Why Europe needs Joe Biden as much as America does
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Beset by Brexit and menaced by Putin, Europe once again needs the support of a global-thinking America. With Joe Biden, there may be hope, says BARNABY TOWNS.
In so many ways — from immigration and exploration to conquest and exploitation — the United States is an extension of Europe.
An Italian, Christopher Columbus, placed America on Europe's map. The US was conceived by 13 British colonies on a continent where Britain competed with the Dutch, French and Spanish for control. The new nation inherited English parliamentary tradition, law and language and the Code Napoléon in Louisiana. America was European from the beginning.
This legacy stood Europe in good stead in her hour of need, with the US coming to the aid of our continent when threatened by Nazi domination, fulfilling Winston Churchill's 1940 prophesy, following the fall of France, that Britain would continue the struggle alone 'until in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue of the old.'
Post-war, the US launched the ambitious Marshall Plan, from 1948 transferring the equivalent of $128 billion in today's money to war-torn Europe, a quarter of which went to the United Kingdom; one-fifth to France; and one-tenth to West Germany. This commitment to rebuild was considered at one with efforts to open up transatlantic trade and stop the spread of communism. Thus the creation of the International Monetary Fund in 1945; the 1947 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade; and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in 1949.
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Tested but intact, this rules-based international order enjoyed the support of twelve post-war US presidents—six Democrats and Republicans each, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, unbroken until the election of self-declared nationalist Donald Trump.
Trump's policy pivot to 'America First' covers multiple bases. These include: withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Climate Accord; a slew of tariffs against European Union imports; a policy of rapprochement to anti-European Putin's Russia; a penchant for dictators like North Korea's Kim Jong-Il over democrats such as Macron and Merkel; and hostility toward the EU while backing Brexit.
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With a strong US economy, albeit inherited from his immediate predecessor, President Obama, internationally-minded Europeans and Americans have largely been resigned to Trump's re-election. But the president's mishandling of the coronavirus crisis and the ongoing national trauma of murder, racism and police brutality that led to protests, clashes and curfews appears to have brought out the worst in him. Always a divisive figure, Trump has outdone himself at a moment when Americans expect better.
Trump is already unusual in that his job approval rating at an average of 40pc throughout his presidency is lower than any of his predecessors since polling began. And 2016 was one of only five presidential elections of 59 in which the victor won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote, in Trump's case 46pc against Hilary Clinton's 48%.
Presumptive Democrat nominee Joe Biden is up eight points—50 to 42—on the realclearpolitics.com rolling average. Of course, this is a federal rather than national election, but at the same calendar point in 2016, Clinton was up 1.5pc—close to her final two point lead—and Obama, who won the popular vote by seven points in 2008 and four in 2012, was up only 1.3pc and 1.4% respectively. Respected pollsters Monmouth put Biden's lead at 52/41 and ABC/Washington Post at 53/43.
Battleground state polling is competitive, but Biden leads Trump in six of these—all of which Trump won last time: Arizona; Florida; Michigan; North Carolina; Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—on the latest RCP.com averages. Combined, these equal 101 Electoral College votes.
More surprisingly, polling is tight in states in which seasoned observers didn't expect Trump to have to exert effort to win. Latest polls out of Ohio, which Trump won by eight points in 2016, have Biden marginally ahead while in Texas, Trump leads the RCP average by just two points, having won by nine in 2016, meaning he may have to spend resources in such former Republican redoubts.
Key to Trump's current woes is that his successful cultivation of working-class white votes in the rust belt and rural America has been followed by alienating others. Even before the current crisis, a Garin-Hart-Yang/Global Strategy Group poll at the end of last year found, among suburban women, Trump's favourability rating at 34% with 61% unfavourable, and with job approval at 38pc versus 62pc disapproval.
The president's much-criticised handling of the coronavirus crisis has hurt him among senior citizens, a core Republican constituency that is more vulnerable to the virus. In a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll Biden led Trump by nine points, 52/43, among those 65 and older: a 16-point swing from Trump's seven point lead over Clinton in 2016 among this group.
Election Day is still some months away in an already highly-eventful year that could have yet more surprises in store. And no-one should underestimate Trump's capacity to cause chaos and invent issues to serve his own self-interest. But recent polling reveals a sitting president in trouble. Vice president under Obama and a 36-year veteran of the US Senate, Biden is a fully paid-up multilateralist and internationalist. Perhaps there's hope that Europe, beset by Brexit, menaced by Putin, and threatened by Trump, will get America back.
Barnaby Towns is a former UK government special adviser