Elections in India are over and Pakistanis aren’t exactly thrilled with the outcome. Onto the next election of interest. Though it takes place in 2020 in the US, the latest polling trends should make Pakistanis a little less somber about prospects of a Trump re-election. Former Vice President Joe Biden has joined the race and is already the front-runner for the Democratic nomination to take on Trump.
Among two dozen candidates, it is quite a feat that Biden is polling first with over a third of voting share (see the latest poll of polls by Real Clear Politics (RCP), a credible US poll aggregator). More significant perhaps is the fact that Biden has a 17-point lead over his nearest opponent, Bernie Sanders. Except for Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, the remaining candidates don’t look competitive as yet.
Ironically, Biden is the opposite of what the Democratic Party’s vocal, young activists want to see in a presidential candidate. They want a young candidate who is not a Washington insider and who can take liberal social and economic positions without compromise. Old Biden, however, was a US Senator for 36 years and a VP for 8 years; he has a “moderate” track record; and he has courted controversies.
What possibly explains Biden’s charm to most Democrats is this perception that he is their best bet to defeat Trump next year. It is held that Biden’s campaigning style can persuade voters in previously blue states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan to vote Democrat again; he can stand up to Trump on the national stage better than the rest.
Biden, for his part, has embraced that notion. He has been explaining at rallies that defeating Trump is the first step towards enacting a liberal agenda; without a Democrat in Oval Office, there can be no chance for any liberal social or economic cause to see the daylight. As per another RCP poll of polls, Biden defeats Trump one-on-one by eight points. In Biden, Democrats have found a serious challenger to Trump – though it is still many months, debates and rallies to go before he is formally up against Trump.
If Biden eventually defeated Trump, it would be a good omen for US-Pakistan relationship. Being a longtime senator and the Chairman of the Senate’s influential Foreign Relations Committee, Biden is among the few US politicians alive who have traveled frequently to Pakistan. As Obama’s VP in early years, Biden also had a central role in attempting to improve relationship with Pakistan.
Through those years of engagement, Biden developed a nuanced understanding of the challenges faced by Pakistan in a difficult neighbourhood. Recall, he was awarded Hilal-e-Pakistan, one of the top civilian awards, by the Pakistani government back in October 2008. This was a way of thanking him for co-sponsoring the multi-billion-dollar Kerry-Lugar-Biden bill of assistance for Pakistan.
Since the tragedy of 9/11, US Presidents have viewed Pakistan through the Afghan lens. Biden would be no different. Though he supported the war in Afghanistan, Biden later grew skeptical after he became Obama’s VP. American authors have pointed out that Biden, since the start of Obama presidency in 2009, had wanted to work with Pakistan, by offering aid and trade, to solve the Afghanistan problem.
But he became disillusioned with “Af-Pak” in the ensuing years, for several reasons. First, the Pakistani public opinion had become hostile towards the Americans, thanks to drone strikes and the Abbottabad raid. And secondly, the Obama administration hadn’t completely bought into the idea of capitalizing Pakistan to the extent that Biden wanted. (Biden once floated an aid figure of $30 billion for Pakistan).
A decade since Biden’s optimism, both the US and Pakistan have drifted in their mutual assessments and dependencies. Biden may have also developed a different view on how to engage with Pakistan. Be that as it may, his understanding of the region would suit Pakistan more than what the current White House incumbent has to offer. Better hope, then, that polls go Uncle Biden’s way, all the way to 2020.