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H I G H L I G H T S

•   Biden's First Fortnight
•   Foreign Policy Signals
•   American Techno-Politik
•   World Approves
•   Democratic Blues
•   Indians Fund Indians

Biden's First Fortnight

Joe Biden officially became the 46th President of the United States on January 20. His inaugural address, coming in the wake of the January 6th mob attack on the Capitol Building, stressed the need for unity in his deeply divided country. The new administration is faced with multiple pressing challenges. The most important is the continuing Covid-19 pandemic which has ravaged the US more than any other country with nearly 26 million cases, over 430,000 deaths and about 160,000 new cases a day. Biden began his presidency by revoking over a dozen executive orders passed by Trump and issuing over two dozen of his own on an array of issues ranging from the Paris climate treaty, working rights for H1-B visa holder spouses, racial inequality, and stopping oil and gas leases on federal land.

The US Congress began moving to impeach Trump for inciting protesters who stormed the Capital in a quixotic attempt to overturn the election results. The Democratic Party-controlled House of Representatives voted for impeachment, making Trump the first US president to be so censured twice. But the move looks set to founder when the Senate eventually votes for a conviction. This requires a minimum of 17 Republican senators to vote against Trump, something that would require a small miracle to take place. An indirect Senate vote on the constitutionality of the impeachment process only garnered five Republican votes, a measure of Trump’s continuing grip over the base of his party.

Republican leaders, after some assertiveness against Trump, have begun seeking to mend fences with him. Biden’s legitimacy continues to be held in question by most Republican voters. Polls show nearly two-thirds of Republicans question November’s election results with even 42% of independents raising questions as well. Biden has not invested much in the impeachment process, feeling the Congress should get on with urgent legislative tasks. His chief of staff, Ron Klain, released a memo outlining four major crises that the new administration has to tackle:  “The COVID-19 crisis, the resulting economic crisis, the climate crisis, and a racial equity crisis.” The new president will be helped by relatively low expectations: only half of the US believes he has a chance of uniting the country. 

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The indications are that the Biden administration will move decisively leftward when it comes to domestic policies, possibly the most left the country has moved since the Great Society of Lyndon Baines Johnson. For example, the new president has embraced government-based health insurance and halted almost all undocumented immigration deportations – both policies that President Barack Obama felt went too far. Biden has also indicated he will stress livelihoods over the size of the fiscal deficit, abandoning the financial conservativeness of Bill Clinton. Biden’s call for tax-supported abortions, his $ 2 trillion green energy push and plans to reduce defence spending are much more liberal than stances he took as a senator.

Biden seems to have moved leftward during the campaign because of the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. Also the foreign policy challenge of China requires a greater and more intrusive role for the state.  “In the Biden administration, there is one clear, dominant ideological view — left of Obama in 2016, not as left as [Elizabeth] Warren now,” as one analysis noted. He has already sent a strong signal in choosing the most demographically and racially diverse cabinet and senior administration in US history.

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/arty-changed-in-the-trump-era-/fvfzk/156132444?h=JChhFUyFyFFWM3bBX1S_HhjaQxtrOZpTvX9d4U8R1SY

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/iden-contradiction-11604012546/fvfzm/156132444?h=JChhFUyFyFFWM3bBX1S_HhjaQxtrOZpTvX9d4U8R1SY

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/joe-biden-could-learn-from-lbj/fvfzp/156132444?h=JChhFUyFyFFWM3bBX1S_HhjaQxtrOZpTvX9d4U8R1SY

Foreign Policy Signals

Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, in their nomination hearings, spoke at length about Asia and China. Blinken said, “There is no doubt [China] poses the most significant challenge of any nation-state to the United States.” He also said the Trump administration was “right in taking a tougher approach to China” and Trump’s “basic principle was the right one” but that he differed on the tactics need to take on China. He also said “genocide” was the right description of Beijing’s treatment of the Uighurs. He seemed to have avoided attacking the Chinese Communist Party, a common target of his predecessor Mike Pompeo.

Austin labelled China the major “pacing threat” facing the US. He promised a “laser-like focus” on retaining the US’s competitive edge over China’s military and ensuring military parity between the two “never happens.” The defence secretary avoided any change to the US’s “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan, iterating the standard policy of ensuring Taiwan can defend itself. In the Pentagon, China hand Ely Ratner will be special assistant to the secretary of defence, while Michael Chase will be deputy assistant secretary (China) both of whom are seen as relatively hawkish. Kelly Magsamen, another Asia hand, will be Austin’s chief of staff. Interestingly, concerns about China were also mentioned by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines during their nomination hearings, indicating a possible “whole of government” approach to China by the Biden administration.

Yet there is an overall expectation of a Biden administration that will practice a minimalist foreign policy, compensating for its focus on domestic issues with a lot of coalition and alliance building. Also, it will seek to practice a foreign policy that connects with the interests of middle-class Americans rather than seek to lay out grand strategies and project members of its team as statesmen.

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/ctrine-on-china-emerges-491467/fvfzr/156132444?h=JChhFUyFyFFWM3bBX1S_HhjaQxtrOZpTvX9d4U8R1SY

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/in-senate-confirmation-hearing/fvfzt/156132444?h=JChhFUyFyFFWM3bBX1S_HhjaQxtrOZpTvX9d4U8R1SY

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/tony-blinken-lloyd-austin-html/fvfzw/156132444?h=JChhFUyFyFFWM3bBX1S_HhjaQxtrOZpTvX9d4U8R1SY

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Biden’s National Security Council is largely in place, with Jake Sullivan in charge. The departments dealing with the Indo-Pacific are the most important insofar as India is concerned. Kurt Campbell has been appointed Indo-Pacific Coordinator, a new position that encompasses both East and South Asia. The China team is headed by Laura Rosenberger, but includes Rush Doshi and Julian Gewirtz. The South Asia desk is headed by AlbrightStonebridge partner Sumona Guha. Interestingly, the Russia and Central Asia directorate will also be brought under the Indo-Pacific. The NSC has already begun to reflect this administrative change with the staff strength of the Asia directorates being beefed up and the West Asian sections being downsized. 

Before the election, Sullivan wrote and spoke extensively about the post-Trump foreign policy that he believes the US needs. He has been nuanced on China. He once wrote the “ ‘responsible stakeholder’ consensus in the American strategic community, premised on integrating China into a US-led order, has come apart.” However, the emerging theme of “strategic competition” may be a move too far. “It has been disorienting to watch the pendulum swing so fast from a benign view of China to a dark one.”

He stresses multilateral cooperation is a must, “required to tackle climate change, pandemic disease, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and the risk of another global economic crisis.” When it comes to collective action, “the motivating theory for many in the foreign policy community may actually be closer to classical republicanism—with its emphasis on institutions, interdependence, and the rule of law—than to classical liberalism.” 

