With the 2016 presidential election only days away, students met Wednesday night to discuss the election cycle and its impact on the Jewish community. “Capitol Hill(el),” hosted by USC Hillel and Trojans for Israel, featured a bipartisan panel that included Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, Matt Klink, a partner at public affairs firm Ek, Sunkin, Klink & Bai, and Christina Wilkes, the former president of the USC College Democrats.
The event began with a discussion on how the future president will affect American-Israeli relations.
“At this point, it’s at least worth assuming that [Hillary] Clinton will be elected,” Schnur said, “If we do assume, as most public opinion polls do, that Clinton is going to be successful on Tuesday, I believe that U.S.-Israeli relationships will improve dramatically.”
Schnur said he believes that President Barack Obama’s somewhat terse relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has kept the relationship between the United States and Israel from being as strong as it should be. Wilkes added that Obama’s support for the Iran nuclear deal, which Israel opposes, has contributed to these feelings of mutual discontent.
“The perception is that Obama has been less sympathetic toward Israeli causes,” Wilkes said. “I think that’s done some damage.”
Schnur described the most important challenges he sees between the countries, and said that the next president will need to address these in order to improve American-Israeli relations.
“If you think about the most significant challenges for the U.S. and the Middle East, there are three categories: the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, Iran specifically as it relates to the nuclear arms agreement and ISIS,” Schnur said.
Going forward, Wilkes said she does not foresee many changes regarding the divisive atmosphere that currently exists surrounding American politics.
“The optimist in me wants to see this definitive break between the Clinton years and the Obama years, but I don’t think that’s likely,” Wilkes said. “Cooperation with [Clinton] is probably not going to be something a lot of Republicans want to be seen doing. I don’t see a lot of changes, but hopefully I’m wrong.”
Klink added that bipartisan cooperation would be necessary to repair the relationship with Israel.
“I think one of the foundation mistakes that Barack Obama made was that he excluded the Republicans,” Klink said. “I’m not saying it’s Barack Obama’s fault, but I am saying that leadership has to start at the top.”
The panelists also discussed the California Senate race, between Democrats Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez. All three said they believe Harris will win, but that the fact that they are both from the same party will affect voter turnout.
“The idea is that if you have an area that is very liberal, the more moderate [candidate] will attract Republican votes,” Schnur said. “What’s happened here has been a little bit different. The voters from the other party just don’t vote; one-third or more of registered Republicans in California simply aren’t going to vote in the Senate elections at all.”
Schnur added that he believes Harris will be an important asset to the U.S. Senate.
“One thing I can predict is that [Harris] will become one of the most extraordinary members of the United States Senate,” Schnur said. “Some of that comes from representing a state the size of California, but the other reason is that there are a lot of progressive Democrats, particularly young or minority Democrats, who may vote for Clinton or may just stay home. If President Clinton is going to reach progressive Democrats, it’s going to come from people like Kamala Harris.”
The panel then turned to discuss some general trends in the election, which Schnur acknowledged has been full of surprises.
“To me, what’s most notable in the election is that Trump and Sanders have a great deal in common,” Schnur said. “A lot of voters who felt like they’ve been ignored by the traditional political establishment, who became resentful of the fact that they’ve been ignored, looked for a candidate to express that frustration. Two candidates from polar opposite ends of the spectrum ironically are united by very similar sentiments.”
Klink said that this pointed to the need for widespread political reform in America, especially when it comes to the voting process.
“We need a fundamental change. We need to reform the way we select our candidates — what we have right now is not working,” Klink said.
Wilkes agreed, adding that the rise of candidates like Donald Trump has been fueled by a desperate need for change.
“[Americans] are willing to vote dangerously if that means that’s changing things,” Wilkes said.