NEW DELHI: As Democrat challenger Joe Biden closes in on the White House, both he and Donald Trump have polled record votes and Trump’s unexpectedly strong showing at a time when it was widely anticipated that he would be demolished will probably have its shadow on the Biden administration and the choices it makes with regard to adversaries as well as allies.
“Regardless of who wins the White House, Trumpism is here to stay: de-regulation at home to unleash economic dynamism, low corporate taxes, & no futile wars against Mid Eastern/Afghan fanaticals, to instead focus on containing China with AUS, India, Japan, Vn allies,” tweeted eminent historian Edward Luttwak, summing up a strongly held assessment.
Despite the Democrat-Trump bad blood, India is more confident of its own relations with the US. On Friday, the MEA spokesperson reiterated, “India-US relations rest on strong foundations, encompassing cooperation in every possible sphere. A comprehensive global strategic partnership has very strong bipartisan support in the US.”
China cannot say that. Trump has taken a wrecking ball to that relationship and Biden will find it hard to put it together or make deals with Beijing. Just this week, reports say US has de-listed the Uighur terror group, ETIM, as a terrorist organisation, adding to China’s fury.
Biden’s best bet for a bold new start would have been a trounced Trump and a Democrat-strong Congress. The Republicans are likely — as of Friday — to keep their majority in the Senate, particularly after Susan Collins defeated Democrat Sara Gideon in Maine. In the House of Representatives, Democrats haven’t flipped more than two seats, and they haven’t removed any Republican incumbent or won fresh new seats.
Therefore, the victory of The Squad (Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandra Ocasio Cortez and Ayanna Pressley) notwithstanding, the Democrats will have to work much harder in the House.
If the Senate retains a Republican majority, that will make Mitch McConnell a very powerful political leader, a man responsible for pushing through a lot of Trump policies in the past four years, including the most recent Supreme Court appointment.
Biden, who has had a long relationship with McConnell, will have to work even more closely with the Republican leadership in the Senate, particularly to get his cabinet appointments through. Kamala Harris, as Veep, will have her work cut out as she will be expected to work the Capitol Hill corridors to clear a path for Biden’s legislative agenda.
The Trump voter is going nowhere — the non-college going whites, a part of the Latino-Hispanic population, white males (women seem to have comprehensively dumped Trump). This could mean that Biden might have to temper his promises on issues like immigration — that could impact H-1B and other skilled and unskilled visas from countries like India.
The US move on Huawei, which has been replicated by European countries, Australia and Japan, is likely to stay. That may make it harder for Silicon Valley and Big Tech, who count Harris as one of theirs. For many US corporates who would rather have some relaxation in US-China ties, it could be a difficult walk.
On the other hand, China, certainly under Xi Jinping, would feel no reason to cut deals with Biden particularly if Beijing believes it is on the cusp of superpower-dom. China may not be willing to give any quarter either.
But if Biden is seen to be very keen on a climate deal, he may have to be more conciliatory on the China front. That could have implications for American allies, who have hardened their stance on China particularly in the past couple of years — a ready example would be Australia, which is taking extraordinary levels of economic pain from China at present.
Biden is not about to return to the Middle East, from where Trump has withdrawn America or even Afghanistan. As vice-president to Obama, Biden was the original proponent of a lighter US footprint, confined to counter-terrorism missions. That may be the extent to which he would go. Trump stitched the Abraham Accords in the past few months with the general idea of not only making Israel more acceptable to the Arab world but leaving them to manage the regional threat from Iran. Biden wouldn’t want to go back in there.
So Biden will inherit a less involved America. He will be under pressure from his advisers to make America a world leader again. The terms of that engagement might be very different.