Where U.S. Foreign Policy Should—and Shouldn’t—Go From Here

The Case for a National Security Budget

Campbell’s new position has elicited considerable interest in Washington. In his pre-election writings, he outlined a view that the Indo Pacific required a balance of power, an order the region’s states recognize as legitimate, and a coalition to address China’s challenge to both. “Such an approach can ensure the Indo-Pacific’s future is characterized by balance and twenty-first-century openness rather than hegemony and nineteenth-century spheres of influence.” US policy should seek to “modernize and strengthen” parts of the present system. He argues for a military response that follows the same asymmetric capabilities being adopted by Beijing, a greater dispersion of US forces across Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean, and a wider range of “military and intelligence partnerships between regional states.” On the economic side of the coin, the Indo-Pacific must also “revolve around supply chains, standards, investment regimes, and trade agreements.” While the US will re-shore sensitive industries and pursue a “managed decoupling” from China, it has to reassure regional states that “moving supply chains out of China will often mean shifting them to other local economies.”

Campbell envisages a future of many coalitions in trade, technology, supply chains, standards and values – the latter similar to the “Democracy-10” that will meet at the G-7 summit in London and includes India. In the military realm, he says an expansion of the Quad makes sense while infrastructure investment could be done with Japan and India. He also posited a human rights coalition built around those countries which had openly criticized China over Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Campbell elsewhere says that if “Washington is to reckon with China’s predatory economic practices,” the US may need an “office that can consolidate information on industrial capacity, supply chains, economic bottlenecks, and import dependence.”

Laura Rosenberger, the NSC’s Senior Director for China, has written democracies need to understand “their values are their principal competitive advantage, and to use them as the source of strength.” She argued the contest between “democracies and autocracies” takes place in the” political, economic, technological, and information spaces,” and less and less in the military sphere.

How America Can Shore Up Asian Order

The China Challenge Can Help America Avert Decline

China Is Done Biding Its Time

Democratic Values Are a Competitive Advantage

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/en-china-foreign-policy-463674/fvg1f/156132444?h=JChhFUyFyFFWM3bBX1S_HhjaQxtrOZpTvX9d4U8R1SY

American Techno-Politik

A running theme among the Biden appointments is the belief a global technological contest between democracies and autocracies is unfolding. The underlying difference is the autocracies’ use of new digital technologies to place their populations under unprecedented surveillance and strongly limit space for protest and dissidence. China and, to a lesser extent, Russia are the key digital dictatorships and they are now seeking to export their model. Blinken, during his secretary of state nomination hearings, spoke of “an increasing divide between techno democracies and techno autocracies.” Which of these two competing groups of countries define how technology is used in the world “will go a long way toward shaping the next decades.”

Andrea Kendall-Taylor, the NSC senior Director for Russia and Central Asia, has been commented extensively on this issue. In one article she discussed how led by China “today’s digital autocracies are using technology—the Internet, social media, artificial intelligence (AI)—to supercharge long-standing authoritarian survival tactics.” In particular, the Chinese are using the digital dark arts to counter “the most significant threat” to authoritarianism today: mass anti-government protests. Such autocracies have grown much more durable over time. She has noted the “Chinese Communist Party collects an incredible amount of data on individuals and businesses” and then uses AI to analyze this information “to set the parameters of acceptable behaviour and improve citizen control.” The US response must become the world leader in AI and shape global norms so that such technologies are deployed in line with democratic values. She has also argued that in this and other issues the US should begin treating Russia and China as being a combined geopolitical entity.

The Digital Dictators

A Russian-Chinese Partnership Is a Threat to U.S. Interests

The new deputy secretary of defence, Kathleen Hicks, similarly has a past record stressing the importance of treating technology in a more holistic, more strategic manner. For example, she argues the US may need to adopt a “civil-military fusion” for its technological development, one where the state plays a larger role in terms of funding and direction. The US should consider “embracing a top-down approach to developing cutting-edge technologies with military applications” not dissimilar to what China practices today. “Direct federal investment is vital to progress in quantum computing, synthetic biology, semiconductors, and military-use artificial intelligence.” The Pentagon needs to restructure how it handles technological development, including streamlining budgeting and promoting innovation. She also questioned the Trump administration’s decision to clamp down on visas for Chinese students and researchers who have no military or intelligence ties as this would only “undermine US competitiveness.”

Can China’s Military Win the Tech War?

Getting to Less: The Truth About Defense Spending

World Approves

More than 60% of respondents in France, Mexico, India, and Indonesia said they approved of Biden as the new US president. Germany, a country that received more criticism than most from Donald Trump, gave the US president a 73% approval ratings. Damagingly for Biden and his domestic policy focus is that only half of his fellow Americans expressed approval for him. One saving grace: Trump approval rating was down to 34% when he left office. The country that has the lowest view of Biden? Russia, with a 23% approval rating.

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Democratic Blues

The Democratic Party assumed the rising numbers of minorities and increased urbanisation would ensure a permanent majority among the US electorate. This was confirmed by its consistent edge over the Republicans in the popular vote. Only the electoral college sometimes thwarted its candidates. There was an assumption Trump’s embrace of white supremacy and open racism would only accelerate this process. All of this was rudely shaken up by the 2020 elections.

Trump increased support among black men and Hispanic voters in key swing states, while maintaining a grip on white non-college educated voters. The Democratic Party saw its majority in the House of Representatives shrink sharply. The November polls also saw the disappearance of split-ticket voting, a problem for Democratic legislators in Trump-friendly states. The Democratic Party, as one analyst noted, needs to win 54% of the popular vote for successive election cycles to ensure control of the legislative process.

A part of the Democratic Party’s problem lies in the other wing of its social base – college-educated urban white liberals. Concentrated in big cities, the media and institutions they depend on are out of touch with the rest of the country. Media coverage and even some polling missed out on the movement among chunks of the Hispanic voters towards Trump, despite warnings from Latino leaders. Even the white rural vote surge in favour of Trump was underestimated. “The joke is that the GOP is really assembling the multiracial working-class coalition that the left has always dreamed of,” says David Shor, a Democratic polling and data expert who was part of the Barack Obama 2012 campaign.

The US media matrix is being further distorted with Trump supporters feeling the rightwing Fox News channel is too moderate while mainstream liberal outlets like the New York Times are seen insufficiently woke by the liberal-left. In the US, Twitter has been dubbed a “mass reality distortion field” for liberals while Facebook places a similar role among conservatives. YouTube is ecumenical in providing a biased canvas for both sides. Videos endorsing election fraud were viewed 138 million times during the first full week of November on YouTube.

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Thanks to the controversies surrounding the last US elections there are currently 106 pending bills across 28 states restricting access to voting, according to the Brennan Center. Last year, there were only 35 such bills. More than a third of the bills sought to restrict voting by mail, a voting method that Republicans have treated with suspicion despite the lack of any evidence of fraud. Fourteen proposals are pending in Pennsylvania, the largest of any state. Seven bills seek to limit opportunities for election day registration. On the bright side, there are 406 bills in 35 states that sought to expand voting access with New York and Texas each having 50 such proposals.

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Indians Fund Indians

South Asian political candidates in the US, at the start of their careers, depend heavily on raising funds from their community. Such funding does not guarantee success but it reflects the newness of the South Asian community and their lack of largescale institutional networks in the country. South Asians, mostly Indians, have become increasingly active in US politics: only two candidates ran in 2000 while 40 ran in the past two election cycles. Most of the candidates tend to be Democrats. Fivethirtyeight.com analysis indicates nearly 25% of the money donated by Americans with South Asian names was given to South Asian-origin candidates.

