Why nothing sticks to Donald Trump or Joe Biden
It was congresswoman Pat Schroeder, Democrat from Colorado, who labeled Ronald Reagan the “Teflon” president in a fit of exasperation in August 1983. What frustrated Schroeder was that nothing “stuck” to Reagan—not the recession, not his misadventures in Lebanon, not his seeming detachment from his own administration. Reagan’s job approval had plunged to a low of 35 percent at the beginning of that year, but his numbers were rising and his personal favorability remained high. “He is just the master of ceremonies at someone else’s dinner,” she said.
Ironically, the one thing that did stick to Reagan was Schroeder’s nickname. The phrase was so catchy that writers applied it to mobsters (“Teflon Don” John Gotti) and to Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. Teflon presidents, gangsters, candidates—we have had them all. What we have not experienced until now is a Teflon campaign.
Between March 11, when the coronavirus prompted the NBA to suspend its season, and May 14, some 84,000 Americans died of coronavirus, more than 36 million lost their jobs, and Congress appropriated $3.6 trillion in new spending. It is not foolish to suppose that these world-shaking events would affect the presidential election. On the contrary: One would expect a dramatic swing toward either the incumbent or the challenger. But look at the polls. Not only has there been no big shift. There has been no shift.
On March 11, Joe Biden led Donald Trump by 7 points in the RealClearPolitics average. On May 14, he led Trump by 5 points. “Biden’s advantage,” says Harry Enten of CNN, “is the steadiest in a race with an incumbent running since at least 1944.” He has never been behind. His share of the vote has been impervious to external events.
Neither good nor bad news has an effect. Bernie Sanders ended his campaign on April 8 and endorsed Biden on April 13. Biden received no bump from this display of party unity. Tara Reade accused Biden of sexual assault on March 25, and Biden did not respond directly to the allegation until May 1. His margin over Trump did not shrink. It remained the same.
Why? The incidents of this election cycle are not the reason. Epidemics, depressions, and sex scandals have happened before. What is distinct are the candidates. One in particular.
If this race has been the steadiest in memory, it is because public opinion of the incumbent has been the most consistent in memory. “Trump’s approval rating has the least variation of any post-World War II president,” notes Geoffrey Skelley of FiveThirtyEight. Whatever is in the headlines matters less than one’s view of the president. And he is a subject on which most people’s views are ironclad.
When the crisis began, Trump’s approval rating was 44 percent in the RealClearPoliticsaverage. On May 14, it is 46 percent. A social and economic calamity befell the country, and Trump’s approval ticked up. Not enough for him to win, necessarily. But enough to keep him in contention.
Americans feel more strongly about Trump, either for or against, than about any other candidate since polling began. His supporters give his approval ratings a floor, and his detractors give his ratings a ceiling. There is not a lot of room in between.
For years, Trump voters have said that they are willing to overlook his faults because they believe the stakes in his victory and success are so high. Heard from less often have been Trump’s opponents, who are so desperate to see him gone that they dismiss the failings and vulnerabilities of whoever happens to be challenging him at the moment.
Recently the feminist author Linda Hirshman wrote in the New York Times that she believes Tara Reade’s story but will vote for Joe Biden anyway. “Better to just own up to what you are doing,” she wrote. “Sacrificing Ms. Reade for the good of the many.” Hirshman is the mirror-image of the Trump supporter who, as the president once said, would not be bothered if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue. Intensifying tribalism makes this election a nonstick surface.
What gives Biden the upper hand is that there are more people who feel negatively than positively about Donald Trump. What gives Trump a chance is the uneven distribution of these people across the country. That was the case before coronavirus. It is still the case today.
Watching the numbers hardly budge over these past months, I have sometimes wondered what could move them. War? Spiritual revival? Space aliens?
Don’t think so. Throw anything at it. Nothing adheres to this Teflon campaign.
His flip-flops suggest that he remains troublingly clueless about the biggest geo-political peer rival and potential challenger to the United States.
Under old-school journalism, reporters would be camping in front of Joe Biden’s campaign offices asking questions on his foreign policy: whether he still thinks Qatari-funded jihadis wanted to topple Syria’s Bashar Assad, if Libya intervention under President Obama was a mistake, and the reason for the flop of Obama’s Asia Pivot. In the last few weeks, Joe Biden has shown he would say anything to be president, including first promising to cure cancer, then flip-flopping on abortion, and finally flipping on China.
