Krishnan Srinivasan | Political parties facing anxiety as election season gets closer in US

The Asian Age.  | Krishnan Srinivasan

Opinion, Columnists

A major issue for both parties is abortion and the right to life

Prime minister Narendra Modi with US President Joe Biden (File Image: PTI)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has invited US President Joe Biden as the chief guest for the coming Republic Day celebrations next year, which will be an election year in both the United States and India. In that country, the oldest continuous two-party democracy, the front-running candidates for President in November 2024 are former President Donald Trump, a Republican, who is facing 91 federal and state-level criminal charges, and the incumbent Democrat Joe Biden, who is suffering evidence of senility at the age of 80.

In this situation, with just over one year to go, both parties face an acute dilemma. For the Democrats, Mr Biden in late August, according to FiveThirtyEight, had an approval rating of 42 per cent, while 53 per cent disapproved of the way he was running America. An AP poll at the end of August showed that 77 per cent of Americans think he is too old to serve. In Hanoi, on September 10, the signs of Mr Biden’s cognitive decline were alarming; the President was cut off at a press conference by his aides after his often-incoherent remarks.

Mr Biden is helped by the fact that since 1973, American psychiatrists and clinicians do not diagnose, or offer public opinions on, those they have not personally evaluated. Donald Trump, who is 77, talks nonsense in public appearances but he does so with vigour and energy, and voters seem less concerned by Mr Trump’s advancing years than Mr Biden’s.

To Mr Biden’s supporters, the President’s record is creditable. The economy is sound, unemployment and inflation are down, real wages for the low-income cohort are rising, and urban homicide rates are falling. The President’s Ukraine policy is holding and he has recorded formidable bipartisan legislation. But he is vulnerable on account of his age, unsafe schools, the size of the government and national debt, and border security policies with migrants taking social services and jobs. The difference between the traditional Republican Wall Street and the Democrat Main Street has shrunk, Mr Biden’s position with working-class voters has deteriorated and his son Hunter Biden, indicted on firearms charges and under investigation for failure to pay tax and using the family name to promote his business, has clouded the President’s reputation for integrity. Though most Democrats are privately unhappy that Mr Biden is again running for the White House, the credibility of alternative Democratic candidates is weak. Vice-President Kamala Harris has an even lower approval rating than the President and other options in governor Gavin Newsom of California and governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan are likely to be weaker challengers to Mr Trump.

On the judicial process against Mr Trump and Hunter Biden, both parties believe that the justice department, responsible for enforcing the law, is politicised and has been captured by the other party, adding another dimension to the acute political polarisation in the country. Attacks on the judicial system distract the parties from the real problems the nation faces.

A major issue for both parties is abortion and the right to life. A Gallup poll suggests that 55 per cent of the public and 52 per cent women want a ban after three months, and 37 per cent are for full legality. Democrats deviate from public opinion on this whereas the logical compromise would be abortion being legal within three months and dependent after that on the mother’s health.

The Democrats seem to be banking on Mr Trump’s greater unpopularity. Though easily the front-runner for the Republican ticket, Mr Trump is under indictment in four separate criminal cases, and a presidential challenger, Nikki Haley, described him publicly as the most disliked American politician. Republicans are aware that the party’s latest win in the popular vote was in 2004 and in the November 2022 mid-term elections, and that Trump-endorsed candidates for Congress found it hard to win. Mr Trump lost the House of Representatives in 2018 and against all media expectations, there was no Republican wave in 2022.

Centrist Republicans acknowledge Mr Trump’s “Make America Great Again” symbolism has strong emotional appeal for “the forgotten man”, the Christian hard-right and mainly rural voter, who feel neglected by the system and deeply resent the perceived establishment élites. At the same time Mr Trump seems to accept racism and encouraged extremists like the Proud Boys, whose leader was sentenced to 22 years in prison. Moderate Republicans wish the party to be more inclusive, especially among black and Hispanic communities.

Most centrist Republicans yearn for an alternate candidate to Mr Trump. Among the party’s presidential aspirants, Vivek Ramaswamy echoes Mr Trump’s disdain for the Washington establishment by pledging to eliminate 75 per cent of the federal workforce. Former vice-president Mike Pence does not seem the right messenger, while former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley might attract donor support and should not to be underestimated.

The Republicans in Congress are also not in fine fettle. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is 81. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy heads a party with a slender 10-seat majority, and won his position only after 15 rounds of balloting. This leaves him hostage to the party’s right wing which presses for initiating impeachment proceedings against President Biden and threatens a government shutdown over federal spending. Republican analysts consider such moves would be disapproved of by the electorate when the emphasis should be on governance and less government intervention. So, both parties view the coming months with great unease. With his invitation to President Biden, Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to be taking an early bet on the result.