Of course, the United States presidential election isn't the only major race on the world stage this year. Ian Bremmer takes a look at a number of highly important elections around the globe this year, including those in New Zealand, Israel and South Korea. One thing is clear - for most democratic political contests in 2020, no matter whose name is on the ballot, coronavirus is on voters' minds. Elections right now are as much a referendum on pandemic response as they are on the politicians running.
Who does Vladimir Putin want to win the US election? Given the Kremlin's well-documented efforts to sway the 2016 vote in Donald Trump's favor, it's certainly a fair question. And while there's no solid evidence that Russian interference had any decisive effect on the outcome four years ago, the Trump administration itself says the Kremlin — and others — are now trying to mess with the election again.
So let's put you in Vladimir Putin's size 9 shoes as you weigh up Donald Trump vs Joe Biden while refreshing your own personal PyatTridsatVosem (FiveThirtyEight) up there in the Kremlin.
Trump: Is this as good as it gets? If Donald Trump's election in 2016 was supposed to dramatically improve the Russia-US relationship, then you're very disappointed. None of the Obama-era sanctions (over Ukraine or human rights) has been lifted – and in fact the Trump Administration has expanded sanctions against your officials, companies, and cronies. What's more, Washington has, over your repeated objections, walked out of one major arms control treaty that was important to you, while another hangs by a thread with just days until the US election.
On the other hand, you love how Donald Trump sees the world. For him, US alliances are based on political and financial transactions rather than values. Trump's Washington is far less interested in playing global policeman or haranguing you about human rights and civil society. This is a world in which Russia can punch above its weight. Plus, Trump's toxic effect on an already deeply polarized American society has been a delight for you: just desserts for an America that once — obnoxiously, in your view — styled itself as a model of democracy.
Joe Biden: the perks of predictability?
Joe Biden, meanwhile, has already promised to make you pay for election meddling— though it's not quite clear how. But even beyond that, you're not excited about a Biden administration that would shore up ties with European allies, reaffirm the US commitment to NATO, or restart efforts to break the stalemate in eastern Ukraine (you like your conflicts frozen, not stirred.) And while Washington will always be reluctant to impose crippling sanctions on your oil sector or sovereign debt — the costs would probably be too high for energy consumers and banks on both sides of the Atlantic — you could certainly see fresh US sanctions on new energy projects that are important to you.
But there'd be some upside too. As a more traditional supporter of US alliances and international agreements, Biden has signaled he'd want to rejoin the Iran Nuclear deal -- which you and the other European signatories still see as the best way to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons -- and he'd almost certainly sit down with you to renegotiate those strategic arms control treaties.
But perhaps most of all, Biden would be a much more predictable leader. Unlike the barely controlled chaos of Trump's foreign policy you'd at least know where you stand with a Biden administration. Statements and policies would be cleared and vetted and credible, in all the normal ways. (You'd no longer have your spooks watch Sean Hannity for foreign policy clues.)
In other words, you might not like Biden's policies, but you would at least have a clearer picture of what they are. Then you could quickly reclaim your title as world's most unpredictable leader of a great power!
Then again... You know you can't shape the election outcome, and you'll be prepared to deal with whoever wins. Your recent slap-down of Trump's unsubstantiated corruption allegations about Hunter Biden show that you're looking at the polls and hedging your bets.
So maybe, in the end, you don't care that much who wins. You're rooting for chaos, the American nightmare of a close election that pushes protesters into the streets. After all, anything that claws down the drapes of American democracy is a good outcome for you.
You'll be up early next Wednesday.
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:
Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Yet another exciting week in the run-up to the US elections. Not the only thing going on, though, not at all. I mean, first of all, coronavirus continues to be by far the biggest story in the US, in Europe, as we have a major second wave, and indeed in many countries around the world. Also, we're seeing a lot more instability pop up. I mean, we've had every Sunday now for about three months massive unprecedented protests in Belarus. They're not slowing down at all. We see major demonstrations, including anti-royal demonstrations in Thailand, Pakistan. You've got significant instability right now, of course, we'd seen in Lebanon over the past months. Why is this all going on? Is this a GZERO phenomenon?
