He’s past his best, which was never that great”. So opined Sir Kim Darroch, the former British Ambassador, last month about the man who will shortly become the 46th President of the United States. It’s fair to say that 77-year-old Joe Biden did not enter this race exuding dynamism and star quality. He looked like a rather dull and safe compromise candidate.
But Sleepy Joe, as Trump called him, turned out to be a winner. Like the quiet man in so many western films, he got the bad guy in the end – cue applause from relieved citizens and loyal wife, roll credits. His deft and distanced handling of the hectic days following last week’s ballot, allowed the POTUS to self-combust spectacularly in the White House.
It is most unlikely that any of the more dynamic Democrats – Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren or Pete Buttigieg – could have won this election. Only a centrist could: someone who appealed to the soft, non-political core of American voters, who are appalled by Trump’s behaviour but also shocked by the Black Lives Matter riots and the calls to defund the police.
Joe’s having none of that. He’s a law and order Democrat who sponsored the infamous “three strikes and you’re out” Crime Act of 1994. This is often blamed for the mass incarceration of black men. He’s not into the Green New Deal either. One of his campaign videos had him expressing his “love” of his gas-guzzling 1960’s Chevrolet Corvette. Imagine Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez doing that. The Democrats knew that to take back Pennsylvania they needed someone who spoke the language of white working class men who had turned against Hillary Clinton’s sanctimonious elitism in 2016. It worked. Just.
Donald Trump came perilously close to winning a second term. He returned 70 million votes – eight million more than in 2016. The Donald defied the pundits and opinion pollsters who had predicted a “blue wave”. After miscalling 2016, Brexit, the Tory landslide and now this, Twitter should be surely labelling all opinion polls as “potentially misleading”.
Trump remains a potent force. Populism lives on. Liberal intellectuals could never understand why anyone, other than a racist or a misogynist, could ever vote for Trump. But he clearly represents something enduring in the fabric of American society. And it’s not just racism. Indeed, Trump increased his support significantly among blacks and Latinos.
Trump expresses the frustration of traditional American patriots who see the liberal intelligentsia as hostile to the flag, excessively politically correct, condescending to working people and obsessed with marginal issues like transgender toilet arrangements. Many middle Americans also felt threatened by the people who took over the streets of cities like Seattle after Black Lives Matter.
There is already talk of Trump refiling as a Republican candidate for the 2024 election. Some say that by doing so he will protect himself from the deluge of lawsuits that will follow him out of the White House. But it seems unlikely the Republican establishment will allow itself to be seen as a Trump vehicle for much longer. There has been profound embarrassment across the political right at Trump’s behaviour since November 3rd.
This goes for most UK Conservatives too. Many loathe Donald Trump even though, like the Times columnist Matthew Parris, they agree with many of his policies. UK commentators seem to think that Boris Johnson is devastated to lose Donald Trump. They’re wrong. Joe Biden may have opposed Brexit, but he is no radical socialist and will return America to more traditional and predictable US foreign policy, supporting Nato and the G7.
More importantly, Biden will bring the US back into the Paris Climate Change process which will be a relief to Number Ten in the run up to COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow in November 2021. Johnson badly needs American support if this is to be a success. Biden represents a return to corporate internationalism. He may not immediately rejoin organisations like NAFTA, but nor will he launch unpredictable trade wars, like the one that so damaged sales of Scotch whisky.
Biden is proud of his Irish roots and is very popular in the Irish Republic. He has said that he will not do any deals with the UK if Brexit disrupts the Northern Ireland Peace Process. But that doesn’t mean he won’t trade with the UK. Indeed, he is unlikely to drive the kind of hard bargain that was the calling card of his predecessor.
Nicola Sturgeon will be welcomed back into the White House since she very publicly backed Joe Biden and called Donald Trump a “racist and misogynist”. Though she may hesitate somewhat if sexual assault allegations by one of Biden’s former staffers, Tara Reade, resurface. Like Alex Salmond, Biden is a “touchy feely” guy widely accused of behaving inappropriately with women and Ms Sturgeon is a supporter of #metoo.
The media played down these allegations in order to help Biden get elected, but they are unlikely to go away. Nor are the awkward questions about the activities of his son, Hunter Biden, in the Ukraine. He was a director of a private energy company, Burisma, when his vice President father was in charge of relations with the country. Emails suggesting a conflict of interest have emerged, though Biden denies any improper meetings.
The truth is that there is not unalloyed enthusiasm for Biden on the left of the Democratic Party. Even his running mate, Kamala Harris, once accused him of “praising racists”. Some will be tempted to to discredit the centrist president in order to ensure a smooth path for Ms Harris to take over in the Oval Office.
But they would be most unwise to do so. The US is already deeply divided over race and the legacy of slavery. Biden is just about holding the country together. He is old school, the original centrist dad – or rather grandad. Had it not been for Sleepy Joe, Donald Trump might right this very day be leading a victory march of the Proud Boys down Pennsylvania Avenue.
First appeared in Herald