Some well-known Indian-American politicians like Ro Khanna, Ami Bera and Pramila Jayapal have become less dependent on money from their community over time. While they all hail from the liberal state of California, this funding trend may explain why some of them are openly more critical of the Indian government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is popular with at least half of Indian-Americans. Legislators who are dependent on Indian-American funding tend to be more willing to share platforms with rightwing Hindu activists. Raja Krishnamoorthi, though a Democrat, is among this category with 54% of his election funding coming from Indian-Americans – a dependency that is increasing. One unsuccessful Republican candidate, Bangar Reddy Aaloori, in Texas was notable for receiving all of his funding from Indian-Americans.

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/start-their-political-careers-/fvg27/156132444?h=JChhFUyFyFFWM3bBX1S_HhjaQxtrOZpTvX9d4U8R1SY


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(The views expressed are personal)
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H I G H L I G H T S

•   Biden Government Takes Shape
•   New Old Cabinet
•   Russian Hacking
•   Hunter Problem
•   Books On Trump

Biden Government Takes Shape

The cabinet of United States President-elect Joe Biden is largely in place barring a few positions, including the attorney-general and the head of the Central Intelligence Agency. He has placed record numbers of women and minorities in the cabinet, but Biden has been careful to choose people who align with his policy priorities. These include a more nationalist trade policy, a manufacturing-oriented industrial policy and a cautious foreign policy vision. As of mid-December, Biden has chosen 19 cabinet members, of whom 11 are people of colour and 10 are women. If they are all confirmed, Biden’s will easily be the US cabinet with the largest number of women. 

President Donald Trump’s quixotic quest to overturn the results of the US presidential election is on its last legs. Biden won the electoral college, 306 to 232, on December 14 and now has only one last constitutional step, a symbolic approval of the electoral college results by the US Congress on January 6, before officially becoming the next president. 

Trump and his allies have launched over 60 legal challenges, at the federal and state level, all unsuccessful. Even judges appointed by the outgoing president have declined to support him. Trump reportedly continues to discuss with a shrinking circle of aides ever more absurd ways to get even local results annulled, but the Republican Party leadership is already preparing for handover. However, Trump has succeeded in ensuring his base is firmly sceptical of the results. The number of Republicans who believe the elections were not free and fair has risen from about 40% in October to 68% today. 

Biden’s first governance issue will be handling the Covid-19 pandemic which had claimed 315,000 lives as of December 18 and continued to register 250,000 plus cases a day in the US. The good news for the president-elect was that the first vaccines, by Pfizer and Moderna, have begun to be distributed across the country. With more such vaccines being approved, the national psyche is expected to be much less apprehensive when Biden takes his oath of office next month. Equally uplifting for the national psyche is the passage of a $ 900 billion stimulus package for the pandemic-affected US economy.

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http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/men-will-be-in-bidens-cabinet-/d7t2y/137888246?h=S-VcJ3PxdExI1OldFwegDIynN3Zfj-q_neL1eMUGLeA

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New Old Cabinet

A set of sketches on the most senior Biden appointees, many of them drawn from the Barack Obama administration, and what they tell us about the goals of the new administration.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will seek to put into practice Biden’s call for a “foreign policy for the middle class.” Sullivan has argued for a foreign policy that is less ambitious in its reach, less tied to neoliberal principles like free trade, and much more integrated with the economic needs of the wider US population. He is expected to oversee a national security council with more representation from the economic ministries than usual. 

In the years before the elections, Sullivan was part of a bipartisan team that travelled across the country and met a wide swathe of Americans to get a sense of how much American view of their engagement with the world had change. It found Americans did not mind playing a global role, but wanted their foreign policy to address their local and individual economic insecurities. Many felt US policy should lower the “risks of living in a more open and integrated world,” risks caused by technology and trade. The report warned, “There is no evidence America’s middle class will rally behind efforts aimed at restoring US primacy in a unipolar world, escalating a new Cold War with China, or waging a cosmic struggle between the world’s democracies and authoritarian governments.” A new US policy agenda should focus on pandemics, cybersecurity, protecting critical supply chains and developing means to help US workers adjust to a changing global economy. The report called for a national competitiveness strategy that would closely link US foreign and domestic priorities.

Biden has called for creating jobs in infrastructure and “Buy American” government procurement strategies. But the report differs here, saying the future lies in middle-class jobs coming out of the digital economy and low-carbon technologies. However, it warns against shutting down oil and gas facilities or slashing defence expenditure drastically given how badly this would effect rural areas and small towns. 

One strand of Sullivan’s past is the key role he played, on the ground, in negotiating the original US-Iran nuclear agreement, often flying to Tehran on secret missions to talk to Tehran’s mullahs. There is an expectation that issues like trade and immigration would be among the new national security areas where Sullivan would be influential. 

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Secretary of State Tony Blinken will be the next US secretary of state at a time when Biden will seek to repair what the president-elect sees as the damage done to US foreign policy by four years of Trump. Among his priorities will be to reposition US as a multilateral player by rejoining the Paris Accord and the World Health Organisation, reviving the Iran nuclear deal and restating US support for NATO and other alliances. “Blinken has been described as having a ‘mind meld’ with Biden on a range of issues that will be important in his early tenure,“ said one commentary. Biden also appointed a career Foreign Service officer, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, as US ambassador to the United Nations, the only ambassadorial position that has cabinet rank in the US system.  

Blinken is seen as pragmatic and prudent, with good consensus-building skills at a time when the US will find major diplomatic action difficult thanks to distractions at home and much-reduced influence abroad. A number of US analysts have argued the US will have to work out arrangements with its major rivals, notably Russia and China, with areas of convergence and differences staked out. Blinken will also be inhibited by the fact one major policy area, climate change, will be dominated by the president’s special envoy, John Kerry. 

Much of the new secretary of state’s initial work will be about restoring the morale and staff strength of the State Department. 

Blinken shares the view of Sullivan and others in the Biden team that foreign policy is today more deeply interwined with economics and technology than before. He also supports the view that tackling China, for example, will require the US government to invest more in domestic industrial and technological revival. Ensuring Beijing will not be left unchecked while Washington is busy fixing things at home will be Blinken’s key task. The new administration’s solution is to leverage US diplomacy and its alliances. Biden has said, “The best China strategy, I think, is one which gets every one of our allies on the same page.” Blinken is no supporter of a full economic decoupling which he has called “unrealistic” and “counterproductive.” 

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/-12-15-blinken-is-good-enough-/d7t39/137888246?h=S-VcJ3PxdExI1OldFwegDIynN3Zfj-q_neL1eMUGLeA

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http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/-china-rejected-by-biden-team-/d7t3h/137888246?h=S-VcJ3PxdExI1OldFwegDIynN3Zfj-q_neL1eMUGLeA

Secretary of Defence General Lloyd Austin’s appointment as Pentagon chief, supplanting other favourites for the job including Michelle Flournoy, is partly a consequence of public pressure on Biden to appoint more black Americans to senior cabinet positions. However, it is also evident Austin strongly shares Biden’s views on the future of US defence policy. The points of convergence include a deep scepticism about US interventionism in West Asia and a belief alliances must be revived as an anchor of US diplomacy. Biden was reportedy attracted to Austin’s use of the phrase “strategic patience” – a critical response to those who have argued for the US to take a harder line against competitors like China. His wariness on confronting China head-on has been the primary source of criticism of his appointment though a few have mourned the lost opportunity to appoint a female head of defence for the first time in US history. 

