WILL THAT RED/BLUE WAVE RIPPLE GLOBALLY?

WILL THAT RED/BLUE WAVE RIPPLE GLOBALLY?

Today, a deeply divided America votes in midterm elections for Congress, governors, and state and local legislatures. Amid a level of furious polarization not seen in decades, the vote is in many ways a referendum on President Trump’s unconventional presidential style, his “America First” agenda, and his bid to take the Republican Party in a radically more nationalistic direction.


Democrats, fired up with animus against Trump, are hoping that strong turnout among millennial voters and women (particularly in politically-purple suburban districts) can help them gain the two dozen seats they’ll need in order to take control of the House of Representatives, as polls suggest they can. Republicans, meanwhile, are focusing more on defending their control of the Senate. President Trump, in recent days, has rallied the party’s base by stoking fears about immigration and focusing on America’s roaring economy. The latest surveys suggest GOP will hold the upper chamber.

Since our beat here is global affairs, let’s take a look at the election through that lens.

How much do mid-term voters care about foreign policy?

 

Quite a bit. Polls show that foreign policy is a top issue for about two-thirds of voters right now. That’s about the same as in 2014, and while it ranks lower than traditional domestic issues such as healthcare (top concern for 80% of voters), economic policy, or immigration, it’s one of the few issues that is equally important for both Democrats and Republicans (see graphic below.)

What’s more, while it’s true that immigration outshines “foreign policy” as a concern for Republicans and “climate policy” does the same for Democrats – both of those issues are in fact closely bound up with the broader debate about what role America should play globally today. For Trump and his supporters, for example, proposals to regulate immigration more tightly and exit global pacts to combat climate change are part and parcel of the more assertively nationalistic America First foreign policy that he has outlined.

Do other countries and their leaders care?

 

You bet. Other world leaders are watching the election closely because of what the result tells them about Trump’s political future – a strong showing for the GOP will put Trump in a more competitive position as he seeks his own re-election in just two years.

That calculation is particularly important for leaders at odds with the US: after all, Chinese president Xi Jinping has to calculate how far to take a trade war with the US; North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has to craft an endgame for his current strategy of wooing Trump personally without conceding much on denuclearization; and Iran has to decide whether to abandon the nuclear deal now that the US has bolted on it, or to hold out hope for repairing it under a future US administration less implacably hostile to Tehran. All of those decisions look very different if Trump seems likely to be in power for another six years rather than just another two.

But that question matters also for traditional American allies such as Japan, Canada, and the EU, which are watching closely to assess the depth and permanence of the uncertainty the Trump has introduced into their ties to Washington. The prospect of another half dozen years of Trump would accelerate their efforts to develop financial and security policies that are more independent of the United States.

Would a divided Congress affect Trump’s foreign policy?

 

Not directly, no. In foreign policy, the US President has extremely broad scope for action – on military interventions, trade policy, and adherence to international rules and norms – that does not require Congressional approval.

One of the few areas where the House will have a say is on ratifying the revised NAFTA treaty, now called the USMCA. But here House Democrats would be in a bind: opposing Trump’s relatively mild but still worker-friendly revisions to the pact would be political suicide if the party hopes to win back white blue-collar voters who voted for Trump in 2016. Hard to see House Democrats making that a hill to die on just to stymie Trump.

What the House can do is open Congressional investigations or audits of areas that are related to foreign policy – such as the budgets of the Pentagon and State Department, Trump’s alleged financial ties to foreign powers, or the ongoing allegations of collusion in the 2016 election.  Prominent democrats have already signaled that if they gain control of the House this is precisely what they plan to do.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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