Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday 12 March 2024


Global Chaos or the Orange Peril?


(5 min)

Former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Rome, Ga., March 9. Photo: Mike Stewart/Associated Press

The clearest takeaway from President Biden’s State of the Union address last week was that he believes that Donald Trump poses a greater peril to the U.S. than Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Ali Khamenei, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis all rolled into one. The president came to the podium less focused on unifying America in the face of proliferating foreign threats than on launching his re-election campaign against the Orange Peril.

Opinion: Free Expression
Free Expression

That was probably a mistake. Even if Mr. Biden is 100% correct about the danger Mr. Trump poses to American democracy, voter concerns about the competence of the Biden foreign policy may end up helping Mr. Trump return to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Rather than telling voters, again, about Mr. Trump’s shortcomings, Mr. Biden needed to explain why the world situation has grown so dramatically worse on his watch and how he intends to stop the grim slide.

Having survived four years of Mr. Trump in the White House, many voters may be less worried about Trump 2.0 than what looks increasingly like a global drift toward World War III. Mr. Biden’s approach to foreign threats doesn’t inspire much confidence. A Feb. 21 Quinnipiac poll showed 60% of respondents disapproving of the president’s foreign policy, with 36% approving. The poll found 62% disapproved of his response to the Israel-Hamas war, and 63% disapproved of his handling of the situation at the Mexican border. An Associated Press/NORC poll conducted in late January found only 38% of voters approved of how Mr. Biden is handling “the U.S. relationship with China.” A February Harvard CAPS-Harris poll got similarly dismal results, with 61% calling Mr. Biden’s Iran policy “unsuccessful” and 71% wanting tougher policies on the southern border.

Worse for the incumbent, as the world crisis grows hotter, voters care more about foreign policy. AP/NORC pollsters found that the share of Democrats who named foreign-policy issues other than immigration as a major priority more than doubled (from 16% to 34%) from December 2022 to December 2023. The share of Republicans increased from 23% to 46%.

On domestic issues, the president can reasonably hope that nine months of continued prosperity along with cooling inflation will change public perceptions about his leadership. When it comes to world events, the outlook is darker. Even if Congress approves the president’s aid request for Ukraine, Russia is unlikely to suffer major defeats before the U.S. election. The situation at America’s southern border is likely to remain an open sore. The Middle East is unlikely to bring Mr. Biden much joy, and the risk of more war that requires deeper American involvement is real. Xi Jinping will continue to test America and its allies. From Venezuela to North Korea, the potential for bold moves by bad actors is disturbingly high, and it isn’t clear how much the administration can do to minimize these risks.

Against this background, Mr. Biden’s rhetorical strategy in his State of the Union address was to insist that his policies are working or would work if Congress would only provide the necessary support. He stands by every major foreign-policy decision the administration has made. As Mr. Biden sees it, his administration has the right strategy for Ukraine, and the right approach to the Gaza war, and everything is going fine in the competition with China.

Even if Mr. Biden is right, and there were no better choices available than the ones he has made, this approach to foreign policy is a major and quite possibly fatal political mistake. It tells voters that four more years of Mr. Biden means four more years of widening war, growing threats and more border chaos. When the world situation is bad and getting worse, you want to be a change candidate.

In reality, many of the president’s problems are the result of his continuing inability to deter our adversaries from steps that undermine our security. The administration’s failure to deter Russia from invading Ukraine, China from backing Russia or stepping up the pressure on Taiwan and the Philippines, and Iran from heating up its proxy wars against America and our Middle East allies is largely responsible for the sense of crisis abroad and weakness at home.

Voters don’t want to hear Mr. Biden talk about how brilliant his foreign-policy record is. They want to know what he’d do differently in a second term, and they want to see signs of those changes now.

The American people have their concerns about Mr. Trump. The latest Harvard CAPS-Harris poll found that 56% of those surveyed believed that Mr. Trump has committed crimes that disqualify him from the presidency. Among respondents, 50% feared that he’s a threat to democracy if re-elected. Yet including “leaners” Mr. Trump won a head-to-head matchup with Mr. Biden 53-47. His lead remained constant in multiple-candidate races.

Running as a continuity candidate in foreign affairs won’t help Joe Biden keep the Orange Peril out of the White House.


Wonder Land: Surveying the record of his three years in office, Mr. Biden has decided his re-election turns on two events: the Capitol riot of 2021 and Mr. Trump’s efforts to reverse the 2020 presidential election results in several states. Images: Getty Images/Zuma Press Composite: Mark Kelly

Copyright ©2024 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Appeared in the March 12, 2024, print edition as 'Global Chaos or the Orange Peril?'.

No comments:

Post a Comment