Home >Opinion >Columns >Opinion | Guess who’ll be chauffeured by opponents to the White House

As he touches down in Ahmedabad, one would guess that US President Donald Trump is pretty pleased with the way things are back home. He is looking forward to getting re-elected in November. And more so, because the Democrats are doing much of the campaign work for him.

First, their attempt to throw Trump out. Even as the impeachment process began in October, every rational observer knew how it would end. It didn’t matter at all whether he was guilty of abuse of power or not. The US Congress, with a Democratic majority, impeached him, but the US Senate, with a Republican majority, had the final say in January. In those three months, Trump’s popularity actually rose. The day the Senate cleared him, the weekly Gallup poll found Trump’s approval rating at 49%, his highest ever.

One reason is the economy. The unemployment rate is the lowest in decades. Wages are rising. Typical US family income is higher than it has ever been. According to a Gallup poll in January, not only do 59% Americans say they are better off than a year ago, three-quarters of them expect to be even better off a year from now. Bernie Sanders, the “democratic socialist" who is the current front-runner among the Democratic Party presidential hopefuls, keeps shouting about economic injustice, but Trump can confidently brag that capitalism works.

The Democrats vying to be nominated the party’s candidate are divided into “progressives" and moderates. Sanders is the most “progressive", having said that “billionaires should not exist" (though fate, working through his best-selling books, has made him a millionaire), that the government should provide free health insurance for all, borders should be fully open, and convicts should be allowed to vote from prison. He is vague on where the trillions of dollars needed for his insurance plan will come from, or what he has in mind for the millions who earn a living from the private health insurance industry, which he will shut down.

Elizabeth Warren, the other “progressive", started with a similar insurance proposal, but made the mistake of trying to explain the math behind it. She has since backtracked and now says it’ll be optional. Having dropped down the ratings chart, she is trying to work out more nuanced stances on various issues.

The moderate field was initially led by former vice-president Joe Biden, but he has been fumbling badly. The new star is 38-year-old Pete Buttigieg, a former small-town mayor. He is sharp, good-looking, a calm and logical speaker (he used to work at McKinsey), and is suddenly looking like the great white hope for moderate Democrats.

And then there’s billionaire Michael Bloomberg, a former New York City mayor who has already spent a record $340 million on advertising. But in his first TV debate last Wednesday, he was gutted by the other candidates over allegedly racist policies as mayor, and his record on gender. Warren called him “a billionaire who calls people fat broads and horse-faced lesbians". But, complains a US-based friend: “If they come face to face, Trump will eat up a decent guy like Pete. Only Bloomberg can tell him to shut up, because he has more money than Trump."

This, finally, is the key issue haunting the Democratic Party: Who can beat Trump? If Sanders becomes the party’s candidate, a lot of moderate voters may stay home or vote Trump, because they see in Sanders “a dangerous commie", as a friend put it. In fact, Third Way, a centre-left think tank in the US, has been writing to prominent Democrats, warning them that supporting Sanders is exactly what “Trump wants you to do".

Whether Trump’s policies had anything to do with it or not, he can boast—with non-fake numbers—that he has fulfilled his promise to “make America great again". And many Americans who dislike him may still decide to go with the known devil rather than a radical who wants to nationalize major industries and give convicted terrorists the vote, just two of the many points on which Trump will come at Sanders all guns blazing.

But Sanders’ core supporters believe in Bernie-or-bust. Only 53% of Sanders voters say they will certainly support whoever is the Democratic nominee. In fact, in 2016, after Sanders lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton, Trump won three states (Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin), and the presidency, because large numbers of Sanders voters shifted to him in a huff.

So the party bosses—the Democratic National Committee—have a huge problem. If a majority of delegates back Sanders at the party’s convention in July, he goes through as the presidential candidate. If not, there would be byzantine backroom negotiations to find a consensus candidate.

Trump would love Sanders as his opponent. His tweets now focus on Bloomberg, whom he calls “Mini Mike"—Bloomberg is actually 5’8", but Trump, always factual, claims he is 5’4", and needs a box to stand on to appear on TV debates. But is Bloomberg the man for Democrats? Buttigieg has said: “Bernie will burn the party down, and Mike will buy it out." Meanwhile, Trump is having a good time, watching himself being chauffeured to another four years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Sandipan Deb is a former editor of ‘Financial Express’, and founder-editor of ‘Open’ and ‘Swarajya’ magazines

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