Joe Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris as running mate has garnered positive reviews, even as he continues to lead over Donald Trump in almost every poll. But despite the odds being stacked in favour of Democrats, it may be premature to rule out a win for Trump.
Donald Trump’s response to Kamala Harris being chosen as Joe Biden’s running mate was along expected lines. Rabid. Boorish. Mendacious. He expressed surprise at the selection, labelling her “extraordinarily nasty” and “mean”. He also didn’t take long to float a conspiracy theory about Harris not being eligible for the vice-presidency or presidency because her parents were immigrants at the time of her birth. Though Trump made the statement in reference to an op-ed article published in Newsweek by conservative legal scholar John C. Eastman, it was uningeniously similar to his earlier cock-and-bull “birther” story about Barack Obama not being born in the U.S. What a pity the allegation lacked the entertaining freshness of a Trumpian tirade.
Meanwhile Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, in their first appearance together as running mates on 13 August 2020, weren’t very kind to the President either. Kamala Harris excoriated Trump’s handling of the pandemic and lack of leadership in the midst of a public health and economic crisis, while Joe Biden berated his racist attitude and refusal to acknowledge America’s climate crisis. While this first slanging match is an indication of the many acrimonious battles to follow, it does not indicate which pugilist will emerge triumphant. Both are battle-ready, both prepared for a fight to the finish.
Kamala Harris, the first woman of colour from a major party to run for vice-president, seems to have given a new lease of life to Biden’s campaign. What is more, according to some polls, his lead is steadily expanding against Trump. There’s very little stopping him now. On the other hand, with dipping approval ratings due to his bumbling approach to the anti-racism protests, COVID-19 crisis and ensuing economic downturn, Donald Trump looks all set to lose. As simple as that. Really?
Harris has Energized Biden’s Campaign
Kamala Harris inaugurated her role as Biden’s running mate by launching a scathing attack on Donald Trump, setting the tenor for a campaign high on polemics. Other than re-energizing the campaign, she has also brought in funds, a record $36 million in the form of contributions from new donors. Democrats and Harris supporters also believe she’ll follow a slightly different trajectory, encouraging Biden to focus more on his own policies and ideas and less on Trump’s failures. Her ability to connect with people across class and racial lines, experience as a legislator and prosecutor, and reputation as a moderate are other assets for Biden’s presidential campaign.
Watch: President Trump continues Personal Attack on Kamala Harris
Ambivalent Attacks on Harris and Biden
The Trump camp seems unsure of what precisely they’d like to target Harris and Biden for. A statement from the Trump campaign underlines Harris’ “record as a prosecutor” – which has been repeatedly flayed by those seeking criminal justice reform – and accuses her of being soft on crime. It’s a blatant contradiction. Andrew Clark, Trump’s rapid response director, recently tweeted that Harris, who had “fought” to keep non-violent inmates incarcerated, was the perfect match for Joe Biden, the “architect of mass incarceration”.
In fact, the Trump campaign has been running ads highlighting Biden’s part in shaping the infamous 1994 crime bill that damaged the nation’s criminal justice system. Perfectly valid criticisms except that for months they’ve also been promoting ominous ads showing lawlessness following as a result of Joe Biden having defunded the police. Take another example: Trump allies say that Wall Street billionaires are delighted to have Biden and Harris and that anarchists and radical socialists will have a free run if they come to power. It’s fuzzy logic that most people are likely to reject.
Trump may be Trump’s Nemesis
It’s not for no reason that Trump has been trailing Biden in the polls. From day one, Trump didn’t take the pandemic seriously resulting in slow testing and thousands of Americans getting infected before steps could be taken to contain the outbreak. He blamed China and held the Obama administration responsible for shortage of testing kits. He never stopped being dismissive of the gravity of the virus, openly scoffed at people wearing masks, made statements contradicting his own infectious disease expert, and insisted on reopening states in the midst of the pandemic without providing federal support to help them prepare. Of late he has been pushing for schools to reopen – even threatening to cut off federal funding from schools – to create a veneer of normalcy before the November election.
Watch: Trump pushes to reopen Schools
When the George Floyd protests broke out, he refused to acknowledge the systemic issue of racial injustice and responded exactly like one of those brutal dictators he unsecretly admires. As the movement proliferated, he called on governors and security officials to crack down on protesters, called them “thugs” and threatened to shoot them. Later he unapologetically defended Confederate heritage, vowed to incarcerate demonstrators who pulled down statutes, and delivered a dangerously polarizing message on Independence Day. Most recently, he added insult to injury by repealing an Obama-era low-income housing rule intended to eliminate racial segregation and unequal access to good schools and hospitals in American neighbourhoods.
As far as Trump’s strategy with regard to combating the economic downturn is concerned, the less said, the better. First he remained in denial about the grave economic repercussions of the pandemic. A $2 trillion relief package was subsequently announced, though most analysts described it as no more than temporary relief meant to stave off a total economic collapse. Trump pretended to protect jobs for American citizens and restricted legal immigration by curtailing most immigrant and work visa programmes. Even the most recent slew of executive orders signed by him are being questioned, especially on the issue of their legality. Bluff, bluster, and blame have meanwhile gone on unabated.
But Donald Trump Could Still Win the Election!
Well, it’s worth remembering that the trope of patriotism helped figures like Hitler and Mussolini come to power against the backdrop of a 2020-like economic recession. Throughout the 20th century, cunning politicians have exploited popular fears and insecurities, offering themselves as a panacea for all the nation’s ills. Jingoism can be irresistibly attractive to masses besieged by problems. And unlike Joe Biden, Donald Trump has not an iota of diffidence with regard to wearing its tawdry appeal on his sleeve. Biden may not approve of Antifa for instance, but if he were to unequivocally repudiate those in his camp who do, he would risk losing their support. At the same time, his ambiguity on the matter might render him unacceptable to centrist and swing voters. In today’s deeply divided America, those leaning towards the left are often seen as anti-American and Biden will have to make sure he isn’t characterized as such. It’s not unlike what happened in Great Britain last year; despite the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist policies, large swathes of the population had begun to see the Labour Party as anti-British, resulting in their defeat.
Nearly every opinion poll is predicting that the Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will win the election, but the opinion polls in 2016 had also said that Hillary Clinton would win. They weren’t altogether wrong; Trump did lose the popular vote by nearly three million votes. The US presidential election follows an Electoral College system in which the winner has to secure a majority of seats in the Electoral College of 538 electors from across 50 states. So Trump won by scoring in battleground states like Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Many scholars believe that the Electoral College was originally conceived to prevent presidential candidates from ignoring smaller states, but it has been criticized for being undemocratic in recent years. It is this system that could enable Trump to lose the national popular vote and still emerge victorious.
Most of all, Trump has a loyal base in several battleground states and his presidential campaign is well-funded. Stoking xenophobia – as Trump has consistently been doing with his anti-immigrant rhetoric – during national crises has customarily reaped handsome electoral dividends. In other words, support for Trump may be fast eroding but his victory can’t be ruled out altogether. Even the Democrats know that. Which is why we are going to be witnessing an all-out war this fall.