Analysis: For Both Biden And Trump, It Ain't Gonna Be Easy

Analysis: For Both Biden And Trump, It Ain't Gonna Be Easy

Biden has a Hobson’s choice — a ceasefire in Gaza, while Trump will have to navigate legal whirlpools and, like Biden, that beast called 'Uncommitted'

Sachin KalbagUpdated: Wednesday, February 28, 2024, 11:05 PM IST
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On Wednesday, February 28, the results of the Democratic and Republican primaries from Michigan state in the US were declared. Expectedly, both current President Joe Biden of the Democratic Party and former President Donald Trump, a Republican, won easily. Their victories, though, had a scratch card feel to them — you’d think you won a ₹100 cashback, but all you got was a 20% discount to a product you will never buy or is cheaper on Amazon.

Initial data from the elections suggest two things: One, the support from progressives is waning for Biden. Two, there was a significant anti-Trump vote in Michigan — either they voted for Indian American Nikki Haley or they ticked the “Uncommitted” box on the ballot paper. This last bit is particularly worrying for Trump. It was the same for Biden.

In fact, the “Uncommitted” vote in Michigan — the state with the country’s largest Arab American and Muslim population — is more worrying for Biden than Trump because it was here that Biden defeated Trump in 2020 by a massive 1.45 lakh votes (Trump had beaten Hillary Clinton by 11,000 votes here in 2016).

There is no doubt that Biden and Trump will have a rematch in November, and Nikki Haley, the sole remaining Trump rival in the Republican Party, may soon have to quit the race as the campaign money runs out and new donors becoming more reluctant to back her (it is surprising she has not pulled out so far).

The “Uncommitted” vote is not restricted to Michigan, a state that is already facing a severe job (the unemployment rate is 4.3%) and opioid addiction crises (since 2000, the state has seen a 10-fold rise in addiction deaths). In Minnesota, another state with a significant Muslim population, Biden will find it tough to convince the electorate of his empathy for their views on Palestinian deaths.

In other states where unemployment and the associated street crime are no longer the concern of the local law enforcement and have become national issues, it is Biden who will find the going tough. California, a Democratic state otherwise, has the country’s second highest unemployment rate (5.1%) according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It has the largest voting population in the country.

Nevada, District of Columbia, New Jersey, Illinois and New York are all predominantly Democratic states, and they all have the America’s worst unemployment rates at present (4.6-5%), with street crime reaching unprecedented levels.

Biden will win all the Democratic primaries by default, but his biggest challenge will be on the first Tuesday of November when Trump — whose conservative base has consolidated its support in spite of his legal troubles and the party’s backlash — will hold the advantage with the undecideds and independents.

Therefore, if Biden thinks he has any chance of winning November, then he has no option but to force Israel into a ceasefire that goes beyond the holy month of Ramzan, which begins on March 10 this year. If he cannot, he might as well say goodbye to the Arab American and Muslim vote on the back of the ‘Abandon Biden’ movement that is gaining momentum across the country.

Last week, the latest chapter of Abandon Biden got together in Pennsylvania, another pro-Democratic Party state. The Abandon Biden movement started late last year, and demanded nothing short of a full ceasefire in Gaza. The members of this movement are mostly Muslims, and they have made it fairly clear that they will not come out to vote if Biden does not push for a full cessation of hostilities. Biden needs Pennsylvania’s electoral college vote if he has any hope of defeating Trump. The state has nearly two lakh Muslim voters, not an insignificant number in an election that will likely be decided by thin margins.

Paradoxically, Biden has another problem in Pennsylvania — the growth of support for Israel among white Americans. So, does Biden listen to the majority or does he try and placate the Muslims?

Biden’s campaign officials scampered to justify their stand after the Michigan results saying that the “Uncommitted” votes “will not change the general election strategy because we are not taking any votes for granted.” The campaign also said that Biden has sent top officials to “meet members of the Arab American and Muslim communities and to conduct listening sessions.” This approach will likely continue for a few weeks, if not months.

Trump, too, has to smell the coffee. The “Uncommitted” numbers will likely grow because of the intensity of his hard right-wing approach to issues such as immigration and unemployment. His campaign has focused on what the Democrats have not been able to do or perceived as being not able to rather than push his own policies.

This is a no-brainer tactic in the case of his support base, which anyway does not look for policy positions; instead, they are happy when the former President reinforces their conservative views on gun control, abortion, immigration, Islamophobia, minority hate, and street crime. Trump has a looming problem, though. A recent court civil fraud verdict means he has to forego $454 million from his personal coffers (unless he wins on appeal), and he will have to quickly raise enough money for the rest of the campaign. Haley’s exit from the Republican race could ease things a bit for Trump on money, but Haley has not left the building yet.

Evidently, neither Biden nor Trump, despite the inevitability of their rematch this November, will have it easy. The former has a Hobson’s choice — a ceasefire in Gaza, while Trump will have to navigate legal whirlpools and, like Biden, that beast called “Uncommitted”.

Sachin Kalbag, Senior Fellow at The Takshashila Institution, is a former Washington Correspondent and editor of Indian newspapers. Email: sachin@takshashila.org.in. Twitter: @SachinKalbag

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