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US Trade Representative Katherine Tai is not a public name and this has led some to say Biden will not place much emphasis on trade. Others, however, note she has an unusually strong record as trade lawyer and congressional trade staffer of handling China. Tai, a Taiwanese-American, speaks fluent Mandarin and worked in China for six years. While working as a congressional staffer she helped put in labour provisions into the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement. More recently, she was part of a team that worked out trade sanctions against China over the use of forced labour in Xinjiang. Before that she was chief litigator for Chinese trade cases in USTR where she helped put together the case at the World Trade Organisation against China’s export restrictions on rare earths. 

What seems more important is that Tai represents a new Democratic view on trade that argues for the US to pursue an industrial policy attitude towards strategic economic sectors. She has criticized the Trump administration’s use of tariffs as not “strategic” enough and argued tariffs were, at best, a “defensive” instrument. “Her experience successfully litigating trade disputes with China is unmatched. She intimately understands the challenge to the global trading system posed by China, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the WTO as a tool to advance US interests,” said Lauren Mandell, a trade lawyer with law firm Wilmer Hale. However, in an interview in the New York Times, Biden indicated tariffs on China would not be lifted in a hurry. 

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/-katherine-tai-unmatched-china/d7t3p/137888246?h=S-VcJ3PxdExI1OldFwegDIynN3Zfj-q_neL1eMUGLeA

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/adical-pick-for-u-s-trade-czar/d7t3r/137888246?h=S-VcJ3PxdExI1OldFwegDIynN3Zfj-q_neL1eMUGLeA

One understated element of Biden’s international economic agenda, and one that is a good fit with the Indian government’s policies, are international agreements against corruption and tax evasion. While the US has been a world leader in acting against corruption and pushing transparency in cross-border business in the past, under the Trump administration it began moving in the opposite direction. Biden has said he will seek multilateral action against companies seeking to use offshore tax havens and shell companies to evade paying taxes. The US Congress is presently considering the passage of a bill that would end the domestic use of opaque shell companies to hide ownership. In 2017, the US withdrew from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a global effort to reduce corruption and bring improved governance to the oil and mining sector. It is assumed the Biden administration will seek to rejoin this initiative. 

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/building-us-economic-diplomacy/d7t3t/137888246?h=S-VcJ3PxdExI1OldFwegDIynN3Zfj-q_neL1eMUGLeA

Climate and Energy In appointing John Kerry special envoy for climate change and Jennifer Granholm energy secretary, Biden placed two politicians at the helm of US climate policy. A special envoy helps underline the chief executive’s personal commitment to a policy. Choosing former Michigan governor Granholm, a person with strong ties to the US automobile industry, signals his equal determination to put the US on a green energy and mobility path. 

Kerry has been a vociferous climate advocate as chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee. As secretary of state he served as lead negotiator for the Paris Accord and the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. The Kigali agreement seeks to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas. Kerry has already called for countries to look beyond the Paris agreement but is also expected to push for the US to honour its financial commitments to the UN Green Climate Fund. India’s former special envoy on climate, Shyam Saran, in a recent article mentions Kerry’s past hostility to the idea developed countries have a responsibility for their historical carbon emissions. Others have noted Kerry’s zealotry regarding climate makes him prone to seek engagement with China, irrespective of Beijing’s behaviour in other areas.

Granholm has considerable experience with the US automobile industry, much of it headquartered in Michigan, which will prove crucial if Biden is to fast track the rollout of electric vehicles and charging stations in the US. She has positioned herself as a person who can help the industry and its workforce transition to a green energy future. She wrote in an op-ed, “The private sector needs greater support and political will from our policymakers to help us fully realize the potential of a zero-carbon future…The economics are clear: The time for a low-carbon recovery is now.”

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/ers-utm-source-twtw-utm-medium/d7t3w/137888246?h=S-VcJ3PxdExI1OldFwegDIynN3Zfj-q_neL1eMUGLeA

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/deal-maker-11606664097904-html/d7t3y/137888246?h=S-VcJ3PxdExI1OldFwegDIynN3Zfj-q_neL1eMUGLeA

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/-lead-energy-department-445782/d7t41/137888246?h=S-VcJ3PxdExI1OldFwegDIynN3Zfj-q_neL1eMUGLeA

A former US energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, co-authored an article calling on the Biden administration to “create the political space” to resume US-Russia engagement down to the “scientist-to-scientist” level based on a recognition of shared interest in preventing the use of nuclear weapons. He wrote the new administration must “confront the sobering fact that the potential for nuclear weapons use shadows more of the world’s conflicts than ever before. A single accident or blunder could lead to Armageddon.” While the US and Russia represent 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, seven other nuclear powers “share the stage” today. 

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/-nuclear-precipice-utm-medium-/d7t43/137888246?h=S-VcJ3PxdExI1OldFwegDIynN3Zfj-q_neL1eMUGLeA

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/ian-nuclear-arms-control-watch/d7t45/137888246?h=S-VcJ3PxdExI1OldFwegDIynN3Zfj-q_neL1eMUGLeA

Russian Hacking

A massive hacking of dozens of US government agencies and US corporations this month by what is suspected to have been the Russian external intelligence agency, the SVR, has led Biden to promise a strong response to cyberattacks. Trump, downplayed any Russian role and said the attack may have been by China. Dozens of US media reports, however, cited US intelligence and other sources as pointing the finger to Moscow. The attack included the non-classified email systems of the US Treasury, the National Nuclear Security Administration which oversees the nuclear arsenal, and US firms like Cisco and Microsoft. While Biden referred to the hack as a cyberattack, US intelligence experts said it was closer to an act of espionage as information was stolen but not destroyed. They also admitted it was the sort of activity the US National Security Agency also carries out. The hack may have been a response to the October charging of six Russian military intelligence officers, dubbed the Sandworm team, who carried cyberattacks between 2015 and 2020 including against the South Korean Olympics, the US and French presidential elections. 

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/c-cyber-attack-or-spy-n1251766/d7t47/137888246?h=S-VcJ3PxdExI1OldFwegDIynN3Zfj-q_neL1eMUGLeA

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/ers-fireeye-cyberattack-447226/d7t49/137888246?h=S-VcJ3PxdExI1OldFwegDIynN3Zfj-q_neL1eMUGLeA

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/y-officers-global-cyberattacks/d7t4c/137888246?h=S-VcJ3PxdExI1OldFwegDIynN3Zfj-q_neL1eMUGLeA

Hunter Problem

Hunter Biden, the president-elect’s son, announced he had been officially notified he was under investigation by federal prosecutors over the finances of several overseas business dealings, especially a number involving Chinese firms. The investigation does not implicate Joe Biden in any way. Hunter Biden said he was confident the investigations would clear him of criminal charges. Among the more prominent cases are his role as a member of the board of a Chinese investment management firm called BHR from 2013 to 2019 for which, Hunter Biden claims, he never received any compensation. The second charge is that in 2017 he worked to get a Chinese energy firm, CEFC, to invest in some US companies during which he received a 2.8 karat diamond from CEFC’s CEO. Hunter Biden does not deny the gift, but said he did not keep the diamond. Last year, his laptop was seized by the FBI as part of their own investigations. Since the final decision on his investigations may end up with the next attorney-general, who his father appoints to that position will be an unusually sensitive decision. 

