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This has been one terrifying month in the US — and we’re only halfway through May

This has been one terrifying month in the US — and we’re only halfway through May
US President Joe Biden (Photo: Chris Kleponis / CNP / Bloomberg) | Republican presidential candidate and former president Donald Trump (Photo: Scott Eisen / Getty Images)

Both Donald Trump and President Biden face major challenges in their efforts to become US president — again — in the November election. But those challenges are significantly different.

The split-screen effect in US politics is now nearly overwhelming. On the one hand, there is the “hush money” trial in New York City that is — at least for now — preoccupying near-certain Republican Party presidential challenger (and former president) Donald Trump’s attention nearly full-time. 

With the imposition by Judge Juan Merchan of a gag order, Trump has been forced to endure a stream of embarrassing testimony about his behaviour and lack of a moral compass — but sans his usual freewheeling ability to insult and attack his tormentors. 

Meanwhile, incumbent President Joe Biden, similarly a virtual lock for renomination as his party’s choice, is increasingly being tormented by his efforts to thread a whole sewing kit’s worth of painful needles over the ongoing conflict in Gaza and the domestic ramifications in the US of the Middle East turmoil. At this point, virtually any choice he has made, is making — and for all we can predict, will continue to make — produces no easy path to broad acceptance by important elements of his party’s voting coalition, let alone the still larger body of eligible voters.

For Trump, the past several weeks have been a mixed bag of pluses and significant minuses, as the trial in New York City continues over the charges that he used fraudulent accounting practices to hide hush money payments in other accounts to avoid another embarrassment as the concluding weeks of the 2016 campaign were under way. 

Because this trial in New York City is a criminal one, he has been forced to attend all of it, seriously curtailing his efforts to campaign, although he has tried to leverage the trial into being an element of his campaign. Last week, he had to sit through some tawdry details in the testimony from Stormy Daniels (the woman with whom he allegedly had a brief affair and then had the hush money payment washed through his corporate accounts as legitimate campaign expenditures). 

This week he is being confronted by the testimony of his one-time fixer and bagman, Michael Cohen, the man who says he made the initial hush money payments and was eventually repaid from those Trump accounts. 

There is also the new story in business-friendly publications like Forbes that the revenue department is looking into Trump’s possible double-dipping on tax deductions over a high-rise office tower in Chicago.

Gag order

Trump has been sharply restricted from campaigning and been corralled further by a gag order from the trial judge to preclude many of his wilder charges about the people connected to this ongoing trial. Nevertheless, he has still held some public events, where he has rehashed all his well-worn tropes about stolen elections and being persecuted by an evil conspiracy of the Department of Justice and the White House. 

He has also insisted he will kill inflation (now at around 3.1%) with new tariffs on imported goods and continuing tax cuts for wealthier citizens and companies, and — in a new line of attack — proclaims how Biden is soft on Israel and dangerously forgiving of Hamas and all the other bad guys in that dangerous neighbourhood.  

Trump has also held a few events for hoped-for campaign donors, including one for oil and gas sector bigwigs. There, he essentially promised to roll back various environmental regulations if the attendees in the room signed on for a billion dollars worth of campaign pledges. What has not happened in any of his engagements, so far, has been the delivery of coherent messaging on what he will do to address all the ills he has been going on about so vociferously. That seemed to be left to a hair-raising interview in Time magazine.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Trump’s Private Life Exposed in Intimate Stormy Daniels Testimony

On the plus side of the ledger, Trump’s other trials stemming from the hoarded classified government documents stored in his Mar-a-Lago club’s shower and ballroom, as well as the 6 January insurrection trial, are now in a kind of limbo. 

In the case of the documents indictments, the trial has been postponed without a date to begin by the federal judge Trump appointed well into his term of office as president. 

Meanwhile, the case before the Supreme Court over whether a president has absolute immunity is awaiting a decision by that apex court. These varied indictments might just fade away if Trump wins the election.

Kitchen table effect

Biden has his own — but very different — problems facing him. Despite the economic data showing a significantly strong, growing economy with 15 million-plus new jobs and consistently low unemployment post-Covid, Trump scores significantly higher with many voters as the candidate who can best manage the economy. 

Many analysts are calling this a kitchen table effect as inflation remains troubling and the interest rates for home, car and major appliance purchases are creeping upwards. These seemingly affect people’s emotions and thoughts more than the larger, rosier macroeconomic picture. Additionally, voters remain concerned over Biden’s age and health, in contrast to his slightly younger challenger. 

However, the big problem, now, is in the arena of foreign affairs. After much pushing and shoving in Congress, the Republican leadership of the House finally agreed to fund military aid to Ukraine and Israel, along with military sales to Taiwan and enhanced funding for border control.

Although weapons are again beginning to flow into Ukraine, the Ukrainians are being pressed by Russian advances on the battlefield, and there have been significantly stepped-up missile and drone attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure such as the electrical generating and distribution grid.

The real trouble for Biden in terms of voters revolves around Israel and its attacks in Gaza. In the immediate wake of the vicious Hamas attacks on border towns and a music festival’s attendees (including hundreds of hostages taken back into Gaza and the well-documented sexual violence against some of the women during the attacks), Biden voiced a deeply felt, emotion-laden embrace of Israel. 

But, increasingly, with the massive Israeli retribution across nearly the entirety of the Gaza territory and the consequent, continuously rising body count, a growing number of Americans on college and university campuses and in vociferous city marches have demonstrated strongly against Israeli actions. It became, concurrently, against the Biden administration as the prime supplier of weaponry being used by Israel in Gaza and as Israel’s backer at the UN. 

Younger and minority voters

The demonstrations and encampments on college campuses have spread virally across dozens of campuses as the academic year has drawn to a close. Some universities had to call in the police to end the encampments or have moved their commencement ceremonies to off-campus locations.

Moreover, the protests and the Biden administration’s posture have had a second effect — driving discontent among a significant number of younger voters and minority voters — all of whom would have largely been in the Democrats’ corner otherwise. 

It has also encouraged a growing fissure between such voters and the American-Jewish community. None of this is good news for the Biden campaign. The fact the Biden administration has begun to rein in some of its shipments of hi-tech weaponry as the Israelis commence an assault on the southern Gaza town of Rafah to battle the remaining Hamas fighters has only provoked a push-back by some commentators — and especially Republicans — that Biden’s support for Israel is wavering and weakening. In other words, he is “flip-flopping” dangerously on Israel and against the terrorists.

Meanwhile, political operatives have taken to the columns of major newspapers to encourage the Biden camp to make a significant shift in its strategy. They have urged him to stop perceived efforts to placate those opposed to Israel and its actions in Gaza and to move resolutely to the middle of the political spectrum — where still-undecided voters and those Republicans who cannot stomach Trump are — in a campaign strategy focusing on the real impacts of the Biden administration’s economic actions in reinvigorating the stalled economy in the wake of Covid. 

Yes, it is true that the presidential campaign between the two major candidates is only really beginning now — the nominating conventions are still some weeks away and many voters are more looking forward to summer vacations than presidential campaigns. 

But, for both men, there are sharks in the water that can consume their efforts of winning the election in November. How well they can surmount their challenges remains uncertain. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    Biden is making a mistake trying to placate the student mob, because like MAGA there is no placating and no compromise. They have drunk the Kool Aid and the brain is disengaged So he loses the mainstream that doesn’t think pulling the plug on an ally and giving comfort to the enemy is a great idea, but gains nothing on the other side.

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