I would say not quite, but it is related in the sense that the reason you have a leaderless world today, the reason you have a GZERO world is because increasingly, political architecture and institutions have been weakening and they aren't aligned with the geopolitical order. Similarly, the reason why you're seeing so much more instability these days is because a lot of people feel like their own domestic governance has not been fit for purpose, certainly in the United States and the big social movements and the growing divide between red and blue on the back of an unprecedented economic crisis and pandemic in modern times that is hitting not just everyone together, but really those economics are on the back of the working class and the middle-class, what people are increasingly calling a K-shaped recovery, where Bezos is now worth almost $200 billion, anyone in the knowledge economy is doing pretty well.
You can socially distance. You can work at home. Your jobs are doing fine. Your 401ks are fine. The markets are popping. But what if you don't have any of that access? What if you're not in a job like that? What if you don't have stocks in a portfolio? Well, then your life has gotten a lot harder and you're feeling that support for those that say they're going to do better for you doesn't really make your life any better. I thought it was really interesting that we had these big rallies in the last couple of days from President Trump and we'll see them again every day for the next couple of weeks where he's saying, if you elect Biden, he's going to listen to the scientists.
If you're a PhD, you say, "Well, okay, that's a good thing, right? We want the experts being listened to." But if you're someone for whom life has been getting worse for them decades now, not just in the last four years, but for a long time, you feel like you've been lied to. That's not just political leaders from one party or another. That's the media, that's the scientists, that's everyone out there with their so-called facts and great education who may be really smart and they may be really smug, but they're not helping you, and in that regard, the fact that President Trump can still have a 40% approval rating and say the sorts of things he's saying and respond the way he is responding to this coronavirus shows you how deeply the system has eroded.
Whether Trump wins or whether Biden wins coming up, these problems are not going away. They're much more structural, and I do get the sense that a lot of people in the foreign policy establishment in the United States and the foreign policy establishment in the US, both left and right, is largely anti-Trump and they see how much Trump is disliked outside the United States in many, most countries around the world, America first as an overt strategy and tagline doesn't surprise you that it's not going to work very well if you don't happen to be American.
But I think there is a broad belief that if we just get rid of Trump, if Biden comes in, then everyone's going to flop to the United States as a leader again. Number one, that's just not the case. I mean, the erosion of American leadership was happening well before Trump. The feeling that the United States was increasingly hypocritical in the way that it led, I mean, you think about the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, you think about Guantanamo, you think about failed promotion of democracy internationally at the same time that America's own democratic capabilities at home are increasingly seen by its own people as not fit for purpose, nevermind the way that the Canadians or the Germans or the Scandinavians or others who might look at the United States would increasingly see the United States is not such an effective model.
Well, you need to realize that it's not like everyone is just sort of gagging at the bit for anyone but Trump and now we're going to love the United States again. It's going to be much more fragmented. This GZERO world is not a product of Trump and it's going to persist beyond whether it's one or two Trump administrations. I guess, I've always thought that's more important. I mean, I do worry about the further acceleration of the erosion of American institutions happening under a president that doesn't care particularly for rule of law and doesn't really believe that in the strength of representative democracy or human rights, he's much more transactional his orientation. So certainly, I've seen that whether it's the executive or corruption in the civil service, or whether it's the effective functioning of the legislature in the US, all of those things have been eroding for some time, but they're eroding more quickly under the Trump administration.
But I mean, so too, is the media having its legitimacy erode in the last four years, and I would argue that's largely self-inflicted how they've chosen to respond to a very divided and commercially very enriching political landscape for them. How social media has chosen to ignore the importance of coexisting well with a civil society and fabric that supports it because they'd rather ensure that they can maximize eyeballs, advertising and revenue, and the business models are not particularly aligned.
So I think it's important for us to understand that these issues are much more structural than the election that we're going to have in the next couple of weeks. Also, because lots of other countries continue to experience these things challenges, and the next two years are still, irrespective of who's leading the United States, largely going to be defined by how humanity both collectively and the deeply fragmented are responding to this continued coronavirus. We now have caseload in many countries across Europe that is higher than it was during their first wave. Deaths are certainly going down. In the United States, deaths are going up from a month ago, but they're down from where they were in the early wave.
