Biden vs. Trump, round two

American democracy has its cradle in Philadelphia. Before the pandemic, between four and five million people visited Independence National Historical Park each year, in the center of Pennsylvania’s largest city. Although in the past they were often sold out, this Thursday it was easy to get tickets to visit Independence Hall, where the founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, with its resounding title: We the people. We the People.

The first article of that Constitution grants legislative power to a Congress made up of two chambers: the House of Representatives, which is completely renewed every even-numbered year (and whose composition was set at 435 members a century ago), and the Senate, where each of the 50 states has two senators with a six-year term, who are renewed by thirds every two years. 2022 is an even year and the American people (we the people) are summoned to the polls on November 8 in legislative elections, yes, but at the same time they transcend that character. They are, in a way, a second round of the 2020 presidential elections in which Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump (although he continues to spread the hoax that he won).

The lack of respect for the result has fueled political polarization. And Trump and Biden, in different styles, have entered the melee. The president of the United States chose precisely the exterior of Independence Hall to give a speech last month on “the battle for the soul of the nation”, in which he assured that “Donald Trump and the Republicans MAGA [acronym for Make America Great Again (Make America Great Again) Trump’s slogan] represent extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic.”

Trump, 76, has opted for the personal attack on Biden, who will turn 80 the week after the election. He assures that he has “cognitive impairment” and “is not in a position to lead the United States.” It is not an improvisation: he has it written down, he repeats it rally after rally, and he even projects selected images of Biden on a giant screen in which he is seen to hesitate, suffer some lapse or stumble.

While Biden accuses the extreme Trumpists of “semi-fascism”, Trump paints an apocalyptic picture of a country that has been taken over by “the radical left”. Biden and Trump do not appear on any of the November 8 ballots, but their names resonate — like a thrown weapon — in the debates between candidates, whether in Georgia, Ohio or Florida.

Like a presidential

“These elections are behaving more like a presidential election than a midterm election,” Charlie Cook, political analyst and expert on electoral trends, founder of the Cook Political Report, said last week at an event in Washington. Four or five months ago, he maintains, “it looked like it was going to be a bloodbath” for Democrats, he explains, given Biden’s low popularity due to the highest inflation in four decades.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden, in the debate for the presidential elections that they staged in Cleveland (United States), on September 30, 2020.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden, in the debate for the presidential elections that they staged in Cleveland (United States), on September 30, 2020. 

Trends do not usually turn around in mid-term elections, which are usually a referendum on the president in office. However, the series of rulings by the conservative-majority Supreme Court (on abortion, firearms, the environment and education, among others), an unexpected run of success for Biden (including the approval of his flagship climate project , prosecutor and health) and the appearance in the foreground of Trump (with the revelations of the commission of investigation of the assault on the Capitol of January 6, the seizure of confidential documents in the registry of his Mar-a-Lago mansion and his support in the Republican primaries for some extremist candidates) altered the dynamics.

Still, the economy (and in particular the continuing inflation) remains the primary concern of voters. “The result is not going to be as good for the Republicans as they expected a few months ago, but it is not going to be as good for the Democrats as they expected a few weeks ago,” summarizes Cook.

Trump is still very popular among Republicans — “close to 50% of Republican primary voters would jump out of the Grand Canyon if he asked them to,” Cook jokes — but he can scare away independents and moderates, who will sway the outcome . Cook estimates that 90% of voters are strongly identified with the two major parties (half with the Republicans and the other with the Democrats). These are going to be mobilized in a remarkable way. In the current climate of polarization, “there is no Republican who is going to vote for a Democrat or the other way around.” “That’s a thing of the past,” he maintains. So the outcome largely depends on the 10% in the middle, the independents, who are caught in the crossfire.

Polls show that voters see the economy as a much more pressing problem than the risks to democracy; and immigration than abortion. That’s bad news for Democrats. The polls almost give up the House of Representatives for Biden’s party. Given the partisan delimitation of the districts (gerrymandering), the result is really even in only thirty of the 435 seats. If each party wins the ones it has secured or is favorite in, the Democrats would need to win 80% of the most competitive districts to prevent the Republican victory, which would be almost miraculous. Control of the House would be enough for Republicans to make the second half of Biden’s term a living hell.

The battle for the Senate is much more open. There are four states where the eyes are concentrated: Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin and Nevada. And four others not quite decided: Ohio, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Arizona. The polls give the Democrats the favorites to maintain the tie in the 50-seat Senate. If so, Vice President Kamala Harris could break the tie in favor of the Democrats.

Trump and Biden have had very different styles of campaigning. While the former president has given numerous rallies (with a script largely repeated word for word), the current White House tenant has used the visibility that the position gives him for appearances and public events, but he has not given a rally for weeks. public. He has attended fundraising party events throughout much of the country, but with reduced capacity and behind closed doors, without mass events, unlike what his predecessors did in their day. A little more than two weeks before the elections, Biden’s plan is to spend this weekend at his house on the beach in Rehoboth (Delaware). Some Democratic candidates from decisive constituencies prefer to distance themselves from the president, who has concentrated a good part of his efforts in Pennsylvania,

Joe Biden, greeting this Thursday to John Fetterman, Democratic candidate for senator from Pennsylvania.

Joe Biden, greeting this Thursday to John Fetterman, Democratic candidate for senator from Pennsylvania.

Biden has returned to Pennsylvania this Thursday (first to an official act in Pittsburgh and then to a fundraising dinner in Philadelphia) to support the candidate for senator, John Fetterman, who has abandoned his traditional sweatshirt and shorts and has received the president in a suit and tie (“I’m not going to lie to you, it’s the only one I have,” he later joked). The dinner was at the Union Trust, a wedding and banquet hall in downtown Philadelphia. There, Biden has reiterated his message: “If we don’t keep the Senate and the House in these next elections, many things are going to change. We’re at a point where there aren’t many real Republicans left. The people running this party are the MAGA Republicans,” he has said.

This vote, he continued, is not a referendum, “it is a choice about which direction you want this country to take.” Biden has questioned whether Republicans would approve continuing to fund aid to Ukraine if the Republicans win. “This is not the Republican Party of your parents.” He has assured that several Republican senators secretly agree with him: “I promised that I would never say their names and I will never reveal who they are.” “If we lose this election, we have real problems. America is at a real tipping point.”

The Union Trust where Biden was speaking Thursday is just a block from that democracy theme park that crowns Independence Hall. There, tourists queued this Thursday to be photographed with one of the main claims, the cracked Liberty Bell, which called on citizens to go to the reading of the Declaration of Independence and later became an abolitionist symbol. It’s tempting to see his famous big crack as a metaphor for American democracy.

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