China is a trump card for President Trump in November elections

President Donald Trump is fighting the battle of his lifetime. His political fortunes, which have been on the slide since the Covid-19 outbreak as the US became the mostaffected nation in the world, are witnessing interesting twists of late. Interestingly, there are some favourable trends emerging for Trump. If some recent reports and poll ratings […]

President Donald Trump is fighting the battle of his lifetime. His political fortunes, which have been on the slide since the Covid-19 outbreak as the US became the mostaffected nation in the world, are witnessing interesting twists of late.

Interestingly, there are some favourable trends emerging for Trump. If some recent reports and poll ratings are to be believed, President Trump is narrowing his rating percentage gap against Democrat opponent Joe Biden. The latest rating gap has shrunk to little over 6%, which was earlier in a double digit. Most important, the unemployment crisis, which gripped the US since the Covid-19 outbreak in March and hit a record high of 14.7% has dipped to 10.2% in July. It is still far higher than what was prior to the pandemic (in February, the US unemployment rate was just 3.5%)

 Insiders and poll watchers, many of who do not want to be quoted as they are “enjoying the benefits of Trump’s largesse (stimulus packages, employment benefits and payroll tax cut) say, the unemployment rate, the way it is declining, if goes to single digit and even to 7% or 8% by November polls, it will be a huge boon for Trump’s poll prospects. Given the situation the US has faced since the virus outbreak in March, a single-digit unemployment and political acceptance rating gap shrinking around 5% will hold key to President Trump’s re-election.

A businessman to the core, Trump knows that nothing talks better than money. Interestingly his stimulus packages and economic benefits have started to make the buzz around. And if his recent announcements made on Saturday about $400 a week in employment benefits, suspension of student loans, stalling eviction of tenants by renters and asking employers to defer payroll taxes start delivering to his political game plan, “he’s home”, say many, but have not ruled out that all depends on how economic status of the US pans out in next three months.But both Joe Biden and his Democrat supporters agree to the fact that the anti-China stance of the US and the defence mobilisation in the South China Sea by President Trump have taken off the political limelight in the latter’s favour.

 “China is the trump card for President Trump in this election,” says Mukesh Aghi, president and CEO of the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) adding, “China is the trump card, where he gets bipartisan support. Aggressive stance — economically, militarily and technologically against China will win more votes… Therefore, India has a wonderful opportunity on aligning closely with the US on the China issue.”

 President Trump has got his anti-China rant working in his favour, first by having the world on his side and second by rattling China’s Asian Giant status in the South China Sea. Besides, the US banning Chinese firms, imposing sanctions against top officials, including cancelling visas of many Chinese workers and professionals, allegedly involved in ‘espionage of US top security and defence secrets’ have changed the political atmosphere completely, somewhat tilting in Trump’s favour, lately.

Besides Trump anti-China wrath in his speeches and on his social media handles, hinting at the beginning of a new Cold War with Beijing, his administration is not far behind in conveying what many say, “the reversal of US policy”. At a recent event organised by President Richard Nixon’s family, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said something which would have not only given uncomfortable moments to the Nixon family, but also riled many Democrats. Pompeo said: “We, the free nations of the world, must induce change in the Chinese Communist Party’s behaviour in more creative and assertive ways, because Beijing’s actions threaten our people and our prosperity. The truth is that our policies — and those of other free nations — resurrected China’s failing economy, only to see Beijing bite the international hands that fed it.” Quoting his speech, a US media report said, Pompeo took a dig at the US policy of “blind engagement”, that had allowed Beijing to “rip off US intellectual property and trade secrets”, endanger the world’s waterways, exploit international trade, and expand espionage in a quest for “global dominance.” In a way, he attacked Nixon’s policy of engagement that benefitted Beijing more than it benefited the US.

Pompeo’s provocative speech — the last of four on China in recent weeks by top U officials, including Attorney General William Barr, the FBI director Christopher Wray, and the national-security adviser Robert O’Brien — represent a total policy reversal by the Trump Administration. The speeches are the talking point as the election fever hits the maximum and China is set to be the decider in November polls.

 Although, it is still a distant dream and no one can say with certainty about the next in line for the White House as poll ratings still favour Joe Biden. But, not all are judging this battle by acceptance ratings only.

Walter Andersen, a former diplomat and Professor in Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC, says: “The polls still suggest that Biden has the national lead. Keep mind that Clinton similarly had a lead at this point in 2016. But keep a few things in mind, the decision is based on a state-by-state calculation — and so far it is too early to make a definitive call.”

Added Aghi, “Polls will fluctuate as we get nearer to the election. Question is the electoral voters’ statistics in the swing states. States such as Michigan, Wisconsin, where Trump won by a small margin last time, will matter. These states seem to be going against Trump in current polls.” Interestingly many states in 2016, including Michigan and Pennsylvania, gave a negative rating against Trump just 24 hours before the polls. But in the end, Trump managed to win these “strategic states”.

However, political analysts like Aparna Pande, Director of Hudson Institute, prefer to go by the rule book, in this case poll ratings. “Slight movement up and down in ratings will continue right till elections and is natural. What we as political scientists look at is what are the broader trends and on that front Biden appears to be having the advantage in most states across the country.’’

Pande, however, agrees like others that China will be a factor in the US polls. “There is a broad consensus with respect to the threat from China and this consensus is bipartisan. So whoever wins the November elections the broad contours of China, or for that matter US foreign policy, will not change that much. There will be nuanced differences, yes.’’

Andersen too agrees that China will be a decider for Trump. “On China, it is Chinese assertiveness rather than any steps taken by the Trump administration that has created the current sour relationships. Moreover there is a bipartisan view that China is a security threat (one of the few where this situation exists),” Andersen told The Daily Guardian.

With the time left, President Trump cannot keep waiting to let the economic packages speak for him. He has to change the narrative coming out against him from the “older white males and suburban white women”, says Aghi. “Three factors will be key — economy, health and race relations. Economy is recovering somewhat, while the Covid-19 is out of control and there is a lack of empathy in regards to the race issue. The challenge Trump faces is that part of his base older white male, suburban white women are slowly abandoning him due to his callousness towards Covid-19 crisis…The negative press on Covid-19 will continue as the death numbers increase. With all the resources, technology, research available, the US should not be in this situation. Science should have led rather than politics and that is seen as failure on part of the administration,” says Aghi leaving the debate open if a possible vaccine before the elections will leave the Democrats trumped completely.

 But he needs more at this critical juncture to work for him and perhaps “some magic” may work for him at this moment. Says Andersen: “He has the bad fortune to be president at the time of crisis — and there is almost inevitably criticism of a head of state’s handling of a complex crisis like this. He will need some breakthroughs in this area to gain the measure of support he will need to win the election.’’

Pande agrees: “The Covid issue and the response to the pandemic remain dominant in the eyes of the majority of Americans. Unless something positive happens on that front, Prez Trump’s numbers and approval will continue to be hit by this issue.”