Science is responding more effectively to the crisis, but we are nowhere close to out of this and we won't be until we have a vastly more effective and broader testing regime, until we have much better political leadership and until we have vaccines that are distributed and across the world in sufficient amounts with education that people are going to take them. we're talking about still another couple of years where that's defining the way that the global political environment and economic environment actually works, and in that regard, I think irrespective of how this us election turns out, you're still going to be in this period of extraordinary crisis of headlines on a daily basis, whip-sawing you from issue to issue.
Yes, if Trump is gone, Twitter will drive you a little less crazy and there won't be as many headlines driven by it. But the country I think is going to be every bit as divided, in fact, in many ways more so in part because the election will be seen as illegitimate by many, and in part more importantly, because the economic impact of this crisis is going to be so much harder for people.
Final thing I would say is that in 2020, the healthcare response to coronavirus has been radically mixed and differentiated around the world. Some have done very well in response on the healthcare side. We know who those countries are. It's Japan, it's South Korea, it's Germany, it's Canada, it's others. Some have done a poor job on the healthcare side, frankly, including our own United States, the United Kingdom and many others, Brazil. But economically, almost every major economy in the world has done a really good job in the first year of this crisis, responding to it. All the central bank governors, almost all the ministers of finance, the US Secretary of Treasury, almost all the major legislatures in the world have responded adequately or more than adequately to the nature of the economic crisis.
In 2021, the primary issue is not going to be the healthcare fallout. That will be better, in part because we've learned a lot. The death rate is going to go down, in part because the effectiveness is going to be better. You'll have more treatments, you'll start to have vaccine, all those things, but the economic impact is going to be much worse and I fear the economic response is going to be much more differentiated and haphazard, and that is one of the reasons why we need to pay a lot more attention to coronavirus in 2021, even as there's going to be such fatigue from talking about and dealing with the pandemic, but most human beings around the world are still going to be experiencing it and that's that bottom of the K.
Keep in mind that the one thing the K-shape recovery really doesn't teach you is that when you hear about a K, you think, "Well, both legs of the K are actually equivalent." Not true. That top of the K only reflects about 10% of the population in the advanced industrial economies. The bottom of the K is pretty much everybody else. Going to have to address that in a serious way in the next year. Thanks everyone. Be safe. Avoid people. Talk to you soon.
Finally, someone who can actually control Trump and Biden on the debate stage.
Watch more PUPPET REGIME!
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:
Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here with Moose, the dog. He's barely awake. It's a Happy Monday to you and we are still deep in the throws of coronavirus, myself, the country, the world, the President. I mean, it's what we're talking about. It is by far the most important story out there.
But what a crazy news cycle, my God. I mean, if you think about the last few days, you've got a new Supreme Court nominee they're trying to move through. You've got Trump's former campaign manager getting arrested after an attempted suicide. You've got massive tax revelations in the New York Times about Trump not paying taxes for 10 years and then paying $750 for two years in a row, which is a weird number.
Then, of course, the most historically ridiculous presidential debate that any of us had seen. Of course, all of that goes out the window because President Trump is found to be positive for coronavirus, as well as the First Lady Melania and his press secretary and a couple of Republican senators and a whole bunch of other people. It turns out that this event in the Rose Garden and inside the White House was a super spreader event. Lots of people getting coronavirus inside the White House, which means maybe you don't want to spend as much time there.
Anyway, quite something and obviously a negative for Trump's re-election campaign efforts. The reason being that he doesn't want to talk about coronavirus. He wants to talk about the economy where he polls better than Biden consistently and he wants to talk about the Supreme Court nominee, who he probably still gets through. But with three Republican senators now having gotten coronavirus, two on the judiciary committee, two that attended the Coney Barrett announcement in the Rose Garden, you have a delay in Senate's ability to convene and if there are more positive cases, it's possible it'll be hard to get done until the lame duck.
