One of the things about the Corona crisis in India is that people have spoken very little of its impact so far on specific elections. Of course, there was been the usual political blame game, but nothing specific with respect to elections. That is a bit surprising in itself, because in India, we are almost always having an election or another. But the Corona crisis hit in what feels like the longest lull we have in India’s election calendar. Between Delhi in February and Bihar in November.
The word “feels” is important. Delhi usually brings an end to the election season which begins a year and half ago with 3 Hindi heartland states (now Telangana too), General Election, then Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Delhi. Then, there is a pause and we get into the middle of the Prime Minister’s term, starting from Bihar. The last election in the “middle period” is Karnataka. Uttar Pradesh is seen as the unofficial halfway mark.
But big elections are happening in other places which will cast a shadow on India. In the US, this is election year. Trump was really coasting along until the Wuhan Corona virus came along. I mean, what the Democrats thinking? Trump versus the failing old Joe Biden? This election was basically in the bag for Trump. But now, who knows? Trump is probably still winning. I mean, people have all but forgotten Joe Biden. He’s gone from the screens. But there is definite uncertainty now. Corona could bring the United States to its knees. How will the electorate react then? An incumbent will find it hard to win re-election if everyone sees the country is a disaster.
Over the last three years, we have really gotten to understand Trump as a person. He is a clever man, but not very complicated. He likes to blurt it out big. In a situation like this, which requires a lot of finesse and caution, Trump is out of his depth. His big words will come back to bite him.
He has only one loud pitch that he can make to the voters in his characteristic hectoring fashion.
He has to keep American voters constantly reminded that this is China’s fault. And the worse the situation gets, the louder and more persistent he has to be.
Of course, America blaming China is music to our ears. And of course, the charge against China is absolutely correct. China is to blame here. How could there be any doubt about that? And in this situation, blaming China also happens to be the most politically convenient thing for Trump to do.
In the meanwhile, China’s response has been a great example of what not to do with Trump. Remember that the Chinese government is under even more pressure to appear all powerful in front of its people. In the old days, they would just have blacked out the global news and nobody in China would have known what Trump is saying. But in the globalized world, this is no longer possible.
So China has to hit back, with absurd allegations of America having spread the virus. You can see the desperation with which Xinhua and Global Times are trying to troll the Americans. Which is exactly the kind of catnip that Trump needs to turbo charge his rhetoric. At one point, China even suggested that the US military might have spread the virus. Trump is not going to let that go.
In short, America and China are going to dial up the rhetoric. As long as Trump is in charge. The Democrats would probably have done the exact same thing if they were in power. But out of power, their politics forces them to oppose everything Trump says. See how a Democrat mouthpiece like CNN covers it.
So as things stand, Republicans have a political incentive to go bitterly against China. And Democrats have no choice but to side with China.
Imagine if you were a Democrat. You would want China to be blamed as little as possible, so that most of the blame goes to Trump. If you were a Republican, the exact opposite. You blame China as much as possible to shield Trump.
It is not hard to see which side is better aligned with India’s strategic interests.
Of course it is one thing in the run up to the election and what actually comes after the election. We know it’s not easy to be tough on China. They are very powerful. The US economy and the Chinese economy are deeply interconnected.
We all know that politicians don’t make good on every promise after they get elected. But knowing Trump, we can expect some big bang promises to act tough against China. After he gets re-elected, he will be under pressure to make good on at least some of those promises.
You could ask: how can there be pressure on Trump to do anything in his second term? He can’t run for a third, so he can do whatever he wants.
First of all, don’t be so sure. Trump is exactly the kind of guy who would ask for a third term, comparing himself to Roosevelt. Contrary to popular belief, there is literally nothing in US law that prevents a President from running for a third term. It’s just a charming convention that’s been around, established by Washington himself, one of America’s many great democratic traditions. If Trump gets a second, believe me, he will want a third.
Secondly, it was only the other day that Trump described himself as a “wartime president,” referring to the pandemic. You can see that he really wishes for that glory. And at the moment, he can only get that glory by getting tougher and tougher on China.
Needless to say, there are other strategic advantages that accrue to India if Trump gets re-elected. India’s relations with the global liberal complex are now so bad that any quick repair seems out of reach. And the Democratic Party is now controlled by Islamists like never before.
In diplomacy, there is no room for sentiments, only strategic interests. At the moment, Trump’s political interests are aligned with India’s strategic interests. And his re-election (likely) will be a relief for India.