US elections: Republican consolidation, Democratic disintegration
Divisions between Democrats and united Republican support for Trump could spell continued Trump-style administration
With a presidential election looming this fall, the atmosphere in the U.S. is tenser than ever.
Since winning office in November 2016, Donald Trump has broken all taboos with his “one-of-a-kind” leadership style.
Signs may indicate the continuation of a Trump-style administration, flouting traditional ways in the U.S.
The two main political parties are currently evaluating their prospects, assessing the future, and thinking about the factors that might mean a complete shift in administrative style and abandoning tradition.
With Trump found not guilty in his impeachment trial with the support of the Republican majority, the U.S. has now shifted its focus solely to the election.
That the Democratic Party presidential primaries have started with the contenders at odds with one another has put the focus on U.S. domestic policy.
The Democratic primary process, starting with the Iowa and New Hampshire caucuses will not be final until Super Tuesday, when the largest number of states and territories hold a presidential preference primary or caucus, set to happen on March 3.
After Super Tuesday and the other primaries, the top Democratic contenders for president will be clear.
In the context of Super Tuesday, the position of major states such as California, Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, Arkansas, Alabama, Maine, Massachusetts, and Minnesota – all of them with diverse populations (and delegates) – will be decided.
For that reason, March 3 will be a significant and decisive date for Democrats.
Election snafu damages Democratics’ reputation
The irregularities and mistakes in the Iowa primaries may lead to an erosion of public support for the Democrats.
If we look back, we will recall that the Democrats appealed for an inquiry into irregularities and mistakes after the 2016 elections, also claiming there were strong doubts regarding Russia’s involvement, which did not result in anything concrete from a legal point of view.
The American public might direct its support to Trump, believing that the Democratic Party does not function properly anymore, falsely accusing Trump of election irregularities and trying to impeach him through a Ukraine-related case.
The most recent Gallup polls indicate that the Republican president has at least 10% more public support than before the impeachment trial.
So it seems that the Democrats’ failures in the primaries and the impeachment trial going nowhere in the Senate have cost them some public support.
One of the most important issues for the Democrats is to prove Trump is a “wrong choice” for government and to discredit his “pop-star” image, which borders on enchanting some portions of the public.
One of the main arguments used by the Democrats is that his use of social media and public debates with high-ranking officials and even his own Cabinet secretaries (such as what recently happened with Attorney General William Barr, whom he appointed himself) are in open conflict with American values and render the state apparatus completely meaningless.
Similarly, serious problems with America’s European allies in the Trump era (especially in trade and security), the weakening of the Euro-Atlantic bloc, and criticism that disagreements within NATO benefit Russia and China also reflect the Democrats’ approach to foreign policy.
A related issue to be stressed is that after certain disagreements with some “traditional” allies, these countries are moving further away from the U.S. in line with their own interests.
In this context, it seems that the stances of countries such as Pakistan and Turkey will be among the issues that Democrats will mention quite frequently, especially as the convergence between Turkey and Russia draws more interest from the Democrats than Trump.
Trump’s most important leverage
It seems Trump’s economic success will make Democrats’ job a bit harder.
During his presidency, Trump has prioritized issues such as production and growth, and he has achieved success in reducing unemployment.
Specifically, with the trade agreement with China signed in January 2020, a step has been taken to protect U.S. markets.
The updating of the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA (created by the U.S. along with Canada and Mexico) in the direction of U.S. interests and many American companies starting to re-invest in the U.S. are also counted among Trump’s economic achievements.
Eroding Barack Obama’s healthcare reform, pulling out of environmental deals within the UN, and aggressive steps for shale gas/oil production are also regarded as achievements by the Trump administration, while the Democrats view them as missteps.
In addition, changes to immigration law still being on hold have disappointed Trump supporters and the conservative wing of the Republican Party.
But to the Democrats, these delays are their success.
They view the immigration law as an attempt to build walls on the Mexican border and slap double standards on immigrants.
A similar situation is seen in terms of gun laws.
Although Trump wants legislation to woo gun supporters, Democrats firmly oppose this.
This issue is among the most basic issues that the country cannot find middle ground on, along with immigration law and healthcare reform.
Trump’s Middle East policies, which serve Israel’s interests alone, are not wholly rejected by the Democrats.
Initiatives such as the so-called “Deal of the Century,” meant to boost the election prospects of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are seen as attempts that might drive American allies in the region further away from Washington, resulting in disadvantages for Israel in the long run.
A similar situation applies to relations with Russia.
In the Trump era, the Democrats emphasize Russia’s convergence with former Soviet regions and even its visibility in the Middle East.
They also view the deepening relations between China and Russia and Russia and India as negative developments for the U.S., charging that Trump did not work in to help the U.S. on these issues.
Trump is all but certain to be the Republicans’ presidential candidate.
A number of candidates aiming to run against him have not found enough support and have now withdrawn.
The only one still running is former Massachusetts Governor William F. Weld. However, he is expected to withdraw shortly.
Although there are factions criticizing Trump within the Republican party, the party has still managed to take its steps in unison.
This unity was also seen in both wings of Congress during the impeachment trial.
That the only Republican name to vote against Trump among the Senate Republicans was Mitt Romney also points to this.
Wooing evangelicals and choosing his vice president (Mike Pence) from among them, Trump also maintained his influence among the evangelicals with his moves in the Middle East and the so-called “Deal of the Century.”
Southern states and the Midwest Republican states are fairly content with Trump administration policies.