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/den-taxes-joe-biden-index-html/d7t4f/137888246?h=S-VcJ3PxdExI1OldFwegDIynN3Zfj-q_neL1eMUGLeA

Books On Trump

Some 1500 books have been written about Donald Trump, his administration and his political rise. So many that the Washington Post’s nonfiction book critic, Carlos Lozada, wrote a book titled What Were We Thinking about the 150 Trump books that he read and the different points of view they represented. Many of the volumes describe the unusual character of the Trump administration. Lozada believes two books, The Unmaking of the Presidency by Benjamin Wittes and Susan Hennessy and The Fifth Risk, by Michael Lewis, “put the other Chaos Chronicles in proper context; they get at the meaning and the consequences of the disorder the others detail.” He also recommends political scientist  Jennifer Silva’s We’re Still Here: Pain and Politics in the Heart of America to understand how racism and white working class angst came together to form the base of Trump’s support. 

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/ctual-history-of-the-trump-era/d7t4h/137888246?h=S-VcJ3PxdExI1OldFwegDIynN3Zfj-q_neL1eMUGLeA

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/view-carlos-lozada-trump-books/d7t4k/137888246?h=S-VcJ3PxdExI1OldFwegDIynN3Zfj-q_neL1eMUGLeA
 


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(The views expressed are personal)
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H I G H L I G H T S

•   Advantage Biden
•   State Of the Battleground
•   Surprises that may happen
•   Pollsters believe they are right
•   Ballots and Booths

Advantage Biden

With less than a fortnight before the United States voter goes to the polls, Joe Biden holds a narrow but steady lead among the battleground states that will determine who will be the next president. Biden and President Donald Trump held their last television debate on October 22nd. The debate was less ill-tempered than the first but, going by snap polls, has not changed voter attitudes.

As of October 25th, CNN’s poll of polls gives Biden, the Democratic Party candidate, a solid 10 percentage point lead over Trump nationally, fivethirtyeight.com gives Biden a lead of 9.1 points while realclearpolitics.com has him up by 8 points. Each gives different weightage to a poll depending on its quality.

Biden is ahead thanks to two constituencies. One is minority voters with whom he enjoys a wide margin of support. The other is the backing of a large chunk of middle-class whites – especially women. Trump’s support base remains the same: the white working-class.

Biden has been wooing working class whites in battleground northern states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and wavering southern states like Florida and North Carolina. He has had some success with working class women. Trump’s desire to win back female voters was probably behind the restraint he showed in the final debate. Otherwise, his strategy is inspire a massive turnout among his charged-up supporters and overwhelm Biden’s larger social coalition. But 93 to 94% of supporters in both parties say they are highly motivated, one reason the election may see a turnout not seen in a century.

One sign of Biden’s support is funding. The Democrats’ online funding platform, ActBlue, has received a record $ 1.5 billion from 6.8 million donors over the past three months. This is the highest total in the platform’s 15-year-old history. Even Democratic state legislative candidates have seen contributions triple in size. The Republican counterpart, WinRed, has raised $ 623.5 million over the past quarter.

"There are more known unknowns than we’ve ever had at any point,” says Tom Bonier, CEO of Democratic data firm TargetSmart. “The instruments we have to gauge this race, the polling, our predictive models … the problem is all those tools are built around quote-unquote normal elections. And this is anything but a normal election.”

If there is a single electoral statistic that differentiates Biden from Hillary Clinton, whom Trump defeated in 2016, it’s the support of white women. Trump led Clinton by nine percentage points among white women. In the 2018 midterm congressional elections the two parties split their votes in half. This election, Biden is leading among them by six percentage points.

Women have been the most disturbed by the president’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, his willingness to exacerbate racial tensions, and find his misogyny and personal character distasteful. Trump recognises the problem, recently imploring female voters at a rally, “Can I ask you to do me a favour, suburban women? Will you please like me? Please.”

Within this demographic, Trump is experiencing less support even among working class white women. This is a huge drawback.  Non-college educated white – education is used to define working class in the US – are the foot soldiers of the president’s “Make America Great Again” movement. Clinton fell behind Trump with working class whites by 25 percentage points. Thanks to women and the elderly, Biden has halved this gap.

The Democratic Party, say some, is becoming the natural party of women. Female voters are more likely to favour an “activist role for government” and more concerned at the overall welfare of the country. Men place greater salience on economic issues and are warier of state support.

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/fe778ee5e9cabacc71-utm-source-/8hwcl/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/den-black-latino-voters-417473/8hwcn/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/-gender-gap-2020-election-html/8hwcq/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/50-4fdd-80ae-dfb93fa041f7-html/8hwcs/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/tory-democrats-election-430013/8hwcv/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/15-billion-in-donations-429549/8hwcx/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

State of the Battleground 

Pollsters differ on what exactly constitutes a battleground state. ​​​​​Realclearpolitics.com tracks Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona and North Carolina. Electoral-vote.com’s “tipping point states” includes these six but adds Minnesota, Nevada, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Georgia and Texas. Fivethirtyeight.com’s analysts are coming to feel Biden’s margins in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Wisconsin mean that only Georgia, Texas, Iowa and Ohio are going to the line. Democratic super-political action committee, Priorities USA, believes there are just six core battleground states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina.

Biden’s margin of support in the upper Midwest has slowly but surely increased through September and October. Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan polls show his lead widening to 7-9%. Pennsylvania, Arizona, North Carolina and Florida are for Biden by 3-5%, hovering above the statistical margin of error. The real surprise is a cluster of southern and Midwest states like North Carolina, Texas, Iowa and Ohio which were seen as pink to crimson before the pandemic but are now competitive.

Trump having to spend precious days campaigning in Florida and Iowa, states once seen as in the bag is a bad sign for him. Biden, on the other hand, is swinging by Ohio and North Carolina because he feels he can push these now purple states on to his side. No candidate can be certain about a dozen states. Biden may be ahead in all of them, but his lead is half or less of what he has at the national level.

Trump’s problem:  the number of battleground states has increased but all the new ones are traditional red states. The electoral college math, normally a Republican advantage, now skews against him. For example, Iowa and Ohio voted for Barack Obama but have become more conservative. Georgia voted against Obama but has shifted towards the liberal end of the political spectrum. All three went with Trump but Republicans struggled there in the 2018 midterms. Today, Biden and Trump are in a statistical dead heat in Iowa, Georgia and Ohio. Fivethirtyeight.com’s presidential forecast says the Democratic candidate has a 50:50 or 49:50 chance of winning any of these states.

Biden doesn’t need an Ohio or Georgia to win. But presidential and senate results tend to go in tandem. A strong Biden showing in some of these states could help the Democrats secure crucial senatorial seats. If Biden is able to win Georgia or Florida, combined with likely victories in Virginia and North Carolina, it would also be a sign the Republican’s iron hold on the South is crumbling.

