Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.
One gets the feeling that Donald JTrump is having fun. He’s having a good few weeks – the apex of which was his acquittal by the Senate on two charges of impeachment.
As if the outcome itself wasn’t sufficient political manna from heaven, the lone Republican defector – Mitt Romney – gave the President a new object of focus within his own party. It gives him grounds to continue to purge the GOP of disbelievers, and further cast the Republicans in his own mould.
Then it was the turn of the Democrats to start gifting the president open goals.
Trump ignored Nancy Pelosi’s offer of an outstretched hand as he took to the Senate floor to deliver his State of the Union, celebrating the “great American comeback”. Whether planned in advance or merely in response to the president’s cold shoulder, Pelosi’s riposte was to ceremoniously tear up the president’s speech behind his back.
The President has made scoring cheap political points whilst simultaneously abandoning bipartisan goodwill and convention his forte but, if the Democrats’ strategy in the 2020 election is to go toe to toe with him, they will lose.
Fact. The response was a far cry from Michelle Obama’s famous motto: “When they go low, we go high”. Throughout the speech, the president kept his potential 2020 Democratic opposite number in sight. Preparing for the possibility of a Bernie Sanders candidacy, the president invited Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader in Venezuela, as a special guest at the address.
“Socialism destroys nations. But always remember, freedom unifies the soul,” said the president. It sounded as though the president was talking to Venezuela, but the real target was the junior Senator from Vermont.
Sanders and Buttigieg rise as Biden falls
Attention quickly turned to the Iowa caucus, where a technical glitch with the app used to tally votes delayed the announcement of final results. It meant that both Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg were able to declare victory. First as tragedy, then as farce.
The final outcome in Iowa split Sanders and Buttigieg by just a tenth of a percent, with Buttigieg the surprise victor.
Languishing in fourth place on 15.8 per cent, Joe Biden left Iowa the most disappointed of the candidates. The latest RealClearPolitics polling average makes for sobering reading in the extreme for the Biden campaign, which diverted to New Hampshire entirely in anticipation of another poor return.
Their hunch was correct: Biden’s campaign was dealt a crushing blow, with a fifth place finish on under 10 per cent. The former Vice President then diverted his attention to South Carolina, the fourth state to host its primary at the end of the month. The voter demographics in the Palmetto State favour Biden, where a larger share of African American voters are expected to continue their support for him.
The Biden campaign cannot afford another lowly finish, which could spell the end of his candidacy. New Hampshire voters threw a surprise name into the mix – that of Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Senator, who finished third on 20 per cent.
Michael Bloomberg, backed by an unprecedented level of personal expenditure, is set to enter the primary race on Super Tuesday. Moderate Democrats look increasingly split between Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Bloomberg. With a second-place finish in Iowa and first place in New Hampshire, the progressive wing of the party looks to be coalescing around Bernie Sanders and walking away from Elizabeth Warren.
Can a self-described socialist really win in modern-day America?
It is by no means lazy to associate Bernie Sanders with Jeremy Corbyn both in style and substance. Republicans will hope that the two suffer the same fate, should Sanders win his party’s nomination. Just as Jeremy Corbyn abjectly failed to convince the nation of his vision of a socialist Britain, Sanders’ attempts to sell socialism to modern America looks a lot like trying to flog radiators to Eskimos.
A new poll by Gallup gives the Sanders campaign serious cause for concern. A majority of Americans surveyed said they would not vote for a socialist candidate for president, with the most opposition coming from Republican voters.
Asked whether they would vote for their party nominee who was a “generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be socialist,” 45 percent said ‘yes’ and 53 percent said ‘no’. Despite some of the most prominent rising stars in the Democratic Party emerging from the left, the acceptance for a socialist nominee is two points lower now than it was in June 2015.
Trump’s campaign team are likely to be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of facing off against Sanders – at least in terms of semantics. But do not discount the head-to-head polls which, according to the RealClearPolitics average, give Mr Sanders an average lead of 4.3 points.
Despite that, the personal polling picture looks increasingly healthy for a President who is now fighting on the front foot and not the back. Trump’s job approval rating has risen to 49 per cent, his highest on record with Gallup. His 92 per cent approval rating among Republicans is up six percentage points from early January and three ahead of George W Bush at the same point in their presidencies.
The road to July’s Democratic National Convention in Wisconsin has many hitherto undiscovered twists and turns. Bloomberg’s entrance into the race on Super Tuesday presents a new – and expensive – challenge to the Sanders and Buttigieg camps fighting for frontrunner status.
The Republican primary will be no such blockbuster. On Tuesday, Trump coasted to victory in the Republican New Hampshire primary. With Democrats descending into in-fighting and their supporters split, he arguably emerged the clear winner from the Democratic primary in New Hampshire too.