Not that they loved Joe Biden, but that they loathed Donald Trump

In 44 BC Rome was the seat of global political power. Standing on the pulpit to address the multitude, Senator Brutus, who had been the last to slay his friend, Julius Caesar, gave his individual testimony of why he acted the way he acted, and said: “it’s not that I loved Caesar less, but it’s that I loved Rome more”.

More than two millennia later, it is the turn for a former Senator in today’s political superpower, in the United States, to rise to the pinnacle of political office. To rephrase Brutus’ speech to reflect the 2020 US presidential elections result, ‘it was not that the people loved Joe Biden, it’s simply that they loathe Donald Trump.’

Trump now becomes the fifth US President in the last 100 years, to be a one-term President, following in the footsteps of the late George HW Bush, the last Republican one term-President. Also, the 96-year-old Jimmy Carter, living long enough to see Georgia go blue — again, not seen since Bill Clinton’s run in 1992.

Other US Presidents who lost in their rerun for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue were Gerald Ford and Herbert Hoover.

There’s an interesting pattern that is emerging here. What makes a one-term President?

Three out of the four US Presidents mentioned above had a massive crisis to deal with. Carter had the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, which culminated in the miraculous release of the hostages on the day his successor Ronald Reagan was being inaugurated. Hoover, who lost in 1932 to the famed Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), had the Great Depression to deal with. Bush senior forgot that “ it’s the economy, stupid “. Clinton’s famed campaign credo saw statesman President George HW Bush, who had just won the Gulf War, overseen the collapse of the Soviet Union, been a ‘veep’ to a popular US President, and an established hand in foreign affairs (as a diplomat and CIA director), lose to a rookie unknown Governor of Arkansas.

Bush senior, despite his foreign policy accomplishments, had a minor recession that hit during his term, and allowed Clinton who stated that he would not celebrate the death of the Soviet Union overseas, while the American Dream was dying at home, to pip him in the elections, with of course, a little help from Texan billionaire Ross Perot.

The fundamental lesson here is that incumbents are not judged on the origin of the crisis, but they are judged on how well they handle the crisis during their tenure. COVID-19 is Trump’s crisis. Its origins and causes, just like the Iran Hostage Crisis for Carter, were not Trump’s fault; but the response did have a sway in how voters chose to cast their ballots.

For Biden, this is his third run for presidency; third time’s a charm. His first run in 1988, fizzled amidst plagiarism charges, and his 2008 run, saw him go up against his soon to be boss, Barack Obama. However, his sagacious statesman-like stature and experienced hand in foreign affairs made him an ideal candidate for the young greenhorn Senator Obama to pick, in order to counter another statesman named John McCain in the general elections. For many, it was the ‘how to beat an old Caucasian statesman named John? You pick an old Caucasian statesman named Joe’!

Many saw Biden’s platform in 2020 as that he didn’t really have one, but was merely running on an Obama 3.0 if you will. Biden will certainly govern, or likely to govern as an Obama third term forwarding key issues such as the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and pressing demands on Climate Change.

But perhaps for many, it is a return for multilateralism, one that US allies were ‘Biden’ their time for. A push for more global engagements, as Biden will continue to be tough on China, the quintessential iron hard-velvet glove approach, and almost likely to get tougher on Russia.

As far as India is concerned, this is the third US President that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be engaging with in less than seven years in office. Not since Indira Gandhi over three decades ago, has an Indian Prime Minister dealt with three US Presidents during their term in office. Rao had Bush senior and Clinton, Vajpayee dealt with Clinton and Bush junior, and Manmohan Singh had Bush junior and Obama.

As external affairs minister S Jaishankar says, that India will pick up where it left off with the previous administration, an era of bipartisanship on the three pillars of strategic partnership on defence, trade and the strong diaspora link.

Akshobh Giridharadas is a Washington DC-based former journalist. Views are personal.

Originally published at https://www.moneycontrol.com.

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