Pennsylvania has been dubbed by analysts as the closest thing to a bellwether state in this election. It is a must state for Trump. Without Pennsylvania his chances of winning are vanishingly small. Both parties have lavished the state with visits and money. Priorities USA has placed Pennsylvania as the most important tipping point state. More paths to victory by Biden run through this state than any other. Biden leads Trump by 5.1 percentage points as of October 24, according to realclearpolitics.com poll of polls, but this is a drop from an over seven point lead he held 12 days earlier. CNN’s polls of polls, which does not include polls of poorer quality, gives Biden an eight point lead.

Again, white women and elderly are proving Trump’s weakness. Half of Pennsylvania’s white female vote went to Trump in 2016. Polls say that support is down to 37% or worse. A similar slump is evident among elderly whites. Gloria Lee Snover, chair of Pennsylvania’s Northampton County Republican Party, said, “When I look on Facebook, the women that support Biden are a lot of middle-aged suburban white women who are talking about Covid constantly and their fear of it…They’re obsessed with Covid.”

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/-ohio-or-texas-but-they-could-/8hwd6/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/nnsylvania-trump-20201019-html/8hwd8/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/module-Opinion-pgtype-Homepage/8hwdb/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/ump-campaign-red-states-429974/8hwdd/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

Surprises that may happen

Trump’s seeming strategy of energizing his white working class base to turn out in record numbers has a basis in the numbers of non-voters. Millions of potential white working class votes are never cast in almost every US elections. They are especially sizeable in Pennsylanvia and the upper Midwest states on which the election is pivoting. In Pennsylvania (population 12.8 million), for example, eligible non-college educated whites eligible who did not exercise their franchise in 2016 numbered 2.289 million. Smaller but still similar numbers exist for states like Michigan (1.56 million), Wisconsin (819,000) and Minnesota (786,000). Pennsylvania even had 600,000 absent middle-class white voters. The numbers for some southern battleground states: Florida (2.565 million), North Carolina (1.1 million) and Georgia (1.17 million).

Early dissections of postal ballots by the Democratic research group Hawkfish show that it can work both ways. Democrats are receiving unusually high numbers of ballots from traditional non-voters and low frequency voters. Biden has hoped large numbers of minority non-voters will come out thanks to hatred for Trump. Pennsylvania had nearly 700,000 such non-white no shows. Among the southern states, the non-whites who didn’t vote in 2016 are extremely large: Texas (4.27 million), Florida (2.56 million) and Georgia (1.3 million).

Seven states, including battlegrounds like Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Carolina, allow same-day registration which means hundreds of thousands of non-registered voters from either side could arrive at polling booths – if suitably mobilised enough.

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/21-us-politics-biden-2020-html/8hwdg/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/it-from-high-2020-turnout-html/8hwdj/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/-96f5-00155d03affc-ceid-369165/8hwdl/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/ng-numbers-swing-states-431363/8hwdn/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/tory-democrats-election-430013/8hwcv/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

Trump’s appeals to a hard-edged nationalism, his noise on “law and order,” and economic record is helping him increase margins with Republican-leaning minority groups. Many black and Latino men believe the Democratic Party takes them for granted and are unmoved by Biden. Trump’s support among young black voters, attracted by his anti-establishment language, has increased from 10 to 21% since 2016, though this will be offset by the landslide of pro-Biden sentiment among older blacks. The Republican candidate has done better among young Latino voters, attracting 35% of this group versus 22% in 2016. Biden remains ahead of Trump among Latino voters overall, but lags the kind of support Clinton had with this group.

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/-black-and-hispanic-americans-/8hwdq/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

There is scattered evidence that middle-class white men are breaking for Biden. These group is instinctively supportive of Republican candidates, largely over issues of economics and values. But they do not like Trump, especially those in the northern swing states. Republicans carried this demographic by only 4 points in the 2018 midterms. Some political analysts argue there could be a hidden vote against Trump – middle-class conservatives who will vote against the president behind the curtain but not express their intention in public. Says Tim Alberta of politico.com, after crisscrossing the country and interviewing hundreds of voters, “That’s the story of this election: All across America, in conversations with voters about their choices this November, I’ve been hearing the same thing over and over again: ‘I don’t like Trump.’” Even Trump supporters admitted to their candidate’s inappropriate behaviour. 

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/-2020-election-feelings-430238/8hwdv/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/icleshow-78742010-cms-from-mdr/8hwdx/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/ple-of-color-are-behind-trump-/8hwdz/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

Pollsters believe they are right

Pollsters predicted the national results of the 2016 US presidential elections correctly – Hillary Clinton won by three percentage points. However, they went wrong on the state results that decided the electoral college. A survey of 15 pollsters found them more confident. The main change: greater weightage being given to the level of education of a voter, in other words class distinctions. The polls flopped in 2016 because Trump supporters generally lack a college degree and they were underrepresented in sampling. Other issues also affect polling strategies including poor responses to phone calls and the rising costs involved in high-quality surveys. Some pollsters, like Ipsos and Pew Research Center, are weighting for education within a racial group believing white working class voters are even more slanted in favour of Trump. Not all pollsters are convinced. Even if they went back and included education, some pollsters found they would still have gotten 2016 wrong.

Marist College Institute for Public Opinion and NBC News/Wall Street Journal said they were including urban, suburban and rural residency as a determinant. Others are moving away from random-digit dialing and moving to methodologies that looked at addresses or sampling of voter registration lists. More cellphone outreach versus landlines, more texting versus voice calls are other changes. Only one pollster worried about a “hidden Trump vote” any more. The main concern was the impact of the pandemic on voter turnout and other disruptions such as mass disqualification of mail-order ballots.

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/still-worries-them-about-2020-/8hwf2/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

Ballots and Booths

Trump’s refusal to promise a peaceful transition of power or even accept a negative vote will make this an unusually tense US election day. More election-related lawsuits have been filed this year than in the last two decades, says the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project. Most have been filed by Democratic activists to counter Republican disinformation campaigns, fight complicated absentee ballot rules, discriminatory poll booth locations, electoral roll purging and other attempts at voter suppression. The bulk of these are aimed at reducing black and Latino turnout. Britain’s Channel 4 reported that in 2016 the Trump campaign had used data-based voter suppression against 3.5 million black voters.

Covid-19 has meant enormous numbers of postal ballots in this election. Most are cast by blue supporters as they take the virus more seriously than their red counterparts. The battle over postal ballots has become a side story of its own. Trump’s attacks on the US postal service and the credibility of such ballots has meant Republicans are four times more likely to believe postal ballots are susceptible to fraud. Then there is the sheer diversity of rules regarding postal ballots. Such rules are set by states and can be broken up into four broad categories: Everyone can vote by mail, and ballots are automatically mailed to voters; everyone can vote by mail, and mail-ballot applications are automatically mailed to voters; everyone can vote by mail, but nothing is automatically mailed to voters and you can vote by mail only if you have a valid excuse – and the pandemic is not a valid excuse. An example of how this can baffle voters is Pennsylvania which ruled postal ballots must be inside an envelope-within-an-envelope. Some reports say this may result in 100,000 ballots being disqualified.

The good news is that state election officials have worked hard to build in resilience and security into the process. As one analysis concluded, in handling viral contamination and cyberattacks, “the American electoral system is far likelier to dispense with these twin threats than it was just four years ago.” Postal balloting is also more widespread than before. Polling stations have considerable backup and higher levels of staffing. Said one report, “2020 will in many respects be the most secure election the US has ever had.”

