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by Claude Victor Offray IV, student at Magna Carta School of Politics

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The 2016 presidential elections have confirmed this assertion: Trump’s ascendancy to the White House, for better or for worse, has altered the country’s politics. The apocalyptic consequences of the 2016 elections exclaimed by alarmists, pundits and political commentators have not materialized. The scope and purpose of this article is not to weigh on the merits of Trump’s critics or to provide an analytical assessment of Trump’s presidency, including his unorthodox characteristics. The purpose of this article is to provide a general explanation of the 2020 presidential elections and to highlight what they would signify for Europe.

Theoretical Framework

According to a realist perspective, the United States has finite resources, limited political capacity or will to pursue ambitious policies at home and/or abroad, and has an unsound national deficit of more than $20 trillion. These overarching constraints will influence the country’s maneuverability, commitments and ability to confront new challenges or threats of the 21st century. Progressively, the United States will have to be more selective or adopt a cost-benefit calculation for policy objectives. However, this does not imply that the United States’ diplomatic, military and economic capacity will drastically diminish in the near future: in all three fields, the United States remains unmatched. Although, the U.S. will have to acknowledge that its preeminence will not remain uncontested in perpetuity.

Current events, that indicate that the globe is transitioning to a multipolar one, which would alter the existing power balances, security architecture and generate deeper geopolitical uncertainties, can be understood by taking into consideration the following developments. Firstly, the unlawful militarization and land reclamations by China in the South China Sea increased regional tensions amongst littoral states and poses a threat to UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). Secondly, China’s ambitious and strategic Belt Road Initiative seeks to accomplish and fulfill Mahan’s, Mackinder’s and Spykman’s strategies, thus securing its continental sphere of influence; while, lastly, with Russia’s revanchism.

The misconceived foreign interventions combined with the long-term devastating effects of the 2008 economic crisis have provoked an entire re-evaluation of the United States’ global role and identity. Critics from both camps blamed neoliberalism, neoconservatism, and capitalism for the country’s plight. Most importantly, the unresolved economic and political grievances caused by the 2008 financial crisis, coupled with cultural and demographic changes, accentuated the existing resentment towards the political establishment throughout President Bush’s and President Obama’s administrations. This resentment was never truly quelled – it remained “dormant”, ready to be unleashed.

The desire for change by the electorate was tapped and championed by a non-professional politician – Donald Trump. The success of “America First” in 2016 revealed the zeitgeist of American politics: abandon nation-building schemes, secure the borders, strengthen the American economy, and restore the military’s muscle. However, such nativist or isolationist impulses, which are not historically unprecedented, were ultimately tempered by the “globalist” camp within Trump’s cabinet during his first term. An abrupt cessation of strategic global commitments would have irreversibly eroded the country’s geopolitical posture and global stability.

However, “America First” was successful in obtaining greater defense spending from NATO members for the period of 2016-2020 or in devolving security commitments to partners in the Middle-East. Lastly, the media, when analyzing President Trump, ought to distinguish or to separate, as Stephen Bannon coined, the “signal from the noise.”. Since 2016, critics have focused exclusively on the delivery or on the unpresidential fashion of President Trump’s remarks and behavior. The Trump hysteria clouded the media’s ability to rationally judge his policies. The hyper-sensationalized political commentary that overshadows the Trump’s administration will further foment political and demographic divisions along party-lines. For any democracy, mediation and honest dialogue are fundamental for a polity’s vitality and success. 

The Democratic Party

Since the 2016 Presidential elections, the Democratic Party has been structurally and politically fragmented. The former is evidenced by the existing internal rift or discord between the upper echelons of the party, emblematically represented by the Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, and by the “new wave” of House Representatives, such as Ilhan Omar or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC); while, for the latter, by the role of Senator Bernie Sanders – a self-declared democratic socialist running for the upcoming 2020 Presidential elections. Bernie Sanders and those representatives that endorsed his 2020 candidacy, such as AOC, want to implement progressivism and socialism.

Conversely, the moderates, such as Former Vice President Joe Biden, is less inclined to succumb to progressivism or socialism.

The party’s internal instability was illustrated during President Trump’s first term where the moderates were incapable of mitigating or integrating the passionate radicals within the party’s ranks. If this was a strategic choice to agitate the electorate to muster anti-Trump reactions, unfortunately, it caused an adverse effect causing greater confusion and internal divide.

