Prospective Presidencies: Trump vs. Biden

“Four More Years: A Trump Victory” By

As another fraught Presidential election cycle comes to a climax, there seems to be one prevailing line of agreement amongst the confusion of a polarised American electorate: it’s not looking good for the incumbent Donald Trump. As of the time of writing, The Economist gives the President an astonishingly low 5% chance of electoral college victory, with his best case projected scenario lower than his 2016 total.

Yet, one can’t help but notice a general unease in Liberal circles. All signs point to a Biden victory, and an end to a particularly controversial presidency, but Democrats are still reeling from Trump’s first shocking upset four years ago. Any range of factors could still fall in Trump’s favour. This could be an overperformance in the Rust Belt, lower turnout in battleground states like Georgia due to voter suppression or problems of spoiled mail-in ballots, or any post-election judicial decisions siding with the president. Anything is possible, but what would a second term look like for Trump in reality?

Indeed, a second-term president is one to let loose to do whatever they want

First of all, the next four years offer a different sort of opportunity to the last: the President need not worry about re-election chances. Indeed, a second-term president is one let loose to do whatever they want. Not that political calculation has ever really stopped the incumbent from acting on his impulses, but many have suggested that a Donald Trump unencumbered by the spectre of re-election may lead to even riskier and more aggressive domestic, and even more importantly foreign policy agendas. Expect further bellicosity in his exchanges with China, the possibility of armed conflict with Iran, and potentially even a revival of nuclear brinkmanship with North Korea. Despite the unpredictability of where and when Trump bestows favour on a foreign rival, he isn’t likely to be on friendly terms with everyone.

On the home front, much will depend on how the state of Covid-19 in the US develops, as well as the political makeup of both chambers of Congress. Coronavirus has been arguably one of Trump’s biggest failures, with American having by far the highest number of cases and deaths in the world. He has consistently criticised the scientific advice of popular experts like Anthony Fauci, and unless a vaccine is produced quickly, general unrest due to Covid could eat into his second term policy agenda quite considerably.

On the home front, much will depend on how the state of Covid-19 in the US develops

On the issue of Congress, Democrats are currently predicted to keep the House and flip the Senate, meaning a Trump presidency would have an extremely difficult time passing legislation until at least the midterms in 2022. Plans to continue his border wall, reduce taxes, and repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act will no doubt run into severe opposition from Democrats, and, like Barack Obama before him, much of his agenda may be irreconcilably stifled.

Maybe all of this predicting will prove futile in the end. Trump is by his nature an unpredictable man driven by his impulsive ramblings on Twitter. Attempting to chart a course for his second term agenda will likely result in horrifically off-piste policy making. Indeed, if one is to predict anything with certainty, it’s to expect the unexpected.

“Governing from the Centre: A Biden Victory” by

Whilst Donald Trump proved in 2016 that all elections come with a certain amount of unpredictability, at the moment all signs point to a Biden victory in the upcoming US Presidential election. However, the direction a Biden presidency will take is still up for debate; so far the detail of his agenda has been left relatively unscrutinised, with his main pitch to voters focusing far more on what he stands against in the form of Donald Trump, than the policy proposals he would favour once in office.  

Biden will be counting on a Democratic trifecta upon inauguration, as his best chances of implementing his agenda rest upon Democratic majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Even if this is the case, it is unclear to what extent the Democratic coalition will fall apart in the following months and years – up until now Biden’s supporters have been united more through hatred for Donald Trump, than love for the former Vice-President.

Biden supporters have been united more through hatred for Donald Trump

It is likely that Biden will try to govern from the centre, with his past record indicating his views are more closely aligned to the traditional Democratic party establishment, than the more radical wing of his party. His proposals on healthcare are significant but modest, favouring an expansion of the public option by building upon Obamacare, rather than a Medicare-for-All system. Biden has similarly shied away from embracing more radical proposals to tackle climate change, such as the Green New Deal as championed by the likes of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But Biden might struggle to keep the appetite for a more radical policy agenda among those on the left of his party in check, as support for more ‘socialist’ policies continues to gain popularity amongst the party faithful, as well as the wider American public.

There is no doubt that upon assuming the Presidency, Biden will first attempt to tackle the crisis at hand – the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, the Democrats and Republicans in Congress are in the midst of negotiating a stimulus bill to help the ailing US economy, although it is unlikely that the two sides will reach an agreement before the election. The size of any Biden relief package will depend on the extent to which he bows to the demands of the deficit-hawks within his own party, although the fact Senator Bernie Sanders would likely assume the Chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee perhaps suggests the stimulus would be larger rather than smaller.

Biden might struggle to suppress the appetite for a more radical policy agenda

The confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett as a Supreme Court Justice also poses a significant problem for an incoming Biden administration. Liberals now face a 6-3 deficit on America’s highest court, which will likely be called upon to rule on cases integral to Biden’s agenda over the next four years. Up to this point Biden has remained tight-lipped as to whether he would consider expanding the number of Justices to overturn the conservative majority on the court, but support for the idea has been gaining traction in Democratic circles, increasing the likelihood of such a move.

Even with a resounding victory in the November 3rd election, it is clear that the success of a Biden Presidency is heavily reliant upon a united Democratic coalition in Congress, as well as the elimination of a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. In reality, the only certainty is that Biden will be a very different President to his predecessor, as his campaign has marked a clear shift away from the divisiveness and volatility that has defined the last four years of American politics.

Image: Emma Kaden via Flickr

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