9 March 2021

Tuesday, 11:17



It seems the US Democrats won the presidential race but lost everything else



Perhaps it was Joe Biden’s efforts to mobilise his voters around the idea of the threat coming from the incumbent president to the American democracy that played a key role in his victory. The strategy proved effective leading to strong victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, Democratic bastions that supported Trump in 2016.

More than two-thirds of the eligible Americans (nearly 160 million) voted in this election. This number was slightly less to break the 1900 record of 73.7% turnout. Almost 5 million more voters voted for Biden than for Donald Trump.

Such a success was not obvious, although all experts predicted victory for Biden. The number of Democrat sets in the lower house of Congress has significantly diminished with no majority in the Senate either. Yet on January 6, Georgia will host re-elections for two mandates, since none of the candidates received more than 50% of the votes. There is no guarantee that the Democrats receive both mandates. In other states, where a third of the Senate members are subject to rotation every two years, the Republicans lost only one seat. Thus, the present balance of power is as follows: Republicans have 50 seats (out of 100 possible), Democrats have 46 and two non-partisans, who always vote with Democrats.

The Democrats failed to greatly improve their position in the state legislative bodies. This is a bad sign for them in the long run. The results of the census conducted in the US every ten years are used to re-divide the election precincts to the Congress and local legislatures. This is called Gerrymandering. The census is taking place this year, which means that newly elected state governments in 2021 will be drawing up new maps of constituencies for the next ten years.

In the past elections, Republicans had complete control over the process of creating precinct maps for 181 districts, while Democrats for 76. In the past ten-year cycle, Republican dominance was even greater with the control over 213 districts. Thus, the Republicans retained a comfortable advantage for a long time.


Political outsider

Trump became the fifth president in the past 100 years after Hoover, Ford, Carter and Bush Sr. to lose the election for a second term. Truman and Johnson withdrew their candidacies at an early stage, knowing that they would fail.

According to BBC, Donald Trump won the presidential race in 2016 mainly because he was a political outsider who ignored all norms and said things that were previously impossible to pronounce. And in 2020, he lost mainly for the same reasons.

Although Trump was a skilled GOP politician and received an almost unequivocal support from other Republican fellows, he was not strong in inter-party politics. In fact, he made no effort to win voters outside of his base. This turned out to be an unwise move that played a large role in Trump's defeat.

Presidential elections often pose a simple question: is the country better now than four years ago? After the coronavirus epidemic, which claimed 230,000 lives by the time of the elections, and the associated economic crisis, it became almost impossible to prove that it is better now.


Imperfect system

Many people point out that over the years, the flaws in the US electoral system have become more obvious. For example, gerrymandering violates the equality of electoral rights of citizens, since the purpose of arbitrary demarcation of electoral precincts is to artificially change the balance of political forces.

In 2013, the Supreme Court relaxed the Voting Rights Act. This allowed the states to tighten the requirement for voter ID checks, shorten voting times, complicate and restrict registration, and adopt a host of other rules that prevent a significant number of eligible citizens from participating in elections - mainly racial minorities, the poor, young and old.

In the last election, Trump tried to slow down the postal service, took a number of other actions aimed at creating problems for his rival. For example, due to the 2019 changes to the Voting Act adopted by the Republican majority in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, the electoral commission could not start counting a huge number of posted ballots until the election day. This made the work of the commission difficult and gave Trump's lawyers a reason to file protests in courts.


Future administration

The alleged coalition of representatives of the left, moderate and right wings of the Democratic Party dissatisfied with the rule of the Republicans, as well as the independents, is the key to Biden's success as a president-elect. He realises this and constantly repeats that he cannot manage the situation without an active support from all the true patriots of the country, regardless of their party affiliation.

The new administration, which takes the Oval Office on January 20, 2021, will face a number of challenges from the rising COVID-19 cases and slowing economic growth to increasing inequality and deep political and social divisions.

Therefore, Joe Biden in his very first speech after the announced victory said that he was not wasting time, and the next day he plans to appoint a group of experts to develop a policy to combat COVID-19. The president-elect has assured that the fight will begin as soon as he is sworn in.

But this is just one of the many challenges he is going to face.

In November 2008, in the midst of the global financial crisis, President-elect Barack Obama immediately embarked on an intensive exchange of views with the outgoing Bush administration. Otherwise, it would be difficult for his team to work out priority measures in domestic and foreign policy. He even left a group of particularly valuable Bush employees in his team. This was in stark contrast to the total lack of engagement when the Oval Office was left to Mr. Trump. Obviously, this is not going to happen  this time either.

In foreign policy, Biden is planning to make the United States a leading world power again. Although he criticized Trump's chaotic actions, many of the current trends will continue with apparent changes in their style and characteristics.

For example, Biden made it clear that he intends to take a relatively tough stance on China. This will cover a number of key areas of confrontation such as trade and tariff imbalances between the two states, intellectual property, cybersecurity, China's military activities in the South China Sea, and so on.

The new American administration will also continue pressure on various terrorist groups, including Al-Qaeda, ISIS and Al-Shabaab in East Africa. Economic and diplomatic pressure on the government of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela will not stop either. The general trend of withdrawing American troops from the ‘hot spots’ will remain, albeit at a more balanced pace, based on local conditions.

We can also expect a way more different approach in the US foreign policy. The United States will re-establish cooperation with its traditional partners in the G7 and G20, increase support for NATO, and join the collective global efforts to protect the environment, which means renewed cooperation with the World Health Organization and other UN structures.

The Biden administration is expected to resume talks with Russia on a new strategic arms control agreement. He will also consider revising the medium-range nuclear treaty that the Trump administration has abandoned. Biden will also return to the so called nuclear deal with Iran.

Biden's position is more moderate than that of many Democrats, who argue that the US should renew the nuclear deal unconditionally. He believes that the 2015 agreement needs to be improved by amending it with tougher conditions for Iran. And this is where the Trump administration rendered a good and useful service for its successor. Trump imposed sanctions on Iran not only because of nuclear development, but also for supporting terrorism.

With the upcoming presidential elections in Iran next year, President Hassan Rouhani is expected to find a way out of a difficult economic situation suffering from the US sanctions.

Biden promised that the US would restart negotiations on the nuclear deal and lift some of the sanctions should Iran return its nuclear reserves to the limits agreed in the 2015 deal. Thus, the Biden administration can lift the sanctions related to nuclear operations of Iran while keeping the ones imposed on the country due to its alleged involvement in terrorism if Iran refuses to make further concessions.


Ghost of the GOP

And yet, the Biden administration will apparently face serious problems should the GOP take the majority in the Senate. After all, it is the Senate that ratifies all the bills granting them the force of laws, which can be revoked only by the next president. Republicans, on the other hand, may well regain the presidency in four years.

In addition, the Republicans have a very good chance of taking control in the House of Representatives for the next two years, by and large, with the redrawing of electoral precincts.

So, the outcome of the 2020 elections is ambiguous. It seems the Democrats won the presidential race but lost everything else.