In any case, you've only got four weeks to go, less than 30 days to go, thank God, before the election and what that means is we're talking about coronavirus for at least a couple of those weeks, first and foremost, and that makes it very hard for Trump to gain ground. He's behind. He's behind a little bit more than he was after those debates and probably still after being hospitalized. He's leaving the hospital shortly.
What is the strategy going forward? Well, if you're Trump, it is the Bolsonaro scenario strategy. It's what the Brazilian president did. Very simple. It is, "I'm fine. I got through this. I wasn't going to lock myself down because it's horrible for the economy. I've got to do my job just like you have to do your job. If that means I get this disease, okay, it knocked me out for a bit. But hey, I'm not young. I'm not Melania. I'm 74. I'm still able to get back on my feet. We've got to deal with this. So, don't be scared. Don't panic. Don't take it so seriously."
By the way, that also means that he is not going to be saying, "We all have to mask up. I made a mistake." He's not going to say, "We all have to social distance. I made a mistake." He's going to say, "I was right to not listen to Dr. Fauci. I was right to not listen to all of the scientists, all the epidemiologists that wanted us to lock down. No, we've got to get the economy going again. The Democrats are the ones that are trying to lock you down."
Now, that worked for Bolsonaro. He went from 40% to 50% in one month after he contracted coronavirus. Trump is a little under 40% right now. If he could get 10 points, heck if he could get five points, he'd be much more in this race. But Bolsonaro's popularity didn't just come because he dealt with the virus and he was fine, it also came because the numbers of coronavirus cases was going down in Brazil during that month significantly, the cases, the hospitalizations and the deaths and lots of checks were being written. 46%, 47% of the entire Brazilian population were getting big checks in their pockets for their stimulus and relief.
Now in the United States, it's getting colder. You've got states that are opening up. We now just have the largest number of cases that the U.S. has seen in two months. It's moving in the other direction. People are talking about a second wave. Those numbers are probably going to continue to be reasonably high. They might soften a bit, but not like you saw in Brazil, so that's harder. The ability to get a deal done on stimulus for a couple trillion dollars, I mean, Pelosi's Speaker of the House and Secretary of Treasury Mnuchin are talking to each other. They're interested in getting a deal and they might even announce one, but getting one actually through both houses of Congress fast enough that it matters for the election, I'm not sure there's time.
In other words, the two things that got Bolsonaro up to 50 don't look like they're going to get Trump up to 45. Also, the country's much more divided, the U.S., then Brazil is and the level of hatred for Trump among those that really don't like him and level of love for Trump among those that really love him is so much more entrenched. I mean, the number of people I've seen on social media that are saying, "I hope the president dies," that that would be a good thing. He's the President. I mean, I hope he loses. I don't hope he dies. I want him to recover as quickly as possible. He's a human being. The fact that he doesn't show empathy for anyone else doesn't affect me in terms of the way I think about other people. That's a strange thing.
But it's so divided. It's so ugly and so partisan that I just don't see any amount of potential sympathy for the President having gone through this. None. None at all, aside from people that already love him. I mean, the amazing thing is the fact that he's on the other side of this, mishandled this as badly as he has, 210,000 Americans dead, the test capacity nowhere near what it should be, not wearing masks, not taking the lead on social distancing. So much worse response than a country like Germany, which we should be doing better than and we're not and yet Trump's approval has not really slipped on the back of that either.
So, it works both ways. That electorate just isn't really moving, but he needs a lot more independence. He needs a lot more turnout and I just don't see that happening. I still think the strategy for President Trump is obscure, a lot of chaos, contest the outcome, say the mail-in ballots are fake and fraudulent and hope that allows you to be able to say, "We don't know who won and so it's not clear and so it was rigged," and then push that as far as you can. I think when you're losing and you're Trump, that's the strategy.
Before I let you guys go, my God, Armenia, Azerbaijan, a significant war. It looks like thousands dead now, not hundreds, thousands and there's actually attacks, drone strikes, missiles on Armenia proper, on Azerbaijan proper. It's not just about Karabakh, the contested territory, anymore. The international community, almost all of them are calling for a ceasefire except Turkey because President Erdoğan's popularity is down. His economy's in the toilet. He's tried to raise nationalist support for drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, got bloodied up a bit by the Greeks and the United States. Told him to calm down. So, he's the one that's willing to take risks and he's on the side of Azerbaijan.
