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International Affairs - US Politics

Trump, like the Taliban, may be on way back in

In a year’s time, the US will be facing into mid-term congressional elections. If the Democrats were to lose their narrow majority in the House of Representatives and/or their razor thin majority in the Senate, President Biden’s term in office might well be converted into a one-term lame duck presidency paving the way for a Republican clean sweep of the presidency and congress in 2024.

Presidents rarely get a favourable mid-term election after they take office. The incumbent generally sees a starting congressional majority, if they have one, weakening at mid-term elections. In normal circumstances, that pattern could be shrugged off as the way of the world. But with the Republican party and its support base still in thrall to Donald Trump and his hard-line supporters, there is a very serious possibility that the 2022 mid-term election would be the overture to a resumed Trump presidency. That is something to fear, even now.

Of course, three years is a long time in politics and there may well be some upset in Trump’s comeback strategy – perhaps linked to his personal finance and tax affairs. But he has amassed a $200 million legal campaign defence fund and has spent none of it on the ridiculous election theft legal campaign led by Rudi Giuliani.

So while prosecutors may be working on court proceedings that will hole Trump below the waterline, the legal danger to Trump still may not materialise or may not do so sufficiently strongly to damage his prospects with his voter base.

In the meantime, Republican congressional candidates in tightly contested fights will avoid any hint of deserting Trump for fear of losing hard-line Trumpist votes. And so, it is unlikely that any Dump Trump bandwagon or challenger will emerge over the next nine or ten months. The Republicans will probably steer right rather than centre for the next year.

The flight from Afghanistan plays very differently in the US than in Europe. The great majority of Americans wanted to withdraw their forces from Kabul, according to polls. If it had been accomplished without loss of US lives, the withdrawal would have been regarded as a political win for Biden. The deaths of US soldiers at Kabul airport prevented such an outcome, which was ironic as the location of the ISIS-K blasts was kept open at the request of the British, according to reports.

For all the huffing and puffing in the UK media, it is now hard to see how things would have turned out very much differently if Biden had prolonged the US presence in an increasingly bloody and beleaguered Kabul. Indeed the column inches devoted in the UK press coverage to the fate of some sanctuary dogs and of their custodian were very hard to credit.

Once the Doha agreement, described by one senior American diplomat on air as the “capitulation” agreement, was concluded by Trump, the Biden administration was left with a poisoned chalice of carrying out the consequences.

The hope for Biden is that US opinion will not punish him for the withdrawal, and opinion poll show a mixed reaction thus far.

Biden has to get on with his political and economic agenda. His infrastructure Bill is his big priority now. If he can get that through Congress, there is reason for him to be optimistic that he can stave off mid-term paralysis for his presidency. The left wing of the Democrats will have to see the political logic of support for centrist economic measures.

Looking beyond the mid-term elections, the question arises as to whether Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket will be re-electable in 2024. Even if the Democrats preserve their congressional majority or have a workable cross-party scenario after 2022, the question arises as to whether their chances in 2024 would be improved by a different ticket.

Opinion polls hold out little chance that Kamala Harris could win the White House as the presidential candidate in 2024. It might be that a real Democrat challenger to Biden will emerge in the coming months. Making predictions is futile at this point, but the Democrats must sense the danger that they are facing if they stick to a somewhat tired Biden/Harris ticket.

It is one thing to realise that danger; it is a different thing entirely to address and overcome it. Is there a credible, sustainable political pathway to a different candidate-offering, barring a disastrous mid-term election outcome?

On the Republican side, the question also arises as to whether there is a credible, sustainable political pathway to any nominee for the presidency other than Trump himself.

For us in Europe, there are dark clouds on the horizon. Just as the Texas Taliban is intent on criminalising women who seek an abortion and bankrupting anyone who helps them, our focus is on the fate of Afghan women.

Trump, like the Taliban, may be on the way back. Some thought.

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