Written by J.Hawk exclusively for SouthFront
Biden His Time
The South Carolina primary and the Super Tuesday were clarifying events which yielded the surprising result of returning Joe Biden to the status of Democratic Party front-runner for the nomination. It does not appear likely the Party hierarchy desired this result. Given the hype surrounding some of the younger candidates such as Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg, it is more likely they were hoping to repeat the success of the Obama formula. Namely, a young, charismatic, inexperienced candidate who can be all things to all people and does not have any messy baggage that is inevitable with every veteran mainstream politician. But Beto imploded even before his campaign got off the ground, and Pete proved incapable of attracting the votes of Hispanics and African Americans.
Instead, the Sanders campaign tapped into the growing demand for genuine domestic reforms, giving Vermont’s self-declared democratic socialist a massive boost in the polls that simply frightened the Democratic Party elite. The initial reaction to Sanders consisted of enlisting New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire, to run as a Democrat as insurance against Sanders’ apparent dominance of the field whose massive campaign advertising spree had the effect of suffocating the efforts of his rivals by driving up ad prices. The second part of anti-Sanders campaign became evident during the most recent debate, in which virtually everyone ganged up on Sanders, even the supposed “moderate” Warren. Thirdly, behind the scenes machinations by Party leadership prompted several candidates (Steyer, Buttigieg, Klobuchar) to drop out in order to promote consolidation around either Biden or Bloomberg, with Warren being kept on in order to siphon the votes away from Sanders. Super Tuesday primaries made Biden look more viable than Bloomberg who then promptly dropped out in order to allow the status-quo support to coalesce around Biden. But the heavy-handed intervention to aid Biden carries two risks.
The state of Biden’s health is such that the decision to abandon Bloomberg as “insurance policy” may have been premature. To state it plainly, Joe Biden’s cognitive skills have sharply declined since his time as Vice President. Biden’s arguably greatest asset to Obama was as a ferocious campaigner with a certain presence of mind. Today’s Biden forgets what he said two minutes earlier, seems unaware of which city and state he is in at the moment, cannot decide whether he is running for the Presidency or the Senate, and is prone to making incoherent, stream-of-consciousness rants that the dutiful media continue describe as “gaffes” and his most ardent supporters as “stutter”. When giving Super Tuesday victory speeches, Biden had to resort to reading prepared text off a teleprompter, leading one TV pundit to praise Biden’s ability to “finish his sentences” without even a hint of irony. But should Biden suffer an impossible to conceal cognitive lapse in the middle of a debate with Donald Trump, who is still a formidable stage performer, it will lead to demands for Biden’s medical records or even a new medical evaluation to ensure he is not suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s. Unless Biden can muster a lucid mind in time to face Donald Trump, the state of his mental health will become a significant liability.
A Party Divided
The other problem is the now-evident and very deep Party polarization. Bluntly put, there are now great many Biden supporters who would never vote for Sanders, and great many Sanders supporters who would never vote for Biden. Worse, many of the Biden supporters, including in the ranks of the American punditry and commentariat, have developed such an intense dislike for Sanders that they are hinting at voting for Trump rather than a “socialist”. One can readily sense the degree of polarization when hashtags like #BernieBros are trending at the same time as #IDoNotLikeJoeBiden.
The level of division within the Party is such that no single candidate can possibly bridge it. No matter who is nominated, he will not have the full and enthusiastic support of a major faction of the Democratic Party coalition. Potentially complicating matters even further is the institution of super-delegates, or die-hard party loyalists who can declare their support for a candidate irrespective of the will of the voters in their state.
The Known Unknowns
The outcome of the race will furthermore depend on several factors which are guaranteed to play a role in the outcome, but whose impact cannot yet be accurately predicted. In no particular order, they are
- The Economy. If United States suffers from a recession or even a full-blown financial crisis, 2008-style, Trump is toast almost irrespective of what Biden does on the campaign trail. Trump has made the economy the centerpiece of his presidency—if anything bad happens to it, it will doom the chances of his second term. However, at the moment there are no indications anything like that will happen. Rather the opposite—the Federal Reserve’s lowering the federal funds rate by half a percentage point represents an endorsement of Trump for a second term.
- Coronavirus. If the United States are hit hard by the pandemic and its ramshackle for-profit health care system copes with it less effectively than China’s, this too would be a major problem for Donald Trump, particularly if it triggers an economic crisis whose effects are felt before November. Trump’s appointment of Pence to deal with the anti-pandemic measures shows the White House is taking this threat very seriously.
- VP pick. There are no indications Trump would have a different running mate in 2020, and Pence has proved himself to be if not a Cheney-style power-behind-the-throne, then at least a reliable and discrete troubleshooter for the administration. Biden’s or Sanders’ VP picks are still unknown and, in the light of their own lack of executive experience, selection of a capable, experienced administrator.
- Election rigging. Research conducted after Super Tuesday showed significant discrepancies between tabulated votes and exit poll results, in some states reaching 8%, which is an unusually large amount well outside the margin of error. Ironically, US AID own guidelines for election monitoring state that such discrepancies may constitute an indicator though not proof that the election was tampered with. That possibility cannot be ruled out, since voting is done using electronic machines leaving no paper trail, making verification all but impossible. Given the post-2016 emphasis on “securing elections”, ostensibly to prevent “Russian hackers” from influencing the outcome in the future, one also cannot rule out the possibility the “Russia scare” was used as cover under which mechanisms for influencing vote scoring were embedded in many if not all US states. It also remains to be seen whether such tactics could be used in the general election, given the inevitable outcry it would provoke among the republican electorate. For now, it appears more likely for them to be used only in intra-party power struggles, to eliminate status quo challengers like Sanders.
Four More Years
Unless one of the above-named unknowns manifests itself in the coming months, Donald Trump is well positioned to win the second term. Not only can Trump boast certain successes in domestic and foreign policy, the schism among the Democrats will result in a demotivated base no matter whether Biden or Sanders are the nominee.
In practical terms it means United States foreign policy run by the “deep state” for at least four more years, leading to more wars, fewer arms control agreements, deeper deficits, and the general deterioration of international security, which will make the global multipolarity even more evident than it is right now.
Biden’s victory would not change the trajectory of US politics, either. Joseph Biden Jr. represents the corporatist pro-war wing of the Democratic Party, and Biden’s own involvement in Ukraine is so well known that it requires no additional elaboration. And whereas Trump at least made efforts to rein in the “deep state” and paid a price for it in the form of impeachment, President Biden will do no such thing.
Finally, in the unlikely event of a Sanders victory, there is no reason to expect he would be any more successful than Trump in thwarting such subversion of Constitutional authority. Even though he might be willing to do so, and his extensive domestic agenda practically demands reductions in the colossal national security budget, his own party simply will not let him. If anything, it will back the “deep state” against him as it did against Trump.
Thus at the moment the US political system is a functioning replica of the Titanic heading for the iceberg, with intense struggle on the bridge over who will control the steering wheel. Except that there’s a catch: no matter who seizes it, the ship’s course will not change sufficiently to avoid catastrophe.