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Tuesday February 07, 2023

Biden’s new strategy

November 27, 2022

For the last few months, US President Joe Biden, considered to be a rather unglamorous politician with limited oratory capabilities, has been using an interesting strategy to compensate for this gap in his personality.

On the domestic front, particularly during the campaign for midterm polls, he adopted a two-pronged strategy – hot and cold. The cold part was played by President Biden who conspicuously kept a low-key campaign, abstaining from big rallies, a staple feature of America’s Congressional election campaigns patronized by both sides quite religiously. The president attended only fundraising events to highlight his party’s accomplishments.

The ‘hotter’ part of the game plan was spearheaded by former president Barack Obama who crisscrossed various states to attend campaign rallies to promote the Democratic candidates. Unlike the traditional model of American election campaigns, which revolves around high-octane rallies and fanfare of large political gatherings, President Biden adopted an atypical model to attract the voters; he focused on grabbing media headlines to promote his tangible accomplishments of the last two years.

Biden wanted to project himself as a national politician who was above the existing political divide and fray. His strategy was to use the fundraising as well as official event, where he lavishly talked about all the major accomplishments of his two-year stint, to be in the headlines of the media on a daily basis and keep reaching out to a wider base of voters and convince them by showing his past performance rather than routine exaggerated political oratory. Obama was the right choice to muffle the belligerent rhetoric of Donald Trump.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, was busy in an unending series of mega rallies that were routinely adorned by his signature rhetoric against Biden. The big boisterous campaign of Donald Trump, who was putting all his heart into this campaign with an intention to use the Republican victory in the midterms as the basis to stage his own comeback, pushed a panic button among the middle and lower cadres of Democrats.

But President Biden, being an average political orator when it comes to rebutting an insolent and rude opponent like Trump, did not want to indulge in the repetition of the ferocity of the 2018 presidential campaign – which is why he pushed Obama to take the lead in political rallies in some targeted states. With his witty and calm demeanor, Obama had all the ingredients to neutralize the more glamorous and piquant gimmicks of Trump.

A large number of Democrats were unhappy with Biden’s go-low approach in this crucial campaign which, if failed to win Democratic majority in the Congress, had all the potential to bring back populist Trump to the Oval Office in 2024. That is why, there was resentment among Democrats over Biden’s campaign strategy. But Obama played his designated role quite effectively in supporting the Democrats to thwart the red wave from sweeping both houses of the Congress. All the opinion polls were predicting a disastrous midterm for the Democrats and even President Biden was quite unsure about the performance of Democratic candidates. Yes, multiple other factors also contributed to such an astounding performance by the Democrats, but Biden’s strategy of involving Obama played a tangible role.

Similarly, in the domain of international diplomacy, Biden utilized the services of his close friend Nancy Pelosi on multiple occasions. Particularly, in the last three months, Pelosi, the most influential Democratic leader at the moment, was quite active in her jet-diplomacy across the globe. Apart from her extensive tour of key American allies in Asia, Pelosi was sent by Biden to three key hotspots – Kyiv, Taipei and Yerevan – with a predefined agenda to substitute for him in these capitals. In her capacity as House speaker, being third in line for presidential succession, Pelosi’s high octane diplomatic voyages were a serious diplomatic offensive by the Biden administration. Not surprisingly, most of her recent trips were mainly focused on directly and indirectly teasing Beijing. Particularly her controversial and highly provocative visit to Taipei, while projecting herself as the hawkish side of President Biden, was a direct attempt by the White House to register its aggressive stance on the Taiwan Strait as well as to intimidate Beijing through disrupting the supplies of Taiwanese semiconductors to Chinese companies. Pelosi’s stopover in Taipei was a shrewd tactical move by Biden to indirectly bully the Chinese leadership.

Pelosi, considered to be an extremely close associate of President Biden, went to Taipei with his blessing and consent. It was never Pelosi’s personal plan. Though she claimed that she was representing the US Congress in Taipei, the fact is that she went there as the personal emissary of President Biden to reassure overwhelming American support to Taiwanese leadership. He ‘allowed’ her to visit Taipei despite a last-minute telephone call from Chinese President Xi Jinping to stop the trip with a warning “not to play with fire”. This was a very serious warning from President Xi and it was expected that Biden would respond to it by asking Pelosi to tone down her trip to the region. But that did not happen. This was perhaps the first such show of Trump-style belligerency from President Biden towards China.

Regardless of the bitterness and acrimony created by Pelosi’s Taipei yatra, President Biden’s strategy to utilize his colleagues to compensate for his personal deficiencies and to promote his agenda in domestic politics and international arena has been working quite well for him so far. But this has also exposed his limitations that may drastically hamper the remaining two years of his tenure.

With Pelosi’s exit from speakership, he will be challenged in the diplomatic domain. Probably Vice President Kamala Harris may assume the role of his proxy and we may see a more active Kamala Harris in the domain of international diplomacy in the coming days, as evident by her presence at the recently concluded APEC meeting in Bangkok in place of President Biden.

The writer is a freelance contributor.

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