Observations of an expat: If Biden wins

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It is looking good for Joe Biden. He is racing ahead in the polls as foot-in-mouth Trump slumps under the weight of the pandemic, economic woes, legal problems and a growing credibility gap.

But what would a Biden win mean? In terms of the tone of political conversation it would mean a dramatic change. We would also see some big differences on the domestic political front. In foreign policy, an evolving international situation plus difficult to change actions which Trump has started, means shifts could be less dramatic.

Compared to Trump’s stream of consciousness rants, Biden is practically mute. Throughout his career, he has been known for his gaffes, but nearly half a century in Washington has taught him that there are times when it is best to say nothing, or to leave it civil servants to do the talking. Don’t expect a daily tsunami of tweets or cleverly-worded personal insults.

One of Joe Biden’s biggest tasks would be to close the national divide that a Trump presidency has created. He must find a way to push the hate-mongers and conspiracy theorists back into the woodwork from which they have crawled while at the same time avoiding the trap of forcing them underground.

Gun Control is a key flashpoint between the former vice-president and Trump’s dedicated base. Biden was heavily affected by the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre and is a keen advocate of gun control. Among his past proposals has been a buy-back scheme for owners of assault rifles. And if the owners refuse to sell they will be required to register the weapons under the National Firearms Act. Needless to say, the powerful National Rifle Association opposes his candidacy.

Biden comes from what has been termed the “sensible centre” of the Democratic Party. The problem is that in recent years the party has moved to the left with the rise of figures such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Biden’s “sensible centre” position is looking more like that of right-wing Democrat. This could create difficulty for him in Congress with issues such as welfare and defence spending and healthcare,  even if the Democrats hold onto the House of Representatives and win control of the Senate.

Other big domestic issues for Biden would be abortion and the Supreme Court. A devout Catholic, Joe Biden takes a politically modified stand on the Vatican’s ruling on abortion. He agrees that life begins at conception, but then goes on to say that he would not force his views onto others. As for the Supreme Court, Biden’s election would be an opportunity for 87-year-old liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to slide into a well-deserved retirement.  And Biden’s long tenure on the Senate Judiciary Committee means that he would have little trouble pushing through a replacement nominee.

Biden’s biggest impact during his 36-year-long senatorial career was in foreign relations. He spent three decades on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, eight of them as chairman. One would have to go back 195 years to the administration of John Quincy Adams to find a president with as much foreign affairs experience. It was this experience that was the deciding factor in Barack Obama’s decision to choose Biden as his running mate in 2008.

It is debatable as to whom had greater control over American foreign policy during the Obama years—Biden or Hillary Clinton. Biden oversaw American policy in Iraq and the Middle East; as well as playing a key role in events in the Balkans, Libya and the Ukraine.  Biden was an established and respected player on the world stage even before he became vice president. But that does not necessarily mean a Biden victory would result in tectonic shifts in American foreign policy.

The US would almost certainly rejoin the Paris Climate Change Accord along with most of the UN bodies from which Trump has withdrawn. The heavily implied threat to withdraw from NATO would also be dropped, but not the insistence that European alliance members step up their defence spending. America’s unstinting support for Brexit would likely become a thing of the past. Trump viewed a strong and united Europe as a threat to American business. Brexit economically weakens Europe and strengthens America. Biden takes a more holistic view. In his judgment, a strong, stable, united and democratic Europe is a vital component of American and world security. Brexit threatens that.

In the Middle East, Trump has slavishly supported Israel and its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Biden won’t, if only because if he wins the presidency he would quite possibly be entering the White House at the same time as Netanyahu walks into court to face corruption charges. However, Lebanon’s slide into failed state status has complicated matters. It has created a vacuum which Iran-backed Hezbollah will quickly move to fill. This will make it almost impossible for Biden to revive the Iran Nuclear Accord or reduce America’s commitment to Israel.

Asia would remain the major focus of a Biden Administration as China continues to challenge American hegemony in the Eastern Pacific and grow economically, politically and militarily. Donald Trump has turned relations with China into a domestic as well as foreign political issue by successfully branding Beijing as the scapegoat for most of America’s problems. Biden will have a tough time changing that perception—even if he wanted to. However, he is likely to shift the focus of blame away from conspiracy theories to human rights abuses while still concentrating on military and economic issues.

The dark cloud hanging over all of the above is the coronavirus that threatens so many aspects of world security. Hopefully, the pandemic will be over, or at least on the downhill slope, by January 2021. But the aftershocks of Covid-19 will be a problem for Joe Biden—and every other world leader—for years to come.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopedia of the War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain". He has a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff.

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  • He is not racing ahead in the polls. He may be 7 /8 % ahead in national polls but the State polls tell a different story. He is miles ahead where he does not need to be eg California, 67% to 29%, even Maine 57 -39, so he piles up votes he does not need, he only has to win a state by one vote to collect all is electoral college votes. If you take out the Democratic states won last time the rest are much, much closer affairs and they add up to potentially more electoral votes for Trump than Biden. Now with West getting on the ballots he may just talk a few thousand Afro/Caribean votes to block Biden in one or two more, like Colorado. So expect Biden to win by 5-6% nationally and lose in the Electoral College, it is a banal system, but there it is, “the greatest Democracy in the world!”

  • “Throughout his career, he has been known for his gaffes, but nearly half a century in Washington has taught him that there are times when it is best to say nothing, or to leave it civil servants to do the talking”

    Biden needs to go out and win, not just keep a low profile trying not to make mistakes. He doesn’t seem to have the energy and I’m not sure the Americans (regardless of the policies) will want that in their leader. He needs to be the face of the campaign like Trump will be for the Republicans, but I’m not sure he’s got it in him.

  • Theakes, Rather than challenge almost every credible analyst of US elections, I think it would be more constructive if you discussed the substance of my article: possible changes to US policies IF Biden is elected.

  • I don’t expect a great Presidency from Biden, but hopefully he will rejoin the WHO (World Health Organisation), tone down the hectoring of NATO and the anti EU rhetoric….and have a more sensible finger on the nuclear button.

    My fear is Trump will try a rash foreign adventure to shore up his sinking campaign, but he already looks and sounds a beaten man.

    Biden vs Trump: US presidential election 2020 poll trackerig.ft.com › us-election-2020
    2 days ago – The latest state-by-state polling data and interactive electoral college calculator. … Trump vs Biden: who is leading the 2020 US election polls?
    ‎US election: is Trump already … · ‎Demographics, economy and … · ‎FT-Peterson Poll

  • Paul Murray 7th Aug '20 - 6:42pm

    My hope is that a President Biden is supported by a Vice President Harris who can carry more than the usual Veep responsibilities. That he is able to appoint some new and more liberal members of the Supreme Court. That ACA can be solidly embedded to the point where there is no possibility of the Republicans dismantling it. That meaningful campaign finance reform can be enacted. And that the USA steps up to the plate as a leader in tackling global warming.

  • @tom arms

    Are those the same “Almost all credible analysts” of American politics that correctly predicted the 2016 election?!

    I believe there has only been one administration since FDR that hasn’t won at least a second term and that was Carter. George Bush senior didn’t but his first term was effectively the third term of the Reagan/Bush administration.

    Biden has proved an incredibly poor campaigner but this year incredibly lucky. In the primaries and with coronavirus if you were to be frank. But he he is still proving gaffe prone!

    But I believe the saying is that the election doesn’t really start until after Labor Day.

  • John Marriott 7th Aug '20 - 7:26pm

    @Michael 1
    Welcome back. If you want to be pedantic Gerald Ford never won a second term. Mind you, he never won a first term either.

    I’m glad you agree with me about the Electoral College. But what about the Senate, where each state gets two representatives regardless of population?

    @Tom Arms
    Surely you’ve been churning out articles long enough to know by now that we on LDV play by different rules! Going off on tangents is in our DNA.

  • I thought this was a reasonably objective summary of the situation and I enjoyed reading it for that reason.

  • No-one knows what Trump and his cohort are doing in the background, re making loadsa money and taking over the levers of real power, and I would expect the stakes to be so high that it will be a very dirty campaign with unpredictable results. Given that a much more charismatic Obama turned out to be a time-server no knowing which why Biden will go if he wins. If the virus turns really nasty it may even make an election impossible which would probably end up with riots and then the army in the streets and then who knows…

  • John Marriott 8th Aug '20 - 8:42am

    All I can say is that if, despite its wealth, history and military might, the best that ‘The Greatest Democracy on Earth‘ can come up with for its next Leader are two white guys well into pensionable age, then heaven help us!

    That said, I still hope (and pray) that the elder one wins.

  • Sounds like thee and me, short of nationality, would be well qualified, John.

  • Tom: analysts are often proved wrong, I stand by my, dare I say it, “Analysis.

  • John Marriott 8th Aug '20 - 12:48pm

    @David Raw

    Aye, lad and wasn’t Boris Johnson born in New York? He could be ticking off his list towards becomIng ‘World King’.

  • @john Marriott
    Fair point. My overall point was administrations winning a second term which Nixon did but not third terms of course sadly JFK didn’t win a second term either.

    Thanks for the welcome back!

  • Charles Smith 8th Aug '20 - 9:54pm

    William R Evanina, Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, made the claim in a statement on Friday. He commented: “We assess that China prefers that President Trump, whom Beijing sees as unpredictable, does not win re-election.
    “China has been expanding its influence efforts ahead of November 2020 to shape the policy environment in the United States, pressure political figures it views as opposed to China’s interests, and deflect and counter criticism of China.”

  • John Marriott 9th Aug '20 - 8:47am

    @Charles Smith
    So, is it vote Trump to annoy China? What a lame excuse to vote for four more years of chaos on the international scene. Didn’t I read somewhere that Biden is equally suspicious of Chinese intentions, as, quite frankly, we all should be?

  • @theakes

    Kanye West has higher favourability with young white voters than he does with any other demographic. Your claim is unfounded. Let’s remember Joe Biden / Bernie Sanders (old white man) had been polling much greater than both Kamala Harris and Cory Booker amongst black democrats during the primaries.

    I’ve seen a lot of nonsense of twitter which shows a real lack of understanding about black democrat voters (as opposed to non-voters).

    I think you’d be hard pressed to find many Biden to Kanye switchers (of any colour). Non-voters to Kanye on the other hand…I can see the case, however that’s irrelevant as it doesn’t actively harm or take way from the democratic vote.

    With regard to key battleground states: Biden is ahead in the polls in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona, North Carolina.
    This isn’t the same as Hilary 2016.

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