Doctor of Economics Vladimir Vasilyev, chief researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, shared his sensational prediction with “Ogonyok.”
Vladimir Sergeyevich [Vasilyev], you were almost the only one of our nation’s analysts who said that Trump would make it to the final round of the presidential race, but Hillary Clinton likely wouldn’t. Do you still hold the same opinion?
Indeed, I’m more and more convinced of it. Everything points to Clinton being forced to withdraw from the race. I see several things that confirm this.
First, on May 8 the FBI began the last stage of the investigation against her. That means that in the next few weeks, a month at most, we should expect the final decision. I think we’re looking at a criminal indictment or something like it. The order for such an outcome has clearly been given from the very top: The intention is to get the result by July at the latest.
Second, we shouldn’t disregard the words of former Speaker of the House of Representatives John Andrew Boehner, a Republican. I should mention that there are no former speakers: Politicians of such caliber remain elite and are well informed of the many secrets of the political kitchen. Boehner spoke, of course, about a long-standing concern: The day before the Indiana primary, he lashed out at Ted Cruz, and it’s entirely possible that his words contributed to Trump’s victory, since Boehner talked about his experience working with Cruz by saying, “I’ve never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”
But it wasn’t just Cruz who got it. The former speaker knows Barack Obama like the back of his hand, a fact that lends weight to Boehner’s statement that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the final process against Clinton, which will be directed by the current U.S. president and whose purpose is to force Hillary to withdraw from the presidential race, begins about two weeks before the Democratic convention and Joe Biden “parachutes in” in her stead.
And third, on April 30 Obama gave a farewell dinner to the press and made a speech. He was in rare form: The speech was masterfully written, full of humor, and its main point was the idea that Biden is the finest person and politician Obama knows in the whole wide world. The second idea expressed aloud to the journalists had to do with the candidates for the White House. Hillary, he said, is his old war bride but rather old-fashioned and always comes up a bit short of a victory, and while Sanders is the pride of the Democratic party, his flirtations with the “camaradas” would have looked good in the last century but don’t now.
Later — at the beginning of May — Obama took a swipe at the Republicans too when it became clear that Trump would be nominated as the presidential candidate at the convention. Calling Trump and Cruz narrow-minded politicians, Obama advised Republicans to get rid of them, but he put his main point thusly: Trump is unsuitable for the presidency not as a politician, but as a person. Obama emphasized that in such elections, people don’t vote for an agenda or a party but for the very person. And the person should measure up to the high rank and the main task of the presidency, which is representing the U.S. in the world and being an outward image of the nation and the country. And what, he said, is the image [we get] from Trump? A showman without the skills or experience of political administrative work. Obama didn’t stop there, but cited the set of qualities necessary — in his opinion — for a U.S. leader [to possess]. He didn’t mention a last name, but personally I get the impression that he was referring to Biden. Such a description doesn’t fit Hillary.
O: : And yet she does have leadership experience, plus she was first lady to the president. How does that bode for her chances?
V.V.: Hillary can’t survive a head-on collision with Trump. Look, she lost again to Sanders in a couple of states. Things turned out poorly again. It looks like she’s having a hard time; she’s running out of steam and it shows. And indeed, Obama’s reaction is telling. Another thing: At that same dinner with the press, Obama talked about the fact that he isn’t going anywhere — allegorically, of course. Since his daughters have two more years of school left, he and Michelle decided to stay in Washington a couple more years; therefore, he isn’t saying goodbye to anyone. It could be taken as a joke, but in the humor of a politician of such rank, there’s always only a fraction of humor. Obama might remain at the helm provided he reaches an agreement with his replacement. Such a thing is hardly possible with Hillary, still less with Sanders; but with Biden it’s very possible. If Biden appears at the finish line of this primary marathon, he’ll know exactly to whom he owes it and how much.
O: And when will the “castling”* be?
V.V.: Before the Democratic convention. Now is the perfect time to start the process so as not to draw it out. A serious scandal is expected: The Clinton clan is strong, and it’s not clear how they’ll behave. Most likely a crisis and a scandal can’t be avoided. But if the situation (of the FBI investigation) grows to become a criminal indictment such that there arises an opportunity for a “plea deal” in which Clinton withdraws her candidacy in exchange for freedom, then besides the direct objective — trading her for Biden — it would also be possible to give the Republicans a sign so that they too would act more decisively. We, they would say, decided not to give a damn about the primary results and “changed horses in midstream,” despite the threat of a possible crisis, but what about you? In my view, the bomb will explode at the end of May or the beginning of June: Presumably, the FBI will announce the results of the investigation to the whole world, and they will be unfavorable for Hillary. So the matter might be resolved once and for all by July.
O: Do you think the Republicans will manage to force Trump to withdraw too?
V.V.: Only if Trump picks up little more than 1,237 delegates. But if, in result, he seriously supersedes that number — and things are pointing in that direction — and he gets 1,300-1,400 votes, a legitimate way of forcing him out of the race disappears. The Republicans could undertake a review of convention delegates’ authority. At first glance, the procedure is a formality, but it’s a real chance to stop Trump. It’s clear that if part of the delegates’ authority is scrapped, he might not reach 1,237 votes. But a large-scale reduction of authority is unrealistic — no more than a couple dozen votes at most. So if Trump picks up a little more than 1,237, he might lose, but if he surpasses the threshold by a hundred or so, his opponents will be left out in the cold.
O: That might be so. But in a Trump-Biden duel, who has the better chance?
V.V.: It’s hard to say. Trump could get the better of Hillary, but with Biden … If Biden joins the race, the Democrats will likely seize upon what Obama said recently regarding what kind of person the country’s future leader should be. And that strikes down Trump’s chances, of whom they’ll begin to say from every corner that he himself is an okay guy; his agenda’s okay too; his wife and kids are charming; but he’s not suited for the role of national leader, not suited at all… What kind of a calling card, they’ll say, will the country have in Trump? Biden is another matter: Having been the vice president for eight years, he can adequately represent the country to the outside world. One way or another, starting in the summer, the situation will begin to develop rapidly. And for the most part it’s unpredictable, since both parties have begun a risky and poorly calculated game. And if this is true, [everyone] should weigh the odds step by step...
*Editor’s note: The chess term “castling” was widely used in Russia to describe the swapping of positions at the top of the Russian government by Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev.