US Presidential Elections
Amb D P Srivastava, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

The Republican and Democratic Conventions reflect the differing party philosophies and the contrasting personalities of the two candidates. President Trump emphasized national security, law and order, and low taxes. Biden called for social justice, racial equality, and medicare. Trump hit out at China. Candidate Biden made only a passing reference to that country. Trump’s speech was crafted to appeal to his core constituency. Biden was trying to move to the middle ground, a traditional stance of Presidential candidates after winning the nomination to attract the swing voters.

President Trump in his speech accepting Republican Party nomination on 28th August used the White House setting to evoke the memory of its illustrious occupants. His choice of venue has been criticized as a departure from the convention. What is interesting is the selection of predecessors. They represent an interventionist foreign policy. Teddy Roosevelt’s famous saying was ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick’. President Andrew Jackson expanded American frontiers. Grant and Eisenhower were Generals. He also mentioned Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. They are part of the American legend. President Roosevelt was mentioned in the context of the Second World War. This fits in with his philosophy of laying stress on strong defence and national security.

International relations was a major focus area of President Trump’s speech. His global scan ranged from China, NATO, trade deals, protecting American jobs to the Middle East. But the reference to China went beyond foreign policy to American voter’s concern for jobs. He criticized Biden for voting to ‘ship our jobs to China and many other distant lands.’1 He stressed that his Administration took ‘the toughest, boldest, strongest and hardest-hitting action against China in American history so far.’2 He said Biden ‘cheered the rise of China as a positive development for the world.’3 He added ‘That is why China supports Joe Biden and it desperately wants him to win.’4 He said that ‘China would own our country if Joe Biden got elected.’5

President Trump candidly traced the origin of COVID, which has devastated the global economy. He mentioned China’s contribution to ‘once in a century pandemic that China allowed to spread around the globe.’6 He added that ‘They could have stopped it, but they allowed it to come out.’7 He said ‘when the China virus hit, we launched the largest national mobilization since World War II.’8 He described the efforts of his Administration to combat COVID. At the same time, he distanced his position from Biden’s stand for declaring a lock-down if necessary.

President Trump described Biden as a ‘Trojan horse for socialism’9. His sharpest remark was about left-wing of the Democratic Party supporting Biden. He asked ‘If Joe Biden doesn’t have the strength to stand upto wild-eyed Marxists like Bernie Sanders and his fellow radicals’, ‘then how is ever going to stand up for you?’10 Trump mentioned at length Biden’s voting record on a range of issues adding that ‘He supported China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, one of the greatest economic disasters of all time.’11 This may be true, but ignores the fact that the US’s romance with China was started under the Republican Administration of President Nixon. Kissinger was a great votary for building up China to counter the Soviet Union. If this was a tactical response to the Cold War, it does not explain the continuation of the policy after the Cold War had ended. By that time, there was the Democratic Administration of President Clinton in power. China finally entered WTO in 2001, when the Bush Administration had come to power.

Unlike President Trump, Candidate Biden did not touch foreign policy issues in his speech on 21st August accepting the Democratic Party nomination. There was only a passing reference to China in the context of the ‘medical supplies and the protective equipment our country needs’12. He said ‘we’ll make them here in America.’ In this context, he added ‘So we will never again be at the mercy of China and other foreign countries…’13 Biden’s speech focussed on domestic issues and criticized President Trump’s response to the pandemic, economic situation, and job losses.

Biden stressed hope over fear. He said ‘United we can, and will, overcome this season of darkness in America. We will choose hope over fear, facts over fiction, and fairness over privilege.’14 He promised that he will follow a non-partisan policy as President. He stated that ‘while I will be a Democratic candidate, I will be an American president.’ He added that the job of a president is ‘To represent all of us, not just our base or our party.’15 He said that ‘America is at an inflection point’16.

Biden attacked President Trump’s record on pandemic, economy and job losses. He asked the voters ‘to judge this president on the facts’17. He pointed out that 5 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19, more than 170,000 Americans have died. ‘He said that ‘more than 50 million people have filed for unemployment this year, and more than 10 million people are going to lose their health insurance this year.’ 18 He said that ‘the assault on the Affordable Care Act will continue’.19 He evoked President Obama’s legacy.

Race relations were addressed by both the candidates. President Trump mentioned the historical context of the abolition of slavery and the passage of civil rights. His stress was on maintaining law and order. Biden specifically mentioned George Floyd’s murder and quoted John Lewis that America was ready to lay down ‘the heavy burden of hate at last”20.

Biden said that ‘our economy is in tatters’21. He spelled out his vision for America, though avoided getting involved in too many details. He stressed the need for developing infrastructure as a new foundation for economic growth. Though he avoided a protectionist pitch, his speech referred to ‘5 million new manufacturing and technology jobs so the future is made in America.’22 (Emphasis mine) This is perhaps not too different from President Trump’s stress on protecting American jobs.

Two areas where Trump and Biden differed radically were climate change and taxation issues. They represent the traditional fault lines of American politics. Biden said that “We can, and we will, deal with climate change. It’s not only a crisis, it’s an enormous opportunity.’23 He described the opportunity in terms of clean energy and creating ‘millions of new good-paying jobs.’24 President Trump took credit for ending ‘the unfair and very costly Paris climate accord’25. Biden described climate change as an ‘existential threat’26.

President Trump also highlighted his approval to ‘the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines’27. He also stressed his Administration’s success in securing, ‘for the first time, American energy independence’28. The credit for this goes to American experts and entrepreneurs who developed Shale Gas technology. This preceded the Trump Administration.

On taxation, Biden said ‘We don’t need a tax code that rewards wealth more than it rewards work’29. He added ‘it’s long past time the wealthiest people and the biggest corporations in this country paid their fair share.’30 President Trump boasted ‘We passed record-setting tax and regulation cuts at a rate nobody has ever seen before’31.

While Biden is leading in the polls at the moment, it is still an open race. The American elections, like elections in democracies anywhere, are unpredictable. Regardless of which candidate wins, America will remain the most important country for the rest of the world. The American attention, however, is turning inwards. Where President Trump and candidate Biden converge is their focus on the American economy and American jobs. This is how it should be. This limits the scope of change in US policies on immigration and trade – two areas of interest to India. The third area is their respective views on China. Here a broad consensus may be forming across the party lines in America.

  1., Full Transcript: President Trump’s Republican National Convention Speech.
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. Ibid
  5. Ibid
  6. Ibid
  7. Ibid
  8. Ibid
  9. Ibid
  10. Ibid
  11. Ibid
  12., Read Joe Biden’s full 2020 Democratic National Convention speech.
  13. Ibid
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid
  16. Ibid
  17. Ibid
  18. Ibid
  19. Ibid
  20. Ibid
  21. Ibid
  22. Ibid
  23. Ibid
  24. Ibid
  25., Full Transcript: President Trump’s Republican National Convention Speech.
  26., Read Joe Biden’s full 2020 Democratic National Convention speech.
  27., Full Transcript: President Trump’s Republican National Convention Speech.
  28. Ibid
  29., Read Joe Biden’s full 2020 Democratic National Convention speech.
  30. Ibid
  31., Full Transcript: President Trump’s Republican National Convention Speech.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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