R. Muthu Kumar
The U.S. election campaigning is in full throttle with just about two weeks to go for the November 3 presidential polls. Incumbent President Donald Trump of the Grand Old Party aka Republican is making a massive last-ditch effort to bridge the gap against his rival Joe Biden of the Democratic party, who is bidding to occupy the most coveted seat in the White House after being in close proximity to it as the Vice President during the eight-year tenure of Barack Obama. In fact the high intensity campaigning in contemporary history is engaging both the American households and attracting a massive global attention.
Brash and not being politically correct has been the hallmark of Donald Trump during his 2016 election campaigning, his presidency of the last four years and during the present campaigning. His approach to the COVID-19 pandemic of disregarding advises of his own health experts despite getting infected by the virus very close to the elections, has raised a number of hackles among his supporters and detractors both in the US and elsewhere. His utter disdain of the media very often confronting journalists and walking out of press conferences in a huff has also added a peculiar trait to his presidency.
With November 3 fast approaching and a few US citizens already starting the voting process through mail ballots, a move that Trump and his campaigning have strongly opposed saying they can be rigged, what is at stake for the American electorate is whether to return Trump for another four-year term or give Democrat Biden a chance at the highest office. The brazen Trump is being challenged by a man known as Obama’s lieutenant but with a wider experience in the political arena as he has been a major player in the US politics since the 1970s. In fact, this is a contest in which the candidates are diametrically opposite to each other on every issue – healthcare (Trump discarded the Obamacare plan), economy, foreign policy or handling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Corona the global pivot
Significantly both Trump and Biden are in their 70s. Trump would be 74 years old at the start of his second term assuming he wins the presidential elections, while at 78 Biden would be the oldest first-term President in history if he assumes office in January 2021! Every US election has has some form of a global pivot be it the Vietnam war or the Afghan war but this time the presidential candidates and the US voters face a worse enemy in the Corona Pandemic!
The virus infection, which has plunged the entire world into a deep economic crisis, presents a major challenge as the new President will have to handle the deep economic crisis with tight reins. For now, the electorate is deeply divided along partisan and racial lines as the US is faced with severe economic disparity between the rich and the poor. Under the circumstances, should the American elections matter to the world, when the US itself seems to be turning inwards? President Donald Trump has reviewed and, many argue, irretrievably weakened the international commitments of the United States.
The last four years have, for instance, witnessed an American unilateral withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, Iran nuclear deal, Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, UNESCO, UN Human Rights Council, World Health Organization (WHO), Open Skies Treaty, and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and a weakening of many multilateral institutions and relationships with long-standing allies, including those in Europe.
All of this has happened at a time when the world needs much greater global robustness from a calmer United States, and indeed many more multilateral arrangements (which are backed by Washington’s long-term commitment) on a range of critical issues from climate change to arms control, to trade negotiations and the fight against COVID-19.
Trump has been strongly critical of China for the COVID-19 pandemic and quickly decided to withdraw a massive grant to the WHO accusing it of being a stooge of the Chinese. He and his campaign, including his son, have accused Biden also of being a supporter of China. In fact, Trump’s son has accused Biden’s son of receiving a massive bribe from China. Given the unusual circumstances of the US presidential elections amidst the COVID-19, the world and Americans wait with bated-breath for November 2 and results of one of the most unprecedented US presidential elections.
270 the magic number
In a complex system of voting, both candidates vie to win maximum electoral college votes. Each state gets a certain number of electoral college votes partly based on its population and there are 538 electoral college votes up for grabs with the winner being the candidate who can garner 270 or more electoral college votes. This means voters engage directly in state-level contests rather than the national votes, which is why it’s possible for a candidate to win the most votes nationally – like Hillary Clinton did in 2016 – but still be defeated by the electoral college.Any US citizen above 18 years of age is eligible to vote in the presidential election, which takes place every four years. However, lots of states have passed laws requiring voters to show identification documents to prove who they are before they can vote.
These laws are often enacted by Republicans who say such safeguards are needed to protect against voter fraud. But Democrats accuse them of using this as a form of voter suppression as it is often poorer and minority voters who are unable to provide genuine IDs such as a driving license. Though it looks like all of the attention will be on Trump versus Biden, it is pertinent to note that voters will also be choosing new members of Congress when they stamp their ballots. If either of the parties (Republican or Democrat) manages to win a majority in both the houses – Representatives and Senate – they will be able to effectively stall the plans of the new President. Along with the presidential elections, 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 33 Senate seats are also up for grabs. Both the Republicans and Democrats will be hoping to get majority in both the houses hoping to clip the powers of the new President.
However, If Biden wins the election, he wouldn’t immediately replace President Trump as there is a set transition process to give the new leader time to appoint his team and make plans. Until then Trump continue in office in what in American lingua franca is known as Lame Duck President! There is apprehension that Trump, if he loses the election may not easily accept defeat, and will try to thwart the new incumbent from assuming office. Even the transition if has to happen may be difficult for Biden if he wins the elections. Traditionally the transition team of the outgoing President works with the transition of the incoming incumbent to ensure smooth hand over of power. Trump has brazenly said that he will come back with a bigger majority and take more actions to make “America strong again”.
The new president is officially sworn into office on January 20 in a ceremony known as the inauguration, which is held on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington D.C.
Are Gallup true pointers?
Another interesting facet of the US elections is the Gallup polls that predict the possible presidential winner based on a sample survey of voter preferences. In the present context, Biden has established a comfortable double digit lead over Trump in the national Gallup polls and is also leading in the state-level Gallup polls. So much so, he is expected to win in traditionally red states for the Democrats such as Georgia, Iowa, Ohio and Texas!
President Trump is running out of time and looks like he is lagging behind in the race! But the proverbial hare and the tortoise race, there is no room for the Democratic campaign to slacken their pace as even during the 2016 elections Democrat Hillary Clinton was predicted to win but in the last mile finish Trump beat her to the final hurrah. Also Trump is expected to be flush with cash, a component that can help in launch a blitzkrieg in the home stretch to pip Biden at the post.
What will tilt the balance?
The moot point now is will history repeat itself and place Trump on the pedestal of victory? Some of the reasons why such a situation could arise:
There is so much of a seismic political activity that it might be enough to propel Trump to victory but does he have any other ace up his sleeve? Truly a million dollar question by American standards.
Many Americans are planning to vote by mail for the first time due to COVID. Weary Republicans are already promising to aggressively challenge the mail-in ballots to prevent what they say could be the potential for widespread fraud – something that Democrats have dismissed as an effort at voter suppression. Another possible scenario could be with Trump and Biden tying on 269 votes. In such a case the final verdict will be decided by the state delegations to House of Representatives, a majority of whom would probably side with Trump.
Biden has run a remarkably well disciplined campaign so far. If Trump presents a calmer, more presidential demeanour and Biden comes unglued or has some particularly dramatic gaffe, the balance of the race could possibly tilt in Trump’s favor.
But Biden is now hitting the campaign trail in earnest. With more exposure comes a greater risk of saying or doing something that costs him at the polls.
The roll of the dice surely is on, when it stops it will flash the number that will decide who the winner and also the fate of the next generation – if not in this planet at least in the US for sure.