There's a 97.6% chance that Donald J. Trump will be America's next president -- so says the New York Post.
But it's not over yet. Democrats are still deciding in their primary and caucus contests which of the two contenders in their party has the best chance of beating Trump in November.
How you decide on that question is entirely up to you. But in our continuing effort to clarify the issues at stake, here's our take on how a Sanders administration, or a Clinton one, might act on matters of national defense -- and what each candidate's victory might mean for investors in the defense industry.
Sanders for prez ...
"We live in a difficult and dangerous world, and there are no easy or magical solutions. As president and commander-in-chief, I will defend this nation, its people, and America's vital strategic interests, but I will do it responsibly." So says Sen. Bernie Sanders in a statement on his campaign's website. And as glowing generalities go, it's hard to disagree with any of that.
But what does Sanders propose to do to "defend ... America's vital strategic interests," specifically?
Well, according to his campaign's website, a Sanders administration would look at military matters on a case-by-case basis. For example, Sanders proudly proclaims that he opposed U.S. military action in both the first and second Iraq wars -- but he supported the use of force in the Balkans, to halt ethnic cleansing, and voted in favor of invading Afghanistan in retaliation for the Sept. 11 attacks.
As far as today's military policy goes, it's far down Sen. Sanders' list of priorities. Out of 23 topics specifically addressed on his website, "war and peace" ranks only No. 20. And even there, Sanders' position paper contains almost no specifics about his plans for strengthening the U.S. military.
That said, neither does Sanders' website contain any explicit statements that would support critics who claim he will implement a "50% cut in defense spending" (Reuters) or drastically reduce the U.S. nuclear deterrent (DefenseOne).
Really, there are almost no specifics of any kind stated, which could guide us one way or the other as to whether a Sanders administration would be good news or bad for defense companies. Sanders expresses a hope that under his administration, the U.S. will cease to be "the de facto policeman of the world" -- which sounds like bad news for anyone hoping for an increase in defense spending. On the other hand, Sanders does propose to "work with our allies" to address security concerns, in particular in the Middle East. Viewed optimistically, this might portend an increase in sales of defense systems to U.S. allies internationally.
Or President Clinton, part deux?
Hillary Clinton's position on defense policy is similar to Sanders', with perhaps a bit of a more hawkish tilt. For example, Clinton has been quoted in the past advocating the sale of Lockheed Martin's (NYSE:LMT) F-35 stealth fighter jet to Israel. Elsewhere, she promises to "empower our partners to defeat terrorism," "work with friends and allies to ... encourage China to be a responsible stakeholder ... and hold it accountable if it does not," and "stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our European allies and help them ... deter Russian aggressions in Europe and beyond."
All of which appears to echo Sen. Sanders' emphasis on diplomacy, and cooperation with allies. If Clinton wouldn't necessarily quit the job of "world policeman," she might at least deputize a few allies to help out -- to whom we would of course be able to sell weapons.
Which would not be bad news for U.S. defense contractors.
As for defense spending here at home, that could come under pressure. At a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, Clinton called for the creation of a commission to look into "what we need, and how we are going to pay for it." Past inquiries into the subject of "what we need" under President Obama augured poorly for big-ticket, high-profile weapons systems such as the Boeing's (NYSE:BA) Airborne Laser and Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. More recent inquiries have raised the possibility of curtailing purchases of Lockheed's F-35 as well.
At the same time, Clinton says she will make "sure that our military is on the cutting edge" and that the U.S. "maintains the best-trained, best-equipped, and strongest military the world has ever known."
Now, the lack of specifics from both Democratic candidates makes figuring out what they really think a bit of an exercise in Kremlinology. Still, reading the between the lines, and with particular emphasis on the word "maintains," it appears a Clinton administration might not be averse to maintaining Pentagon spending at present levels -- but perhaps shifting Pentagon dollars more toward research and development on new technologies such as cyber, railguns, and lasers -- albeit at the expense of higher-ticket hardware.
The upshot for investors
So what's the upshot of all this for investors in the defense industry? The almost total lack of specifics as pertaining to American military policy -- and on pages supposedly dedicated to the candidates' policy on "war and peace" and "national security," respectively, makes it clear that growing defense spending will not be a priority for either of the Democratic candidates.
This paints a pretty clear contrast to what we've heard from the Republicans.
Then again, Obama wasn't the most hawkish candidate in 2012, either. He famously chided Gov. Mitt Romney for treating the defense budget like "a game of Battleship where we're counting ships." But when push came to shove, Obama ended up spending even more on the military than his predecessor, President Bush.
Come 2017, the current candidates just might surprise us.
Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. You can find him on Motley Fool CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 278 out of more than 75,000 rated members.
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