3 March 2022
Biden His Time?
State of the nation.
By J R Thomas
Events in eastern Europe contain elements of embarrassment for both US Presidents: the one in occupation of the White House who has a closer identification with Ukraine than he may feel entirely comfortable with; and the rightful US President in Florida (that’s what he says he is) who has said more than once how much he admires the President of Russia.
Mr Biden of course suffered embarrassment some years ago when his son Hunter, a lawyer, was given highly remunerative employment in a Ukrainian oil and gas company, not an area of previous expertise for him. This resulted in then Vice President Biden being accused of various financial jiggery pokeries to protect his son. Most of this is, as they say in the Scottish courts, not proven. Mr Trump was also accused of goings-on in Moscow, involving building permits and young ladies; also not proven. But Mr Trump has had the habit of praising President Putin as highly competent and “smart”; indeed, he repeated this on Saturday. There is nothing wrong with praising the sagacity of bad guys of course (as there is nothing wrong with taking well-paying jobs overseas); it shows you understand the strengths of an opponent. But it is liable to be used against you. As are overseas earnings of your son. Now both have become weapons in the black propaganda war underway. The Donald is used to getting a good kicking in the media, but less so Joe, who might be astonished (though we doubt he reads it) to find The Guardian fiercely on Hunter’s case about non-payment of tax on those Ukrainian earnings. None of this matters much compared with the perilous situation in eastern Europe, except for one thing; at a time when American politicians should be rallying the public and supporting their leader (we mean Joe Biden, not you Donald) they both appear a little distracted, perhaps by the sound of skeletons rattling in cupboards. Joe has been somewhat reserved in his condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine; he has criticised it, he is introducing sanctions, he is critical of Mr Putin; but it is all a bit subdued and lacks conviction. Yet, and here we must perhaps sound unpleasantly cynical, war is a good rallying point for politicians whose home popularity is not great; look at the reputational recovery of Boris Johnson in the UK and Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany (forget M. Macron for a while, that journey to Moscow was as unfortunate as Napoleon’s). And when the war constitutes a villainous bad guy attacking a much weaker good guy, western politicians have a rare opportunity to do the right thing and make political capital out of it without shame.
Donald is making on in his usual fashion (saying that it would never have happened if he had been in charge, as he would be if that election had not been STOLEN, folks). But Joe does not seem quite to have grasped the opportunity; which is odd as, whatever else he might be, President Biden is a consummate politician and knows how to work these things. It seems unlikely that this is about Hunter’s history in Ukraine; that would be a plus factor if anything. But Mr Biden does not seem entirely driven at this point; he looks and sounds weary. He has an awful lot on his plate of course. Inflation is starting to gallop, driven by energy shortages and the massive government spending of the last eighteen months to combat Covid. Covid is going away, but increasingly, and not just in the US, previous government measures to combat it look over-the-top and extravagant. The different approaches by different states – such as California and New York which brought in restrictive and economically damaging controls and Florida and Texas which didn’t, and North Dakota (did) and South Dakota (didn’t) – seem to have made no discernible difference to the disease, an issue which will be made much of by the Republicans this autumn for the primaries. Another problem is Veep Kamala Harris who Mr Biden did not, in spite of rumours, nominate to the vacant Supreme Court seat, instead bringing forward the distinguished lawyer Ketanji Brown Jackson. That is the right decision for the law, but does not solve the problem of Ms Harris, who remains unpopular both with the public and with influential elements of her own party. There was a major opportunity on Tuesday evening to begin the fight back; Mr Biden’s first State of the Union speech to Congress. But this was not the old Joe; it was workmanlike, praised the Ukrainians (well, he said Iranians but his listeners knew what he meant), but it was no call to hearts and minds. The pro-Biden media did their best, whilst Kim Reynolds giving the official Republican response was relatively kindly in her reply; but the fire and dreams were not there; and this is a time for fire and dreams if there ever was.
The President’s own opinion poll ratings continue to drop. A poll of polls suggests disapprovals at 53% and approvals at 41% (the Vice President is 54% and 40%) and whilst things can change rapidly, they have been one way so far in this Presidency. Bad news for the November 2022 midterms for the Democrats who on this showing will loose control of the House and the Senate. So all great news for Mr Trump, right? We have not had much to say about that fascinating gentleman for several months, mainly because he has not said much, in public anyway. But now he is putting himself about more and in particular is beginning to manoeuvre, it would appear, for the nomination as the GOP candidate for the Presidency in 2024. “A third term” as the blue-suited one expressed it last week; and if you are searching Wikipedia and counting on your fingers and toes, that is because Mr T includes the STOLEN election of 2020. (He had better take a care; as presidents only get two terms of office, he would not want to find a clever lawyer refusing him the keys to the White House on the grounds that he had had his two goes at the job.)
Mr Trump is now doing what he loves, denouncing his opponents in the Republican Party. Last week was the turn of Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida, previously regarded as a Trump fan. But Governor DeSantis seems to want the GOP presidential nomination for himself this time. On Saturday last week they both spoke at a conference in Florida, though overlooking the usual courtesy of politely referencing the other. The dream ticket for many Republicans has been Trump for president with DeSantis as his veep; after Saturday that is starting to look unlikely. But the underlying message – and it is 30 months off yet – is that momentarily (as American Airlines tell you approaching landing) both intend to run. It may not be that easy for Donald, opposition is starting to quietly appear. One who raised his head last week was Bill Barr, Mr Trump’s Attorney General and regarded as a Trump loyalist until resigning after the 2020 election. He accuses Mr Trump of being self-indulgent and lacking self control. Mr Barr can say these things – he has a new book to sell – but more importantly is not running for office. Beware, Mr Trump; there are others with much bigger fish to fry as 2024 approaches.