fair bit of magical thinking going on, especially inside the Republican establishment, that somehow Trump—the chauvinist, nativist, belligerent, fear-mongering candidate (the guy is boosting thesaurus sales, I’ll give him that)— is going to go away. Maybe a brokered convention in Cleveland will snatch his nomination crown, or maybe, if he actually gets nominated, he’ll lose the general election to Hillary Clinton and fade away. Wrong.
Trump is already having an impact, especially on global affairs. If he’s occasionally defensive about his lack of political experience, Trump makes up for it by always being offensive about his political opponents. His recent foreign policy speech might as well have announced a new season of a chilling new reality show called “Global Arms Race,” starring China and Russia.
“China and Russia are ramping up defence spending,” says Stephen Saidemen, the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University. This year China increased its military budget by more than seven per cent, to US$146 billion a year, on the heels of hefty year-on-year spending increases over the last decade. While Trump hasn’t triggered that increase, he hasn’t cooled it, either.
This week he compared China’s trade policy with the United States to rape. “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country,” Trump said in Indiana. Never missing a chance to insult women, Trump added a new reckless jibe, invoking the horrors of the Rape of Nanjing, the 1937 mass murder and rape of Chinese citizens by the Japanese Imperial army. The event still scars Sino-Japanese relations and resonates in China as a moment of shame. It’s hard to calculate the damage Trump’s irresponsible words inflict.
“China does a poor job of reading and understanding U.S. politics,” David Mulroney, the former Canadian ambassador to China told me. Mulroney recently wrote Middle Power, Middle Kingdom: What Canadians Need to Know About China in the 21st Century. “China rejected olive branches extended by President Obama and then-Secretary of State Clinton in 2009, and China has been increasingly assertive in the region since.”
For Canada, strained relations between the U.S. and China are troubling. “Our most important trading partner is in an increasingly tense stand-off with our second-most important trading partner,” Mulroney says. “Even a modest rise in tensions between the U.S. and China would have an immediate impact on our economy, and should things deteriorate beyond that, global security would be endangered.”
Trump is a wild card on trade. He’s already called NAFTA a “disaster” and said he would not sign any similar trade deals. So forget the TPP trade deal in Asia. He also threatens to punish companies who move factories to foreign jurisdictions. Look out, Ontario. “Never again!” Trump has thundered on trade deals.
Whether on trade, security, immigration, education or gender issues, Trump is radicalizing the debate. People may wish he ends up scoring as low on the PKP chart as Péladeau himself, but it’s too late. Trump’s numbers are growing. We’ll have to invent new tools to truly measure his impact.