Handling voter intimidation will be more difficult. Republicans have called for their supporters to visit poll booths in Democratic areas and enforce “ballot security measures.” Trump also cancelled a decades-long consent decree barring such practices. While federal, state and local laws are strict regarding any form of intimidation it is uncertain how well they can be enforced. Both sides are marshalling armies of lawyers. Close counts in battleground states are likely to be strongly contested, resulting in delayed vote counting or complicated court-ordered recounts. There are minimal judicial precedents for many of the possible legal issues including executive certification of electoral slates or electoral college vote casting – because they have not been issues in the past.

Polls show two-thirds of Americans expect the results will be delayed. Social media platforms like Twitter have already put bans on false declarations of election results. In-person votes are normally counted first. As these are likely to be Republican there is an expectation of a red wave in first few hours. Postal ballots are often counted later in which case a reverse blue tide will kick in later. There is already speculation Trump may declare victory halfway through and demand postal ballots not be counted. He lacks the authority to do so, but the consequences could be widespread violence.

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/ump-stealing-the-election-html/8hwf4/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/how-to-vote-2020-/8hwf6/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/ke-for-a-weird-election-night-/8hwf8/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/attle-voter-suppression-425562/8hwfb/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/about/8hwfd/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/t-secure-us-history-utm-medium/8hwfg/103129053?h=WoFBzLBshJX_TT0M6Dfkq_VSggcRjTYjdE4gd475HNQ==
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(The views expressed are personal)
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H I G H L I G H T S

•   US election race is tightening
•   Republican campaign strategy
•   Race not the card it was 
•   Covid and the undecideds
•   Two party conventions
•   Indians as future faces
•   Intra-party Battles

US election race is tightening
 
After months of showing US Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, comfortably ahead of President Donald Trump, the opinion polls show Biden’s lead in most swing states starting to shrink. Realclearpolitics.com’s aggregate numbers of local polling in the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida and Arizona show Biden’s lead shrinking from 6.3% in late July to 3.3% in early September.

Other pollsters label Minnesota, Ohio, Virginia, Texas, Arizona and Georgia as battleground states as well. Once solidly conservative states like Texas, Georgia and Virginia have been leaning increasingly blue since 2016 going by local election results. Minnesota and Wisconsin, however, are shifting in the other direction. But all of them remain too close to call with Biden’s or Trump’s lead within the statistical margin of error. State-level polling is infamously poor in quality with sample sizes as small as 400 voters and margins of error of as much as 4%.

This tightening is less evident at the national level. Biden’s 9 plus percentage point lead in late July is a still healthy seven per cent. However, the national vote is less important than state-by-state results because of the US’s electoral college system. Democratic candidates have traditionally had their support overly concentrated in large, urbanised states which ensured they handily won the national vote. They would lose the electoral college as it is weighted in favour of less-populated states in the Midwest and South.  This gives the Republicans, my some calculations, a built-in two percentage points advantage in their meta-margin – the margin of votes needed to swing elections.

Both candidates launched their physical campaigns in the first week of September and have targeted swing states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Wisconsin is particularly volatile following riots in the town of Kenosha triggered by the police shooting of an unarmed black American, Jacob Blake.
 
http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/swing-states-2020-election-/67xpm/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
 
http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/attleground-states-11598828113/67xpp/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
 
http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/fore-the-convention--more-2414/67xpr/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
 
http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/till-could-state-race-n1238768/67xpt/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
 
Minnesota is a template of battleground state politics in the present US election. Trump lost the state by a mere 45,000 votes and is known to be obsessed with how close he came. He publicly says he would have won if he had made “one more speech” there. The state has voted a record 12 election cycles for the Democrats but poor education levels and declining income among its white working class has meant non-urban Minnesota has turned increasingly Republican. Biden’s lead in the state is just one or two percentage points. It was the murder of George Floyd by police in the state capital Minneapolis that sparked the present wave of urban unrest and laid the basis of Trump’s law and order election platform.
 
http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/01-2020-minnesota-trump-406280/67xpw/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
 
http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/xt-midwestern-state-to-go-red-/67xpy/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
 
Republican campaign strategy
 
Republican Party campaign managers say their strategy is to draw attention away from the pandemic and economic recession and instead focus on a “narrow set of cultural issues.” The president has hammered away at liberal-left “cancel culture” and the reinterpreting of large portions of US history and tradition. He and his party have hinted a Biden administration would mean uncontrollable racial riots across the country, the imposition of socialist economic measures and an authoritarian political system. Biden and his vice-presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, are portrayed as radical leftists. Facebook ad spending by the Republicans between May and August show the bulk of the advertising has been on the themes criminal justice, defunding the police, fake news and socialism.

With some difficulty there is an attempt to portray Trump as less divisive and more decisive. He had a number of minority speakers at the Republican convention to reassure educated whites that he is not racist. Of particular importance are “wobbly Republicans” who are unhappy with Trump but reluctant to vote Democrat. One of his strengths is that a majority of voters have a greater confidence in his ability to handle the economy than there have in Biden’s. 

But many rightwing commentators believe Trump will simply double down on his “disruptive” presidential style and try to persuade voters that this is the right response to the pandemic, China and economic recession. This reflects a view that it is impossible to change Trump’s idiosyncratic ways so it is best to convert them into an asset. As a politico.com dissection of the Republicans noted, “Trump’s party is the very definition of a cult of personality. It stands for no special ideal. It possesses no organizing principle. It represents no detailed vision for governing. Filling the vacuum is a lazy, identity-based populism that draws from that lowest common denominator.” If this mobilizes the base of the party and enough moderates can be made to question Biden’s competence, say supporters of this strategy, Trump should squeak through.
 
http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/itics-trump-swing-voters--html/67xq1/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
 
http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/3b-46a8-a6ae-2e428574918c-html/67xq3/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
 
http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/ll-win-heres-how-arnon-mishkin/67xq5/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
 
http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/ltdown-trump-convention-400039/67xq7/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
 
Race not the card it was

President Trump’s wants to play the race card but he will find it has less resonance with the US electorate than in the past. One, public opinion on race relations and police misconduct has moved leftward. Sixty percent of white Americans admit racism is a “big problem” in their society, three times more than a decade ago. Two in three say incidents like Floyd’s death reflect broader problems in US law enforcement.  A CNN/SSRS poll in June showed voters saying race relations would be a more important factor in deciding their vote than the economy, health care and the pandemic – albeit by a slender margin.

Two, though opinion has hardened against the protestors, the public remain largely supportive. In June, 88% of white Americans felt peaceful protests were justified. By August this figure had fallen by about 15 to 20 percentage points, but remained a plurality. There was also an increase in the numbers of people who felt the protests had gone “too far,” especially after the violent protests in Wisconsin, but only by five or six points.  

Three, most US voters believe Biden would be better able to handle race relations than Trump. Polls in August and September were consistent in giving the Democratic candidate a 20 percentage point lead over Trump on this point. Biden even led Trump by about 10 percentage points when voters asked who had the better law-and-order policy and who would better handle the criminal justice system.

