US midterm elections 2018

US midterms result: good for Democrats, bad for Asia, says vocal critic of Donald Trump

  • ‘Surprises likely’ as blow will prompt president to act more erratically, says political scientist Ian Bremmer
  • Vice-President Mike Pence unlikely to offer anything substantial during Asia visit
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2018, 3:51pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 January, 2019, 6:23pm

Don’t pop the champagne just yet – the US midterm election result might be good news for Democrats, but it could spell trouble for Asia, according to one of President Donald Trump’s most vocal critics.

The noted political scientist Ian Bremmer said in an interview on the sidelines of the Bloomberg New Economy Forum that the US president’s instincts to “escalate” at his low points in politics meant Asia could face immediate uncertainties in the aftermath of the Republicans’ loss of the House of Representatives.

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NBC News on Wednesday afternoon projected that Democrats would hold a 229-206 majority in the House of Representatives – seizing control of the lower house they lost in 2010 during President Barack Obama’s tenure.

Trump’s Republican Party is expected to hold on to the 100-member Senate, where 35 seats were being contested in Tuesday’s polls.

“If I were you looking at the United States, I would say a more besieged President Trump who has not succeeded in midterms is likely to act more erratically, more aggressively and potentially more dangerous for your part of the world,” said Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group.

The midterm result is going to put a lot of pressure on Trump and he’s going to blame a lot of people and he’s going to lash out
Ian Bremmer

He added: “What you want clearly is a predictable United States even if it is not assertive and strong, even if doesn’t care much about foreign policy, you don’t want surprises. I think the likelihood that you get surprises out of the second two years of the Trump presidency is very high.”

The result could also see the already erratic president becoming less restrained, Bremmer said.

While Trump talked tough on issues such as the trade war with China, he had, thus far, exercised some degree of restraint.

But that could change as the president finds himself having to compete with House Democrats for national attention following the election results, Bremmer said.

“He’s going to work harder so that [the media] is covering what he wants them to cover. When that becomes a problem for him, he escalates … You can imagine him being tougher internationally, particularly on China.”

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Bremmer, meanwhile, urged the region to temper expectations that the US, for the first time since Trump’s election in 2016, would offer concrete details about its Asia strategy when Vice-President Mike Pence visits the region next week. That has been the official line from Washington.

In a briefing with regional journalists on Tuesday, the head of the US development financing body Overseas Private Investment Corporation said Pence would outline plans for financing projects in Asia at next week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Papua New Guinea.

The agency, to be reformed under recently passed legislation, aims to take on China’s Belt and Road Initiative in providing financing to low-income countries in the region.

But Bremmer scoffed at the likelihood of Pence outlining anything substantial while he was in Asia.

Instead, he said the US’ Asia strategy could plunge into disarray following the midterm results.

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He predicted US Secretary of Defence James Mattis may be forced out following the polls – the former general has engaged with Asia the most among Trump’s cabinet members, but is seen as currently out of favour with the president.

“There’s going to be a lot of other big changes in all likelihood in cabinet and across the board. In the run-up to that, any expectations you have of what will come out of a Pence meeting … it will be a fine trip, but you are going to get very little out of it,” Bremmer said.

“This is a period of pretty significant volatility in the US … the midterm result is going to put a lot of pressure on Trump and he’s going to blame a lot of people and he’s going to lash out.”