US 2-party structure may change
Despite the bump in the support they expect from their criticisms of Trump, Democrats are still dealing with their own internal disagreements and fragmentations.
Though expected to internally criticize and evaluate themselves and return to the political realm stronger after Obama, Democrats now face serious confusion despite their majority in the U.S. House.
The leftist approach represented by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who ran against Hilary Clinton and lost during the 2016 elections, and the general “moderate liberal” approach of the party are in conflict.
Democrats are seriously concerned with this issue, which also sows divisions between urban and rural voters.
Making use of this confusion, the Trump administration is trying to divert the Democratic voter base to their side, especially by emphasizing Sanders’ “radical” words and promises.
Divisions between Democrats have reached such a level that, since 2016, there are even those who believe that Sanders – an independent who caucuses with the Democrats – should break from the Democrats and start a new party, altering the two-party structure in the U.S. altogether.
During the primary season, many “moderate liberals” or “left-leaning” figures sought the Democratic candidacy.
But as financial and political support was lacking, most of these names bowed out.
There are a few among them who stand out, especially Joe Biden, who was also involved in Trump’s impeachment and served as vice president under Obama.
Biden is the most figure in the party’s “moderate liberal” wing.
However, the impeachment process left him quite worn out.
Along with his advancing age and his long career in politics, the most important feature which makes his job tougher in the eyes of the young voters is that he is a “colorless and odorless moderate.”
Some Democrats do not view this traditionalist candidate as inspiring.
This situation was reflected in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries as well, leaving Biden in the background.
His biggest aim now to leave Super Tuesday with a win, refreshing his leadership claims.
Moderate’ Democrats anxious
Among the other candidates running along the same lines as Biden, 38-year-old Pete Buttigieg, a former military officer and currently mayor of South Bend, Indiana, stands out.
A moderate liberal, he puts the most emphasis on education and LGBT rights and has scored successes in both primaries.
As the only openly gay candidate running for president, he is found very interesting and has a high potential to attract votes from young people.
However, his disadvantages are that he is unpopular among the African-American community (Biden has a great advantage in this respect) and is not very well known.
Another name along the same lines is Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Focusing her campaign on investments in infrastructure, health care reform, and reducing drug prices, Klobuchar was disappointed when she fell behind in the primaries in neighboring Iowa. Klobuchar is expected to withdraw from candidacy and support another “moderate” liberal name.
Another moderate liberal candidate is a billionaire and a former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg.
Bloomberg joined the run quite late, and he chose not to be a part of the primaries and focused his entire economic power on states in Super Tuesday.
With a huge ad campaign in these states and throughout the U.S., Bloomberg’s biggest advantage is his billionaire wallet.
His career as the mayor of New York can be seen as a successful one, he is well-known throughout the country, and is working with a very professional and comprehensive team.
His biggest disadvantages are, on the other hand, is that he is quite old and as a billionaire, he is ignorant of many problems faced by ordinary people.
Bloomberg is focusing his campaign on immigration reform, technological development, and the fight against climate change.
He is expected to fight for the “moderate liberal” votes along with Biden or Buttigieg.
The most important name of the left or “radical” wing is Bernie Sanders.
The 78-year old Vermont Senator, although he lost to Hilary Clinton in 2016 and had a heart attack in October 2019, joined the Democratic primaries and has so far shown a powerful performance, making him an ambitious candidate.
Calling himself a “democrat socialist,” Sanders has an avid supporter base who stand behind him no matter what.
Many among this base are “volunteering” in his campaign.
In addition, Sanders is known to have one of the largest campaign war chests. In the primaries, Sanders announced his aim to “unseat Trump” and showed that he focused on Trump directly, rather than other Democratic candidates.
However, Sanders’ candidacy and rhetoric have disturbed the majority of “moderate” names in the party.
This disturbance might even drive the Democrat voter base to not vote for him if he is nominated.
His promises of free health care for everyone, taxing the rich more than the poor, raising the minimum wage, and free university education create a specific tension within the business world.
Democrat party notables also share this concern.
Sanders is seen as a candidate with greater potential to attract votes from African-Americans and immigrants.
As one of the most prominent candidates, if he fails in the campaign or is forced to withdraw by other Democrats, the expectation of a “new political wave/party” might gain more stamina.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, positioned along a similar vein as Sanders, is focused on tax reform and abortion rights.
Although she did not score the successes she expected in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, she did not lose hope for Super Tuesday.
However, a great portion of Warren’s voter base might have defected to Sanders.
It seems that the spat between her and Sanders before the primaries cost her more votes than Sanders.
She was expected to show stronger performance in the primaries. If she withdraws from the race, her supporters are expected to go to Sanders.
It appears that the 2020 elections will be one of the most important events in U.S. history.
Republicans’ consolidated and united image behind Trump brings the focus of the process to the struggles between the Democratic candidates.
The moderate/left (radical) quarrels between the Democrat candidate nominees are prone to create consequences that could impact the Democrats, the elections process, and the very fabric of U.S. politics.
The competition in the party might easily be transformed into a face-off between “the established order” and change advocates.
The U.S. elections will also reflect the dilemma between Trump-type “one-person” leadership and the traditional leadership conforming to bureaucracy.
[Gokturk Tuysuzoglu is a professor of international relations at Giresun University in Turkey's Black Sea region]
*Translated by Firdevs Bulut of Anadolu Agency English News Desk in Ankara.
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