The case of Russia, which traditionally would have kept Azerbaijan in their corner, they're selling weapons to both countries and Armenia's had a peaceful transition to democracy. They're more independent from the Russians. They're still supporting the same defense treaties, trade and all the rest, but Putin's not very happy with that, so he's clearly willing to stand by and let these Azeris and others bloody the Armenians up a bit. Not much being said in the United States right now because we're so damn distracted. Usually, there would be.
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:
Hi, everybody, Ian Bremmer here. And it's completely insane. I think we can say that now. The news cycle is well beyond anything that we've ever experienced in our lives. I mean, let's face it just in the last week we had a massive New York Times data dump showing that President Trump had paid no taxes for 10 years and $750 in 2016 and 2017, which is a weird number, $750. Where do you come up with $750. Kind of just kind of arbitrary, right? It's like, it's less than a puppy, but more than if you were buying it rescue, I don't know. We'll dig into that. And then of course the worst debate, presidential debate of our life times without any question, some 71 times that President Trump actually interrupted the moderator, another 30 by Biden, all in all over one interruption per minute, it was useless. There was no information.
My view is we shouldn't bother to have any more presidential debates in this cycle. And you know what? I might get that wish because today we can throw out all of that other news, who's paying attention to it. President Trump and the First Lady, Melania Trump have tested positive for coronavirus. My God, who wanted to wake up to that, some people were still awake apparently, 1:00 AM this morning, finding that out on the East coast, you folks on the West coast, I just feel bad. And the rest of the world, I'm sorry that we continue to be airing our dirty linens all over the place, but this is a mess. And it's a mess because of course the election is coming up in just over a month. And that means we're going to have this coronavirus story around the President and everyone in his inner circle getting tested and all the rest.
That's just going to dominate the news for the coming weeks. What's the implications of that? Well, first of all, beyond the election, I think it is important to recognize that the three leaders of the G20 who have taken coronavirus the least seriously, who have been least willing to lead with science and expertise, are now the three leaders of the G20 that have also come down with coronavirus themselves. I am talking about British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. I'm talking about Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. And of course I'm talking about my own President, Donald Trump. That tells you something. It tells you that coronavirus is a very serious disease and it should be taken as such. Jair Bolsonaro had only mild symptoms, came back pretty quickly. His popularity did not really take much of a dump at all. Especially as coronavirus numbers are now going down in Brazil.
In the United Kingdom, Johnson, Prime Minister Johnson could have died. He was in the ICU, it was much more serious. There was a rally around him and greater support as people were concerned about his own health and safety. Since then, the UK has done worse in terms of coronavirus, some of the worst response in all of Europe still, and his approval ratings have gone down. In the United States, I suspect it'll be in between. In between, in part because President Trump's approval ratings are low, but incredibly sticky. He's got his base. They don't oppose him for any reason. And I don't think they're going to now. Also, I mean, I certainly don't believe, I certainly hope that Trump is going to recover and recover quickly. Keep in mind, he's 74 years old. He is obese. That is a preexisting condition, but otherwise doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, has the best healthcare in the world. The percentages will tell you, he's unlikely to need to be hospitalized.
He's very unlikely to need to go to the ICU, but it's a real possibility. And it's something we have to take very seriously indeed. Perhaps more importantly for the country, we are now going to be talking about coronavirus as the top issue for the next four weeks. That's a big deal because President Trump hasn't wanted to talk about coronavirus. He doesn't do as well talking about it. He's not seen to have handled it very well. He was well behind Biden in coronavirus. He's considerably better than Biden in who handles the US economy better. So if he's able to focus on the economy and to a degree on law and order issues, that benefits Trump. If we're talking about coronavirus and particularly we're talking about his coronavirus and Melania's coronavirus. And people around him who have coronavirus, well, that's obviously going to do worse for him.