American domestic politics are for Americans to decide when the election comes, but at a time Beijing is returning to Tiananmen form, no bigger issue needs further scrutiny than Biden’s China stance.
Biden recently said in Iowa that China is a “serious challenge” and threat, adding, “We are in a competition with China. We need to get tough with China. They are a serious challenge to us and in some areas a real threat.”
Funny, because in May, he mocked the China threat, saying, “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man…They can’t even figure out how to deal with the fact that they have this great division between the China Sea and the mountains in the east, I mean in the west.”
Biden then added that he is worried about President Trump’s tariff wars against China, which is arguably “exacerbating the challenge,” and said “if we do what we need to do here at home…we can out-compete anyone.” According to reports, Biden then said: “You bet I’m worried about China…if we keep following Trump’s path.”
While pondering the alternative way, Biden said he would force China to go green: “Biden will rally a united front of nations to hold China accountable to high environmental standards in its Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure projects so that China can’t outsource pollution to other countries.” Yes, good luck with that. It might sound plausible in a school kid’s Earth Day project, but not in the policy plans of the prospective leader of the free world.
This, is, of course, pure madness. There is no bigger potential challenge for the West, and especially for the United States, than the rise of a near peer-rival great power like China. At this very moment, Chinese government lackeys in Hong Kong are cracking down on the largest protests of 2019, where more than a million Hong Kongers are marching to stop China’s de facto takeover of Hong Kong’s justice system, which would allow any dissident to be packed off to trial in mainland China.
But that is not the biggest issue. The problem is China is a challenge unprecedented to U.S. policymakers. Chinese peacetime gross domestic product is overtaking America’s, and China is set to soon, as a percentage of relative power, eclipse all previous great power challenges that the United States has ever faced, including Imperial Spain, Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and even the Soviet Union.
To put it simply, the conflict of interest between the rising China and an established hegemon in the United States is inevitable. In international relations, it is known as “the Thucydides Trap“.
Consider the world of international politics like a snooker table. Unlike the domestic politics of a nation state, the international system is anarchic in nature. That is because, in domestic politics there is an established government that can decide and, if needed, enforce. The lack of hierarchy in international politics makes it anarchical, in Kenneth Waltz’s terminology, because there is no global governance, and any attempt to form a global empire would invite backlash from rival powers, while any attempt at global governance would result in a global war.
Naturally, international politics is determined by nation-states, and more importantly great powers, which are the single most important actors of world politics. And great powers rise or fall due to a variety of factors: stupid policies, ideological and military overstretch, spending more than one can afford, foolish wars and global policing, failure or decline in technological competition, juvenile or effeminate elites, and the biggest variable of all: time.
In that light, the Thucydides Trap comes in.
Throughout history, there has been one completely consistent pattern: Growing and rising powers always challenge established powers. From Athens and Sparta, to Rome and Carthage, to Napoleon, to the two World Wars, and the Cold War, this pattern remained the same. China and the United States are just the new avatars of this great game, as the actors change, but the game remains the same.
In this context, conflict does not always mean war. It could be a cold war, trade war, proxy wars, anything, but conflict between a rising and established power is inevitable. As J.J. Mearsheimer states in his book, China will try and push away the United States from Asia, just as the United States once pushed away European great powers from the Western Hemisphere.
Meanwhile, Biden is flip-flopping on this biggest challenge confronting the United States, tweeting friendship bands about how much he misses Barack Obama, and claiming there was not a hint of scandal during his eight years as vice president. For all his problems, President Trump has been forthright about the China challenge, much more than any current Democrat, or even a majority of the Republican leaders. In the future, this might be considered his legacy.
While most focus on tariffs and economics, China—with its AI research, space research, naval build-up, data and IP theft, and unfair trade practices—is a much bigger challenge than to suffer a dollar increase in the price of a beer can. There are questions already on how one should contain China, or what in itself is an intelligent containment strategy.
Some are pointing out their doubts about whether the present U.S. leadership and population is even martial enough to withstand the long-coming generational conflict. But whatever the case, to lightly rephrase an old and used proverb, you cannot choose whether to be interested in a coming Cold War, as the Cold War is already interested in you.
Biden’s callousness about identifying that and then his face-saving flip-flop is, therefore, the most troubling aspect of his candidacy. The less said about his Democratic colleagues, the better.