In the foreign policy sphere, the differences within the Democratic Party oscillate from liberal internationalism to retrenchment or disengagement. Succinctly, the former calls for continuity of the country’s foreign security commitments by employing soft and hard power tools to defend liberalism and democracy wherever threatened; conversely, the latter postulates for greater restraint in foreign interventions or quarrels, and to focus more on domestic problems or contemporary transnational threats, such as climate change. 

2020 Presidential Elections

Out of the initial 24 Democratic candidates running for the 2020 Democratic primaries, so far, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Tulsi Gabbard have remained in the race. However, according to the latest exit polls of “Super Tuesday”, where 14 states and one territory (Alabama, American Samoa, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia) voted for the Democratic primaries, Joe Biden secured the most delegates. In addition, Biden won the endorsements of former presidential candidates such as Beto O’Rourke, Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Andrew Yang. This may signal that the party is closing ranks to support the most favored and competitive candidate for the presidential elections. In addition, Biden won additional votes in Michigan, Mississippi and Missouri on Tuesday, March 10th. In total, Biden has 867, compared to 711 of Sanders, and would need to obtain 1991 delegates for the nomination. Because of Biden’s performance, two of largest Democratic Super PACS decided to work for Biden. Therefore, it is reasonable to predict that Biden will be the Democratic nominee for the 2020 presidential elections.

Politically, Joe Biden, a moderate Democrat, has expressed a more modest political platform. Overall, Biden promises to reverse Trump’s policies, to restore the country’s leadership and respectability in the international community, and to protect the country’s economic and national interests. Biden provided a comprehensive description of his political agenda in his most recent article published on Foreign Affairs.

On the other hand, Sanders promises universal healthcare, big government, and higher taxes. Unambiguously, Senator Sanders is also a proponent of multiculturalism, including “open borders”, supports late term abortion, and wants to implement expensive policies such as the Green New Deal and free education. 

Lastly, the only commonality between the two candidates is their contempt for President Trump. All things considered, Biden is more pragmatic and less of an ideologue compared to Sanders.

How can the results of the upcoming U.S. presidential elections influence transatlantic relations?

Two possible scenarios can occur. If President Trump secures another term, he will consolidate and fortify his administration. Specifically, this outcome will entail the following: it will reinforce and signal to the international community the critical role and nature of nation-states, it will strengthen the resolve of those who defend the rich cultural history of Western civilization, and, lastly, will finally debunk the pervasive anti-Trump hysteria. Trump’s victory would stimulate European States to follow suit in defending the concept of nation-state and the continent’s cultural heritage and identity. Conversely, Biden’s victory will restore the “establishment”, thus the liberal internationalists, in the halls of power.

In essence, Biden’s presidency may translate into a potential continuation of President Obama’s administration, such as strengthening and promoting democracy and liberalism abroad. Even though these policies can be considered noble and legitimate, the contention is evident in the manner they are implemented. For example, Europe is sufficiently acquainted with Biden’s foreign policy blunders, such as the Libyan intervention in 2011, which was justified with the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) premise. The outcome of this intervention is that Libya is a failed state, and a battleground between rival factions (domestic and foreign). Most alarmingly, the topic of Libya has not emerged in the Democratic debates nor in Biden’s latest article published on Foreign Affairs. If Biden were to win, a difficult challenge for him would be his ability to assuage or discipline the internationalists and/or progressive factions within the Democratic Party, and to take into considerations the pillars of the Powell Doctrine within a R2P framework.

Furthermore, the realization of the second scenario will galvanize political forces with the will to shape the world according to their repackaged vision of a new world order. In Europe, supranational entities would want greater legislative and executive centralization and powers, thus further circumscribing the scope and areas of Member States’ sovereignty. A concrete example that attests such development is how the EU established the European Defense Fund in 2017, which lays out the contours of a common defense and security structure, while, more subtlety, the proposition of an EU Army, and, lastly, to radically change and redefine the continent’s economy for the sake of climate change or global warming. In summary, the eventuality of the Democratic Party’s victory will instill them with a sense of hubris to unilaterally implement their policies where prudence will be sacrificed for the sake of satisfying the desires of progressivism.