So I had believed that Trump's approval, likelihood of winning the presidency was about a 35%, Biden, 65%. And I thought it would get closer as we got closer to the election because the economy was picking up and because coronavirus numbers going down. I don't believe that's going to get closer now because of this massive piece of news in Trump and the First Lady having coronavirus. Even if he gets better quickly and only has mild symptoms, we're still talking about a President that is going to be in isolation for 10 days to 14 days minimum. Someone who will not be able to go on the campaign trail the way he was, and it could be worse than that. So you'd certainly be handicapping the race more strongly in Biden's favor. At this point, maybe 70%, maybe a little bit better.
Having said that, Trump's willingness to contest the outcome continues to be a hundred percent. That means the Trump army watching the polls. It means trying to throw out ballots. It means only one polling place per County for drop-off ballots in Texas, which is astonishing and makes it harder for people to physically vote. I mean, just lots of efforts to ensure that the balloting process is in favor of Trump and the Republicans, and can be contested in favor of Trump and the Republicans. Given that, Biden is going to be contesting as well, if it turns out they're behind. I still think that it may well be that the election itself is more of a landslide. It's possible. I'm not sure I would say it's likely, but I still think after election day, the most likely outcome is it's contested. It goes legal. And this is a really ugly process for quite some time, weeks, maybe months.
So, we're heading into the thick of it. At the very least, I can say at least the next presidential debate, probably not going to happen. And given the fact that we learned absolutely nothing and on balance, it just damaged the country, I guess I'm fine with that. But it's going to be a lot of coronavirus all the time. Final thing I would say is it is by far the biggest story of the year, not the US economy, certainly not issues of social instability in individual cities. It's not Antifa. It's not the proud boys. It's not any of that. It is the worst crisis of our lifetimes, a pandemic and the economic impact of that pandemic, the health impact of the pandemic. That's what we should be talking about globally. It's what we should be talking about in the United States, in the US election. And that's what we will be talking about. And that regard, it's something that we should be grateful for. That's it for me. I'll talk to you all very soon.
[Note: see our new edition of the debate bingo cards for the final Trump-Biden debate here.]
On Tuesday night, you can finally watch Trump and Biden tangle on the debate stage. But you TOO can go head to head on debate night .. with your fellow US politics junkies.
Print out GZERO's handy debate BINGO cards and get ready to rumble. There are four different cards so that each player may have a unique board. Every time one of the candidates says one of these words or terms, X it on your card. First player to get five across wins. And if you really want to jazz it up, you can mark each of your words by taking a swig of your drink, or doing five burpees, or donating to your favorite charity or political candidate. Whatever gets you tipsy, in shape, or motivated, get the bingo cards here. It's fight night!
Print and enjoy strongly! Don't forget to tag us @gzeromedia when you share the cards (and your success) on social media.
Watch as Eurasia Group's Jon Lieber offers a recap of the Democratic National Convention to nominate Joe Biden as the Democratic candidate for president:
All in all, a successful convention for the Democrats, four nights of pretty slick production values that drove home the message of Joe Biden's decency and the fact he is not Donald Trump. One interesting contrast between 2020 and 2016 was that the Democrats largely treated Donald Trump like a joke in 2016 and didn't seem to take very seriously. This year, they're treating him as though he's an existential threat to democracy with a really dark and ominous warning from former President Barack Obama.
Interesting snub of Julián Castro, the former presidential candidate who did not appear alongside the other Democratic candidates, even though Mike Bloomberg, a former Republican, got significant airtime along with other Republican validators of Joe Biden's bipartisanship and decency, trying to suggest that if you elect him, he's going to return represent a return to normalcy. Not a lot of talk about policy at the convention, which, of course, would take the focus off the character of Joe Biden and give President Trump stronger grounds for attacking.
Next week, you're going to have the Republican National Convention, where I think you're going to have a lot of focus on Democratic policies designed to make the Democrats look like out of touch urban elites. Some interesting, colorful characters. I expect ratings will probably be down for the Republicans as well. And in a couple of weeks, the campaign will have moved on to the next really important thing that's going to happen, which is the debates. And that's President Trump's next opportunity to try to make Joe Biden look like he may be a little bit too old for the job, something Biden did a great job last night of dispelling with a very competent workman-like acceptance speech.