Who will occupy the White House this time and what it entails for India?
If Joe Biden is elected as the next President, there is unlikely any major change going to happen in the India-US bilateral ties, writes Md. Farijuddin Khan.
Personal attacks, allegations about Biden-Hunter corruption scandal, anti-China, and Russia sentiments, threats posed by the coronavirus, health of the economy, unemployment, anti-incumbency, deep racial fissures, and so on are some of the main themes that have dominated the 2020 United States presidential election campaigns by both sides of the American political spectrum. Unlike 2016 quadrennial elections that saw a prospective Democratic candidate, Senator Hillary Clinton, defeated despite national polls forecasting her a confident win, this time the presidential election is unlikely to show the same confusion. Democratic nominee Vice President, Joseph (Joe) Biden from the state of Delaware, leads by a huge margin in the latest polling average against President Donald J Trump until the penultimate day of the November 3 election schedule. Moreover, unlike in the past elections where foreign policy and economic health issues usually dominated, this time the narrative of national politics has been shaped by a microscopic threat that was originated miles away from American shores and healthcare system unimaginably.
Nevertheless, the campaign team of Biden is believed to have learned from the 2016 unlikely defeat, and hence, refuse to take granted anything that relates to the campaign strategy particularly in key battle states. Just two days ahead of the election day, Vice President Biden campaigned in the ‘battleground’ state of Pennsylvania – a state that was surprisingly won by Trump in 2016, while the President’s team focused on a host of five such ‘battleground’ states of Michigan, Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
While President Trump campaign strategists focus on a potential economic revival in a big way starting 2021, the Biden campaign strategy focuses on the current challenges posed by a ‘dangerous’ corona virus and the President’s mishandling of the biggest health crisis from the beginning. Despite a sharp fall in the national polls, the Trump campaign managers seemed to advise the President of maintaining hope and confidence to create a repeat of the 2016 victory! With his popularity still intact mainly among Christian conservatives, the incumbent President wants to ride on the wave of his popular slogan, “Make America Great Again” or MAGA, in short, to propel him to another term in the White House.
If President Donald Trump loses…
If President Trump loses the 2020 elections, he will be the first President who failed to re-elect since 1993 when George H.W. Bush (Republican) was defeated by Bill Clinton (Democrat). If he wins back the Presidency, he will be just another president in the long list. Thus, the pressure is high for both the President and his party.
If we go by national polls, clearly President Trump is trailing by a big margin. However, this is not at all a guarantee for Biden’s win. A few swing or battleground states usually decide the fate of the two candidates in the fray. If the polls are to be trusted, the latest polling by the Guardian in the most crucial eight swing states suggests a comfortable lead by Biden. This includes Florida (29) and Biden’s once-upon-a-time home-state of Pennsylvania (20). Both are very crucial battle states since both states comprise 49 of the approximately 100 electors from swing states.
Except for the states of Ohio (18) and Iowa (06), Biden is leading in these in almost all key battle states. Historically, Ohio holds the key to the fate of any President entering the White House. A fun fact is that since 1960 Ohio has voted for the winning candidate continuously without a break. In 2008 & 2012, Barack Obama won with narrow margins. Thus, with Trump leading in Ohio in the polls, it is to be seen if the historical trend is to be re-written. Nevertheless, the latest poll by FiveThirtyEight 2020 poll tracker forecasts Pennsylvania to be the ‘tipping-point state’.
Exploring Biden’s Win
Besides poll predictions, there are at least three latest developments that could potentially work in favour of Democrat Joe Biden. They are: first, red states such as Arizona, Texas, Georgia, and N. Carolina are increasingly turning blue this time; second, on his way to winning the White House in 2016, Donald Trump had several advantages that he does not have in 2020; finally, the situation in the U.S. today is very different from what we saw in 2016, and this has a consequent impact on the two candidates’ campaigning style and content.
In 2016, Trump was seen as an outsider – a self-made successful businessman - who speaks out what he truly believes without having to succumb to political correctness. His economic plans and muscular foreign policy against ‘manipulator’ China and other countries who undeservedly benefit from American economic magnanimity overshadowed his much-criticized ‘illiberal approaches’.
Nonetheless, his erratic style of administration, a decline of support from foreign allies, non-serious attitude accorded to the global pandemic and climate change issues, failure to reach out to large sections of protesting black Americans, major foreign policy failures viz-a-viz North Korea and Iran, rough relations with NATO and closed Western allies, withdrawal from W.H.O, UNESCO, and the Paris Accord, and so on seem to have overshadowed his main achievements on economic revival, job creation, the trade war with China and Arab-Israel peace deals.
On the other hand, former Vice President Joe Biden has an edge over at least two contentious issues that have shaped American national politics in the last year – the coronavirus and deep racial fissure in the United States. These issues have affected both young and senior voters. The highest corona deaths happen in the U.S. right now. This affects the vulnerable and senior citizens the most. A deep divide in race relations among Americans affects the perception of not only black voters but also other minority voters. He has appealed to the blacks and minority voters about their equal status and dignity in the land of freedom.
It certainly will affect the business environment of small and medium business enterprises who otherwise have been firmly supporting Donald Trump. Biden has announced that he has a well-crafted strategy to handle the coronavirus menace and that he takes the pandemic very seriously unlike the President. He has promised to revive the affordable health care facility for Americans – a legacy of Obama. He has assured American allies abroad about America’s commitment to global geopolitical theatres. Finally, unlike President Trump, Biden supports climate change mitigation actions and promised to create jobs through clean renewable energy.
What the change of guard in Washington entails for India?
President Donald Trump has one advantage when it comes to dealing with India. He enjoys a smooth working relationship and personal rapport with his counterpart Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Prime Minister Modi and President Trump have cemented Indo-U.S. bilateral ties to a new strategic level. Our defence and strategic ties have been solidified in recent years. The recently concluded 2+2 Dialogue between the two held in New Delhi is a concrete example of the U.S. commitment to India and her geopolitical interests in the Indian Ocean.
Having said these, if Joe Biden is elected as the next President, there is unlikely any major change going to happen in the bilateral ties. The U.S. policy will continue to favour India over Pakistan or any other regional power. The U.S. geopolitical interests in the Indo-Pacific theatre will remain a permanent policy. In fact, the concept of Indo-Pacific was a brain-child formulated during the Obama administration. Overall, our relations with the U.S. will continue without much changes in other fields such as education, space cooperation, healthcare, security and counter-terrorism cooperation, intelligence sharing, and so on.
On the trade front, Indo-U.S. relations have been marked by disputes and countermeasures. The Trump administration has put India in a tough spot by introducing various protectionist measures. India was even removed unilaterally from its beneficiary list by the administration which led to an undue loss on the India side. We have faced tough decisions in the WTO on the insistence of the U.S. With Biden in power along with his run-mate Kamala Harris, India could see a certain level of restrictions being removed and easing of trade disputes.
However, with Joe Biden as the next U.S. President, India could expect certain comments/remarks from the administration on the status of freedom its minority communities enjoy. The liberal Democrat President would even, perhaps, pull up the issue of Jammu & Kashmir. Well, this kind of remarks needs to be handled cautiously. Besides, India can expect an administration that is less vocal about China’s future actions in India. Unlike President Trump, Biden is expected to choose the path of diplomatic solutions in place of an aggressive policy such as sanctions while dealing with China.
The US presidential election 2020 is going to be one of the most contentious elections in history. For India, it is less important who occupies the White House. Whether the gaffe-prone Democrat Biden wins, or the fiery Republican President Trump wins, India’s concern should be who would serve India’s interests more fruitfully.
(The views expressed are the writer's own)