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/ransforms-views-on-race-307575/67xq9/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
 
http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/esonating-with-most-americans-/67xqc/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
 
Large scale shifts among suburban voters, especially among suburban women, have made re-election more difficult for Trump. Suburban women were a group who helped put Trump in the White House. Their turning away from the Republicans helped the Democrats capture the House of Representative in 2018. The suburbs have become both larger and more diverse over the past several years making talk of “soccer moms” more difficult. The recent spate of race riots has led Trump to position himself as the “law and order” candidate to appeal to suburban women’s concerns about family security. But this important voting bloc sees the president as having exacerbating the racial divide and shown poor leadership.
 
http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/mocrats-swing-undecided-403981/67xqf/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
 
Covid and the undecideds

Trump has received a boost from the Covid-19 virus. US cases peaked in late July and so did concerns among voters ,show data by Morning Consult. Positive views about the president’s handling of the pandemic have begun to turn northward. Between July 23 and August 21, the share of voters who say the virus is a severe health risk fell from 66 to 59%. In February Trump’s approval/disapproval rating regarding his handling of the virus was 36/59%. This moderated last month to 40/54% with the trend expected to be good news for the president. Trump has been marginally helped by agreeing to wear masks in public since end-July.

http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/avirus-concern-trump-approval-/67xqh/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
 
Ten percent of prospective US voters, with three months to go until the election, are still "undecided". They haven't made up their minds between the Republican and Democratic nominees, currently back third-party candidates or just don't care. Analysts say there are fewer undecideds this year than in 2016, when a surge of last-minute converts to Trump among them helped decide the election. But it's still a sizable enough —particularly in battleground states—to potentially determine the 2020 result. Who are the undecideds? They tend to be under 40, more likely to be female, half are white but Hispanics are disproportionately represented, and they are less likely to have a college degree than the typical registered voter.
 
http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/hey-deliver-again-1526824-html/67xqk/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
 
Two party conventions
 
The Democratic and Republican party conventions were both virtual. The Democratic convention saw the selection of Kamala Harris as vice-presidential candidate, the first person of either Indian or African origin to be so chosen in the US. Neither Biden nor Trump received a sustained bump in the ratings following the conventions. Biden’s speech carefully avoided mentioning Trump once, spoke largely about the need to bring the country together but avoided talk of his economic plans. Trump’s speech mentioned Biden 40 times and sought to portray the rival candidate as an ideological extremist. The historical record shows incumbent president’s rarely rise above their post-convention rating. The last person to do so was George H.W. Bush in 1992 and his ratings were insufficient to ensure victory.
 
The New Yorker ran a lengthy history of the party convention, noting that no presidential candidate even showed up at the conventions until 1932 and it was not until 1968 that the state-level primaries actually got to decide who the candidate was.
 
http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/20-Pres-Maps-Aug31-html-item-1/67xqm/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
 
http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/-rnc-convention-night-4-403914/67xqp/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
 
http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/6c5a96dba49-html-utm-campaign-/67xqt/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
 
http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/s-primaries-and-the-presidency/67xqw/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
  
Indians as future faces
 
The Republican Convention had prominent speaking roles for Nikki Haley, the Indian-origin former US ambassador to the United Nations and ex-governor of South Carolina, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Both praised Trump, highlighted his foreign policy successes and then spoke about their own diplomatic careers.  “Both of them have an eye on 2024,” said Mark Groombridge, who served as a Republican political appointee at the United Nations. Republican insiders say both Haley and Pompeo are both contenders for the Republican presidential ticket. Haley also spoke of the racism she had faced as a child of Indian immigrants and defended the Republican Party against claims it was institutionally racist. Pompeo may return to domestic politics after the present election while Haley, if Trump is victorious, is expected to join the cabinet, possibly as secretary of state.
 
http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/lem-politics-2020--utm-source-/67xqy/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
 
Haley used the convention to advertise herself to Trump’s support base but laid out a more moderate rightwing stance with a reminder of her Indian origins and her removal of the Confederate flag as South Carolina’s state symbol.
 
Another convention speaker was a black American, Senator Tim Scott. Scott is the first black American to be Southern senator since the Reconstruction, the period just after the American Civil War. That he should represent South Carolina, a state historically seen as steeped in the culture of slavery and racism, was a telling sign of Haley’s influence. Both Scott and Haley, in turn, were helped by a revolt against the Republican political establishment by the so-called Tea Party movement over a decade ago.
 
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Kamala Harris has attracted an enormous amount of coverage. She also represents a newer and more flexible concept of race in US politics. Harris has made no bones that she identifies as a black American. “I’m black. And I’m proud of being black. And I was born black and will die black,”she has said. But she is also explicit about her Indian origins but insists she prefers to be called simply “American.” In her interviews she has emphasised that racial identity in the US has moved beyond a black-white binary. University of California Riverside political scientist Karthick Ramakrishnan, a specialist on race and politics, has argued, “What she calls her Indian heritage is more intimate, private and familial. Her black identity is more community and more political. This is true of all of us. People have very complex dimensions to their identity.”
 
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Intra-party Battles
 
Besides the presidency, the entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate seats will also be up for election in November. And each of these contests has required primary races to choose the candidates for either party. Until this election, an incumbent congressman was almost guaranteed to be given his party’s ticket. This year has been marked by remarkable intra-party campaigning, with a younger more ideological generation running against the establishment candidates of both parties.
 
Left-liberal candidates, backed by the Progressive Caucus and other such groups, have promoted a number of successful challenges to long-standing congressional leaders. Progressive representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been endorsed a number of challengers who have led to the unseating of long-standing congressional leaders like Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee. The Democratic establishment has responded with Speaker Nancy Pelosi unusually declaring her support for a challenger to Senator Ed Markey. Similar instances have been seen among the Republicans with different party leaders backing different candidates in the primaries.
 
This breakdown of congressional electoral culture means candidates with stronger ideological messages will become more prevalent than before. Republican insurgent Matt Gaetz was quoted as saying, “The old ways of Washington empower leadership through money. But we’re starting to see that the message and movement may be more important than money.” Social media, crowd funding and the fragmentation of institutions are making it harder for establishments to shield incumbent candidates.
 
http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/support-primary-battles-403794/67xr5/78228474?h=Y-LyRqIKYeckxaYgDnv4FY8w7Mg2CEkB1ZEwvIViM-U
 

 


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(The views expressed are personal)
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About the Author

Pramit Pal Chaudhury

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Foreign Editor, Hindustan Times, and Distinguished Fellow & Head, Strategic Affairs, Ananta Aspen Centre

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri writes on political, security, and economic issues. He previously wrote for the Statesman and the Telegraph in Calcutta. He served on the National Security Advisory Board of the Indian government from 2011-2015. Among other affiliations, he is a member of the Asia Society Global Council, the Aspen Institute Italia, the International Institute of Strategic Studies, and the Mont Pelerin Society. Pramit is also a senior associate of Rhodium Group, New York City, advisor to the Bower Group Asia in India, a member of the Council on Emerging Markets, Washington, DC, and a delegate for the Confederation of Indian Industry-Aspen Strategy Group Indo-U.S. Strategic Dialogue and the Ananta Aspen Strategic Dialogues with Japan, China and Israel. Born in 1964, he has visited over fifty countries on five continents. Mr. Pal Chaudhuri is a history graduate from Cornell University.