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Unreliable US leadership in the shadow of elections


As a new round of presidential elections heats up in the United States, much of the world watches with dismay at the possibility of yet another major shift in America’s domestic and foreign policy. The mere thought of a Trump comeback in 2024 is unnerving for Washington’s allies, given his vengeful eagerness to (again) wreak havoc on American democracy and its role in the world.

No wonder most states are hesitant to support Washington’s policies on Russia or China, fearing another radical policy change under the next administration, as has happened after every administration in the past two or three decades. From the imperialist and messianic outreach of the Bush administration, to the pragmatic realism of Obama, to Trump’s America-first nationalism, and finally Biden’s return to strategic stance, the staggering shift in doctrine has made the unreliability (read inconstancy) of the American leadership underlined.

The strategic capriciousness is a major departure from America’s fortitude during the Cold War. It also stands in stark contrast to the autocratic but stable regimes in Russia and China, which have been largely predictable since their resurgence in the early 21st century. World leaders don’t have to wonder who will be in charge next year in Moscow or Beijing, but wish they knew who will win next year’s US election.

I thought of this on a recent trip to the United States that took me to Florida, home to the two leading Republican frontrunners: Donald Trump who announced his candidacy late last year, and Ron DeSantis, Sunshine State governor and rising star of the party , which has yet to announce its offer, but is expected to do so in the coming weeks or months.

80-year-old President Joe Biden is also expected to run for office, even though many worry about his ability to lead until age 86, when his prospective second term ends. If he decides to call it a day, there’s no telling how many Democrats will throw their hats in the ring, but if he marches on, no Democrat is expected to take the plunge.

So as things stand, one likely scenario is that the 2024 presidential showdown will be a repeat of the 2020 showdown, but the final outcome will depend on a number of variables – economic, political and personal.

Biden has done well so far in his command of the presidency and the economy, but high inflation and potential recession could weaken his chances. Likewise, he has managed to revive NATO after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but a costly, protracted proxy war will not bode well for him or America. Biden’s economic and national security scorecards will matter little as he begins to show clear signs of aging that undermine public confidence in his ability to lead for another four years.

Trump, for his part, is betting on his tight grip on the party’s machinery and base to win the Republican nomination, particularly against his former cabinet members and presidential candidates such as Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, and Mike Pompeo. But that might be the easy part.

Trump lost the 2020 election because he lost the confidence of the majority of American voters, including independent voters, who deemed him unfit for a second term. They became even more sure of their judgment after Trump attempted to undermine the democratic process through fraud and even violence on January 6, 2021. Since then, Trump has faced multiple lawsuits, some of which could jeopardize his candidacy.

Enter DeSantis. The Republican who, according to many, can beat Trump and topple Biden. But he remains a mystery to much of the world.

The ambitious two-term governor is a younger and more competent version of the populist former president. And unlike Trump, he is not riddled with sexual, financial and political scandals. He is an honest talker, not a compulsive liar; a true believer in the harsh conservatism he preaches, not a peddler of sound bites like Trump.

DeSantis is expanding his Republican power base in Florida nationwide, expanding the donor base that can fund his future presidential campaign when the time is right. He’s also written a campaign-style biography that came out this week.

Such PR books are terrible to read, but their political messages say a lot about their authors. True to form, DeSantis hits all the “right” notes in The Courage to be Free, boasting of his conservative upbringing in an Italian-American working-class household, his talent in America’s pastime sports, baseball, his academic achievements at the country’s top universities, Yale and Harvard Law, his military service in Iraq, albeit as a district attorney, his three terms in Congress, and his successful governorship.

But the populist DeSantis also tries to have it both ways as he targets the Republican base. He relentlessly mocks the nation’s prestigious universities, Washington bureaucracy, hi-tech conglomerates, and the “corporate media,” all of which he says are controlled by a liberal cabal housed in the Democratic party.

DeSantis is authoritarian, angry and vengeful, with a chip on his shoulder. He is all too ready for a nationwide cultural war in the name of “the people” and against the liberal ruling class, beginning with an attack on “corporate wakeness” such as that of Walt Disney, the professional class, the public school system, and the liberal indoctrination of American education.

Given the general apathy about foreign policy, the governor says little about the world in his book, beyond condemning the likes of communist Cuba and China, and complimenting colonial Israel, boasting of his early efforts as a congressman to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

Interestingly, DeSantis’ courage to be free stops with Trump, who helped him win the first gubernatorial race in 2018. Instead, he heaps praise on his old guru, skipping over his disastrous performance in the 2020 election. All of this casts doubt on whether the governor will run against the former president in the Republican primary.

Will young DeSantis wait another four years? Wait for 77-year-old Trump to step out of the campaign for legal or personal reasons? Or wait until it becomes clear that the former president has no clear path back to the White House? Or act in a Trumpian way; betraying his old ally to move forward under the pretense of saving America from another Democratic presidency, or in his words, “making America Florida”!

Either way, Trump shows no signs of backing down and is in fact gearing up for a confrontation with Ron “DeSanctimonious”; a confrontation that promises to be very personal, focused on age, experience and loyalty, not policy or ideology. Such a confrontation could be beneficial to Biden as the two bullies bloodied each other in a battle for the Republican nomination.

A Trump comeback is sure to trigger a vengeful reversal of everything Biden is bringing about — a return to 2020 to make America Great Again. A triumph for DeSantis is also a return to “MAGA” but without all the drama. The fact that both are certified populist nationalists and neither is a liberal democrat will have major implications for America and its role as the world’s leading democracy – especially in Europe. Their opposition to liberal interventions and messianic wars will shrink US strategic commitments abroad, including in Ukraine.

As for Biden, a victory will provide triumphant continuity to his domestic social-democratic agenda and a boost to his liberal crusade against Russia and China.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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