US elections: The world is watching
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - August 4, 2019 - 12:00am

If anything, the whole world is closely watching the political discourse in the US, with prospective candidates from the Democratic party gearing up this early in challenging Donald Trump for the 2020 presidential elections. This is without doubt going to be the most highly contested race judging from the record number of Democrats – 20 as of last count – gunning for the right to become party standard bearer. 

The close international attention being paid on these political developments just goes to show the kind of impact that America has on global affairs (despite a Pentagon white paper titled “Strategic Multilayer Assessment”suggesting that the US is losing the race for global influence due to – among others – polarization, thereby creating a “narrative problem”).

During the televised second set of Democratic debates held earlier at the Fox Theater in Detroit, former vice president Joe Biden seems to have become the target of the other, younger candidates in what emerged as a free-for-all. The first salvo came from Senator Kamala Harris of California whose performance during the first debate – when she “skewered” the former vice president (in the words of political watchers) – gave her a brief surge in the polls.

The general consensus however is that the debates proved to be disappointing, with Biden and the rest of the candidates (which include several senators, a mayor, a representative, a governor, former government officials, an activist, and an entrepreneur) showing “mediocre” performance as they fumbled in their responses on issues that include healthcare, housing, the justice system and immigration. 

Many found it disconcerting that in their zeal to attack Biden who obviously is perceived as the frontrunner, the other Democratic candidates ended up criticizing the policies of the Obama administration on several issues. For instance, immigration, with 800,000 deported during the first two years of Obama as president. 

Biden tried to defend his record, saying he pushed to send hundreds of millions of dollars to countries like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to “change the circumstance” of why people left those countries in the first place. 

“We’re in a circumstance where if you say you can just cross the border, what do you say to all of those people around the world who want the same thing – to come to the United States – and make the case that they have to wait in line… The fact of the matter is… if you cross the border illegally, you should be able to be sent back. It’s a crime,” Biden argued. In which case, he somehow ended up supporting the perspective of Trump and his followers on the issue of illegal immigrants, observers noted. 

Then came the issue of healthcare with the exchanges becoming so contentious that in the end, Obama and his record became “collateral damage” as the others tried to pillory Biden by throwing shade on the accomplishments of Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president. It got so bad that former Obama administration officials told their fellow Democrats: “Stay away from Barack Obama.”  

Andrew Yang, the entrepreneur who wants to have a shot at the presidency, cautioned his fellow candidates: “We have to focus on beating Donald Trump in 2020.” 

This was echoed by a former top Obama campaign staffer who said, “The more time we spend attacking President Obama and his record and the less time we spend on what Donald Trump is doing to this country only serves to help one person – Donald Trump.” 

Republicans were quick to seize the opportunity to punch a hole in the former president’s record, with Donald Trump Jr. tweeting that it was nice to “see Democrats finally go after Obama’s failed policies very aggressively.”  

During a rally in Cincinnati, President Trump said, “The Democrats spent more time attacking Barack Obama than they did attacking me, practically.” 

Donald Trump has been successful in driving the narrative with his tweets. An article in titled “The second Democratic debates could be all about Trump’s racist tweets” articulates this clearly. 

“As much as Democrats may have wanted to talk up their plans for healthcare or education or climate change in the second round of Democratic debates… Trump’s tweets have reset the narrative. Which leaves the candidates with a difficult choice: Should they spend their precious moments or airtime condemning Trump’s racism, or outlining their policies to try to address racial inequality? Should they make a moral case against Trump, or a case for themselves?” the article went.

While some of the candidates were quick to issue condemnation, some Democrats have warned that “arguing with Trump about race is playing on the incumbent’s turf. The core of his campaign strategy, from his rallies to his ad buys, is oriented around provoking outrage,” the article continued, quoting former Trump strategist Steve Bannon who said, “I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”  

The disarray and the division within the Democratic camp has become apparent, which is why the other candidates should heed New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who appealed to his rivals that pitting themselves against each other and picking each other apart before the eyes of the electorate is “dividing our party and demoralizing us in the face of the real enemy here… The person who is enjoying this debate the most right now is Donald Trump.” 

 An analyst put it bluntly: “If the elections were held today, Donald Trump would win hands down.”

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