In a recent rally, the septuagenarian former vice president flashed his pearly set and declared, to the utter confusion of foreign policy analysts across the Euro-Atlantic, that China is no threat to the West: “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man.”
Beijing is the world’s second-largest economy, and increasingly isolated due to its revanchism in the Asia Pacific. It is confronting Australia, India, and Japan simultaneously, challenging the U.S. Navy and British Royal Navy every day. It’s returning to Maoist totalitarianism and Chinese civilizational exceptionalism, the leader of artificial intelligence and genetics research, with advanced space warfare capabilities and highly advanced stealth and hypersonic warfare capabilities.
China is a chronic thief of intellectual property, a great power extensively buying lands (and governments) across the world, a manufacturing giant in a trade war, and a great power engaged in espionage, cyber warfare, and naval buildup. Yet, according to the front-runner of the Democratic presidential field, it is no threat to the United States and the West.
Biden is obviously wrong about China. In fact, Biden is wrong about a lot of things. Like Johnny English, it is his job to know nothing, be wrong, and goof around. He has a glowing smile, 1950s social mannerisms, righteous rage at social justice issues to update himself for the kids, and is catastrophically wrong about every single foreign policy position possible.
Let’s start with the biggest position that would come back to haunt him as president. I was a rookie reporter covering the U.S. vice presidential candidates’ debate when I saw the difference between a quietly earnest if wonkish Paul Ryan, and a smug, condescending Biden, with a media fully disposed in the latter’s favor. It was Biden who dismissed whether Russia was a revanchist power.
While one can argue about how much Russia was a “threat” per se, no one would deny that Russia is and will be an adversarial power, and something Biden’s administration not only didn’t perceive, but when informed, dismissed mockingly.
But that is not all. Biden is stuck in time, as the world changed around him. For example, Tucker Carlson writes in his book, “Ship of Fools,” “In the fall of 2002, a total of seventy-seven senators voted in favor of the Iraq War resolution. This included the majority of Democrats, and 100 percent of the party’s rising stars. Two future presidential candidates who voted for the war, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, also happened to be future secretaries of state. The future vice president, Joe Biden, voted for it…”
He also notes that, during Vietnam evacuation, “Senator Joe Biden of Delaware agreed; he introduced legislation to curb the arrival of Vietnamese immigrants, accusing the Ford administration of not being honest about how many refugees would be arriving.” Vietnamese immigrants, needless to say, are one of the most successful and assimilated groups in the United States, but that’s beyond the point.
The point is Biden never thought independently about what might be good or bad, but said the things the Democratic base wanted to hear. In 2002, Iraq War support was simply good politics, even though now no one talks about it.
Biden also argued for a renewed troop surge in Afghanistan, a conflict that has long transformed from a war to an imperial law and order mission, similar to what the British did in the 1890s, against Afghan rebels in North West Frontier Province. Funnily enough, when the most consequential decision of the Obama administration came, such as the raid to kill Osama Bin Laden, Biden argued against it. Obama, of course, took the advice of his generals instead.
To Biden’s credit, like a broken clock he was right about foreign policy twice. During one of the most catastrophic foreign policy decision in modern Western history, when Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power, and Susan Rice were arguing for toppling Muammar Gaddafi, which turned Libya into a slave trading hub and mass migration springboard, Biden apparently argued against it. He was also apparently overruled and then went on to fully support the Obama intervention, even when he despised Clinton, according to his aides.
Likewise, he was the first one to publicly state that there are no good Syrian rebels, because all are Qatari-funded Islamists. But then he promptly backtracked, genuflected, and apologized. He should have stuck by both, because history could have proved his caution and restraint right. But he did not.
The problem for Biden is much more than that. He reminds me of the grandmother in “Good bye, Lenin!” who fell in coma during the Soviet years, only to wake up after the fall of the Berlin Wall in a unified Germany, yet her grandson must continue an elaborate hoax to assure her that she is still in communist Germany, so she doesn’t have another shock and suffer a stroke.
Biden, likewise, is also stuck in the heady days of early 1990s triumphalism, with an expanding North Atlantic Trade Organization, an European Union that is a prospective trade ally, and the world fit for liberal interventionism and democracy, with a hope that China would eventually be entrenched as a pillar in the liberal order.
Unfortunately, none of that came true, and China is pretty much the biggest rising great-power rival challenge to an established superpower, compared to the history of rising-power challenges, from Sparta to Athens, Carthage to Rome, the Spaniards, Napoleon and Germans twice, to the Brits. There’s an academic consensus about it, and Uncle Joe is wrong once again.
