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Whoever gets to sit in the Oval Office will be leading a weak US govt roiled by political rift

November 05, 2020 05:58 AM

COURTESY HT NOV 5

Whoever gets to sit in the Oval Office will be leading a weak US govt roiled by political rift

The next US president will head a weak administration and a divided country. Whether a second round of Donald Trump or a Joe Biden presidency, the next four years will be a Washington functioning well below par.

Neither of them will run again in 2024. The US constitution forbids Trump from doing so. Biden, who ran only to dethrone Trump, is plans on being a one-term president. They would compete to be the oldest president in US history: Trump is 74 years old, Biden 77.

The next four years will see Republicans and Democrats preparing for the congressional midterm elections through much of 2022 for control of the Senate. By 2023, the lame duck period will begin and the next presidential election campaign will start. Whether vice-president or not, both Kamala Harris and Mike Pence will be in the fray as will be other heavyweights including Indian-American Nikki Haley and Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. There will be a lot electoral posturing, not much policy.

The legislature will be divided. Going by present forecasts, the Republicans will narrowly hold on to the Senate and prove a thorn for a President Biden. The Democrats will continue to harry Trump through the House of Representatives. Congress and White House under differing parties is normal in the US. But the degree of rancour and lack of bipartisanship is not. Studies show the number of bills which attract votes from members of both parties has shrunk dramatically. The Manifesto Project and other studies show both parties having moved ideologically apart since 2008. Biden, for example, is being savaged by the progressive wing of his party because of his desire to have a Republican in his cabinet.

During his campaign, President Trump never put forward a policy agenda for his second term, just saying, “I think I’d be similar.” His main interest seems to be to purge officials who failed to pander to his more paranoid beliefs, including the idea Barack Obama’s staffers undermined his 2016 presidential campaign.

His defence secretary, Mike Esper, will be among the likely victims as will his main Covid-19 advisor, the much-admired Dr Anthony Fauci. Professionals are already reluctant to work under Trump whimsical and sometimes legally questionable governance style. This will only be compounded in a second term, making long-term policy a difficult business. There is a reason why “second term curse” is part of the US political lexicon.

Biden will not have a staff issue. His problems will be in grappling with a Republican Senate and the left-wing of his party which encompasses nearly 100 Democratic legislators. The Progressive Caucus sheathed their swords to help defeat Trump but their demands Elizabeth Warren be made Biden’s treasury secretary are the opening salvo in a larger ideological struggle. “Biden would be the weakest first-term president in recent memory,” says Akhil Bery, analyst for Eurasia Group

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