WASHINGTON DC: One-term US presidents hardly ever have another bite to eat. It is because they admit their defeat at the polls. Donald Trump, on the other hand, told his supporters he would be tempted to beat Democrats for the third time.
Most Republican voters still believe last year’s election was stolen. It’s hard to imagine Trump would face a serious Tory rival if he ran again in 2024.
To some extent, he should thank Joe Biden for that. After defending popular spending bills in his first two months, Biden deprived Republicans of populist economic criticism.
READ: Commentary: Joe Bidens quietly revolutionary First 100 days
Trump showed in 2016 that embracing a great government was no obstacle to becoming his candidate for the party. The libertarian impulse is barely noticeable among today’s Republican voters, many of whom are happy with Bidenomics.
The energy of the holidays is therefore increasingly devoted to cultural resentment. More than half of Republican voters support the use of force to defend the traditional American way of life.
Elected Republicans now often refer to themselves as the party of the working class. In Western democratic terms, republican ideology has more in common with Marine Le Pens Rassemblement National in France than with, say, the British Conservative Party, let alone the German Christian Democrats.
The party is moving closer to white nationalism. What does this mean for the future of American democracy?
READ: Commentary: After Trump, what future awaits the US Republican Party?
CURVES ON THE VOTE
The first quarter of 2021 provided a narrative of two very different national moods.
In the first three weeks, non-Trumpian Americans were gripped by fears that Trump might somehow overturn the Bidens Electoral College victory before he was sworn in. The violent storming of Capitol Hill on January 6 gave credence to these concerns.
Supporters of then-US President Donald Trump at the United States Capitol on January 6 AFP / Joseph Prezioso
Then night turned to day as Biden capitalized on the vaccine rollout and enthusiasm for his legislative agenda. It’s too easy to forget about Trump’s nightmare closing days and proclaim the Americas back to democratic health.
But that would be premature. One of the two main parties is now openly rejecting the rules of the game and making a concerted attempt to ensure that any replay of the 2020 election would produce the opposite result.
Republicans across the United States are acting in concert to enact strict restrictions on voting. Georgia, which has just passed a bill that makes it an offense to provide food or water to voters in queues (a burden that Georgian Republicans say is the responsibility of disproportionately to predominantly black constituencies), paved the way.
Similar measures are about to be adopted in other Republican-controlled states. Meanwhile, Republicans in Washington are unanimously opposed to a Democratic bill, the For the People Act, that would make it easier to vote across the country.
READ: Commentary: What lies behind the allegations of voter fraud in the US election
(Listen to Professor Chan Heng Chee and BowerGroupAsia CEO James Carouso explain how America came to be so deeply divided amid the bitterly contested 2020 election on Heart of the Matter 🙂
PRO-BUSINESS AND ANTI-GLOBALIST AGENDA
None of this means that the party has no economic program. Republicans continue to oppose any kind of business regulation and almost all taxes.
But the mood of the public, which has tilted towards collective action during the pandemic, has forced them to stifle those priorities. In a memo leaked to Axios last week, two prominent Republicans argued that the party should pursue a pro-business and anti-globalist agenda.
The party will appear insulting Wall Street even as it blocks attempts to raise capital gains taxes. It will be anti-corporate in word, but pro-billionaire in action; blue collar workers on the air, but protecting offshore tax shelters in practice; the public order party that insists the 2020 election was stolen.
The gulf between the working class rhetoric of the Republican parties and its plutocratic budget program will continue to widen. The bridge between them is culture, which must support an increasingly heavy load.
Old-fashioned panics over issues such as marriage equality bring diminishing returns. There may be some gain in opposing vaccine passports and complaining about closed schools. Teacher unions are often a worthy target.
Yet these are insignificant compared to the existential fear of a multiracial America.
READ: Commentary: Unusual and huge bigotry has long been directed against Asian Americans
TWO BIG MORE FOR REPUBLICANS
Republicans have two big advantages for them. The first is anti-outgoing. If history is any guide, Democrats are likely to lose control of the House of Representatives and Senate in the upcoming midterm elections.
This would stop Bidens’ national agenda, which would facilitate his defeat two years later. The average loss for a party of first-term presidents is one Senate and 23 House seats. Biden can only afford to lose five in the House and none in the Senate.
Their second advantage is what the Republican memo describes as leftist cultural elitism. Much of it is hype that has little to do with most people’s lives.
READ: Commentary: Joe Biden won’t be able to unify the United States
Biden was careful not to encourage the more enlightened elements of his party. Moreover, it is difficult to portray him as unpatriotic. Biden is perhaps the Democratic Party closest to Ronald Reagan, a genius old man with a spirit of optimism.
But the immigration crisis on the US-Mexico border will only get worse. Biden entrusted Kamala Harris, his vice president, with the unenviable task of finding a solution. Likewise, the cultural left is unlikely to remain at rest for long.
If Biden stepped down in 2024, Republicans would have an easier time portraying Harris, or almost any other candidate, as the anti-American Democrat they dream of. Trump seems likely to hang around for such an opening.
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