Most importantly, however, he is opposed to his own base. Recent studies suggest, that Americans overwhelmingly, distinctly support a restrained foreign policy and less liberal interventionism and democracy promotion abroad, this stance is even stronger among the Democratic base.
The findings in this survey suggest that American voters are not isolationist. Rather, voters are more accurately described as supporting ‘restrained engagement’ in international affairs—a strategy that favours diplomatic, political, and economic actions over military action when advancing U.S. interests in the world. American voters want their political leaders to make more public investments in the American people in order to compete in the world and to strike the right balance abroad after more than a decade of what they see as military overextension.
Guess who won an election promising just that?
It is a mystery that President Trump cannot transform his foreign policy instincts into electoral support, but one can blame Trump’s poor PR, lack of strict message discipline, and continuous mainstream media opposition for that. The fact remains, however, that Trump is more attuned to a non-interventionist America than his prospective rival Biden.
It is still too early to say what would happen. The primaries and the debates haven’t started yet. While one can be sympathetic to an affable grand-fatherly figure, one should be careful about someone who has repeatedly, to use a liberal catch-phrase, been on the “wrong side of history.”
By David Harsanyi • The Federalist
It’s apparently never too early for presidential politics. Right now, former vice president Joe Biden tops, or nearly tops, every poll assessing the popularity of the potential 2020 Democratic presidential field. Biden, reportedly still mulling over whether 76 is too old to run for president, has claimed he’s the “most qualified person” for the position. Considering the players in the Democratic field, it’s difficult to argue otherwise.
Then again, the idea that experience is a determining factor for voters is a dubious one. The past two president have had little policy experience. Most of the Democratic field––at least the senators––has never voted for any consequential legislation. The most significant position, it seems, is how melodramatic a candidate can get about the imagined dystopia of the Donald Trump era. And when it comes to hyperbole, Biden is a heavyweight. Continue reading
by Joel B. Pollak • Breitbart
Vice President Joe Biden spoke out forcefully against appointing a new Supreme Court justice in an election year–in 1992, when he was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and George H.W. Bush was running for re-election.
Footage of Biden delivering an emphatic floor speech on the subject on June 25, 1992 was unearthed by C-SPAN on Monday. Continue reading
Milton Friedman on Kennedy’s antimetabole
by Scott L. Vanatter
One of the most well-known lines from presidential addresses was written for John F. Kennedy by Ted Sorenson. Kennedy was not the first president to use a speech writer. Presidents have been using speech writers since the beginning. Alexander Hamilton wrote the first draft of George Washington’s Farewell Address. Washington worked with Hamilton till it said just want he wanted. This is the standard and accepted procedure. Not all Presidents have written as elegantly or effectively as Lincoln. Continue reading
During the debate, Vice President made history by surpassing Al Gore for bad, boorish, and rude behavior. He laughed uncontrollably, signed, groaned, and laughed some more and engaged in generally childish antics throughout the debate. Biden’s rude and unprofessional behavior overshadowed the substance of what he said.
But as bizarre and unbalanced as his behavior was during the debate, the substance of what he actually said was perhaps the most troubling. Here are a short list of several of the most obviously false things that Biden said:
1. Afghanistan and Iraq: Biden accused Rep. Paul Ryan of putting two wars on the “credit card” and then bragged that he voted against both of them because he understood America could not afford them. “I was there, I voted against them,” Biden said. “I said, no, we can’t afford that.” But the truth is Sen. Biden voted for the Afghanistan resolution on Sept. 14, 2001 the Iraq resolution on October 11, 2002. It takes some brass to tell whoppers like this one! Continue reading
Post Debate Analysis: Biden was smug, arrogant, condescending, over-bearing and over-aggressive. I’ve never seen a debate where one person was so disrespectful and even contemptuous of his counterpart. He surpassed Al Gore’s famous boorish debate behavior. He is in danger of undercutting himself. That may play well for his base who were depressed after Obama’s almost comatose debate last week. But independents and women will find the rudeness and condescending smirking and laughing annoying. Even at the end when Ryan was thanking the moderator, the audience and Joe Biden for a good debate, Biden was smirking and mugging. That will come back to hurt him. And it shows the true political character of Joe Biden — a pretentious, smirking, condescending lightweight. Continue reading