Virtual DNC builds enthusiasm but Dems should not get complacent

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

Number one, the DNC is underway, the Democratic National Convention, how do you think the first night went?

Well, it's weird, right? Because it's virtual. But the fact that it's virtual means that everybody gets to practice their speeches and get the cinematic quality right, before it actually goes out. So, I mean, you know, when you've got a whole bunch of money and you've got Hollywood sensibilities advising you, you can make it look really good. And that's what they did. So, I mean, I do think it was entertaining, it was engaging. I think from a more meaningful, substantive perspective, it is pretty clear that you have a broader tent that is focused on getting Trump out of office.

Now, I mean the other side of that is that Biden is not driving the train, right? I mean, there's not an immense amount of enthusiasm about the actual candidate. And Kamala Harris certainly helps, but ultimately, Biden is the presidential candidate. And, you know, he's not going to inspire the way that Obama did, or Michelle Obama did last night. But certainly, I don't think you're going to have Bernie Sanders delegates, you know, opposing Biden the way many did during 2016 when I was at the both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions then. It was quite something to see, just the dissonance inside what was not one happy tent. Here, you've got a lot of people that are very motivated because everyone's angry with Trump. And I think with Kasich as well, who I, you know, I know pretty well. And I mean, you know, is an older guy from Ohio and it's an important swing state, but ultimately, I don't think Kasich is the person that swings more people to vote for Trump. It's just that there are also, in addition to the Bernie Sanders people being really anti Trump, there are a number of disenfranchised Republicans that are opposed to Trump, too. So, I think all of that, you know, certainly hurts.

And I also think it's true that Trump has criticized the fact that, well, they did these takes at different times so, you know, some people said 150,000, 160,000, 170,000 dead. In other words, they've been done over the last two weeks. True. But I mean, the fact is that the biggest crisis of my lifetime is happening right now. And, you know, President Trump didn't ask for that. It's not his fault that that's when it happened, but he's got the bag. And how he has seemed to respond to that crisis is a big piece of whether people are or are not going to vote for him. And, you know, the fact that that is 170,000 deaths and counting, right now, and the US economy is hurting, right now, is a real uphill lift.

And I've seen a lot of people saying, "well, if it wasn't for coronavirus, the economy would be doing really well. And, you know, what would the Democrats have to run on?" Sure, but of course, you're going to run on the biggest crisis that we've felt in our lifetimes. And Trump's direct leadership of that crisis has been lacking. And I think that's why Michelle Obama's speech was so powerful. It's not that everyone in the world loves Michelle, it's that she focused on the fact that Trump is not handling the crisis very well. This idea that, you know, well, "it is what it is." That line was so damning because it was Trump's response to all of the people that have died on coronavirus, you know, while he's president.

So, you know, that's where I think the DNC is. You know, it's virtual, a lot of people are watching it, I guess it's giving enthusiasm. I don't think it's going to give that much of a bump to Biden. And by the way, I do think that the numbers are going to get tighter between Biden and Trump as you get close to elections. Why? Because coronavirus numbers are coming down and hopefully will continue to come down as we learn more about it, and as there is more social distancing, and more mask wearing, and the rest, and also because the economy is going to continue to rebound. So, I mean, I wouldn't be complacent if I was a Democrat right now.

What is going on in New Zealand?

Well, President Trump said that there is a new outbreak, a big surge, in New Zealand, which is true. It's nine people. And that is a big surge for New Zealand because they had no cases for 100 days in the whole country and they had gotten back to normal. I mean, you know, gyms, sporting events, nightclubs, you name it. Can't do that now. Auckland is the capital, basically, excuse me, Aukland is the biggest city in New Zealand, not the capital, is under lockdown right now. And that's because they don't want to have spiraling cases. That's pretty impressive. It also means that they are delaying their national elections for four weeks, which is perfectly legal for them to do. And it's because they want to make sure that they have as much control over this virus as they possibly can. And there is very little to learn from New Zealand for the United States. They are an isolated country with relatively small population. It's not dense, densely populated. The one thing you can learn is that taking a pandemic seriously and leading with science and experts is that generally smart thing to do. But aside from that, I wouldn't say very much.

With China's vice grip over Hong Kong tightening, will the US recognize Taiwan sovereignty?

No, I don't think so. The US has an ambiguous position on Taiwanese sovereignty, does not recognize China's position, but it also does not formally recognize Taiwanese sovereignty. It is certainly moving more in that direction with the recent decision to send Cabinet Secretary Azar, of Health and Human Services, to Taiwan. I would say that is moving up to a Chinese red line, but not actually crossing it. My sense from the Trump administration is that they don't want to actually cross red lines in the coming weeks because they don't want a crisis with the Chinese. They just want to continue to show they're the toughest out there. Having said that, that's what the advisers are saying. What President Trump actually does, you know, is at the end of the day up to him. But I'd be really surprised if they move on this. Taiwan's never been a significant issue for President Trump himself. And Pompeo, the Secretary of State, knows what those red lines are.

Finally, will Russia intervene in Belarus?

This is a big and open question, and I don't think they will. We do see Russian troops moving up to the Belarus border. And keep in mind, Belarus is connected to Russia, but otherwise borders on NATO states, the Baltics and Poland. And the Russians have claimed that there is the potential for external intervention and warned countries, and said this with Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, warned them against external intervention. And that the Russians said they would intercede if there was external intervention. So, I think what Putin is doing is basically showing the international community that Belarus is still going to be under Russian influence. And by the way, the Belarusian people who hate Lukashenko, the president, have no problem with a continued political alignment towards Russia. But Putin is also making it clear to Lukashenko that he's not intending to intervene. Russian state media is focusing a great deal on the demonstrations. Putin has said very little about Lukashenko and the domestic situation in Belarus itself.

This reminds me very much of two years ago with Armenia when the Russians allowed a Coloured Revolution, a Velvet Revolution, to remove a kleptocratic government and bring in a prime minister who was anti corrupt, but still Armenia, very aligned towards Russia for military purposes, for economic and trading purposes and otherwise. And I think that is the case with Belarus. If the Russians were to militarily intervene to prop up an incredibly unpopular and very incompetent Lukashenko government, they would end up with lots of Belarussians directly opposing them. And for that reason, I'd be very surprised if Putin intervenes militarily.

That does mean it is more likely that Lukashenko is forced out. But so far, the military forces in Belarus have been supporting him. And until we see significant breaches there, the potential for more violence is quite significant. I mean, frankly, if the Russians were to intervene, I think they would actually squeeze politically and economically Lukashenko to leave if it looks like he really is that his last thread, and he's starting to use violence, allowing him to get out of the country and giving him a place of exile, but facilitating a new Belarusian government that ultimately would more reflect the interests of the people but would have a good relationship with Russia. That's where I think we're going, a bright spot in otherwise a pretty gloomy geopolitical outlook.

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How will the pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccine affect the overall pandemic fight in the United States?

Yeah. Right at it, right? Well, we heard that the FDA has suspended vaccines from J&J because of blood clots. They found six in seven million cases. It's kind of like the suspension of AstraZeneca in Europe. It's likely only going to last for a few days. It's a very small percentage of the total number of vaccines that are being jabbed right now into the arms of Americans. It's not going to really slow America's ability to get everyone vaccinated, but it is going to create more vaccine hesitancy. People at the margins will say, "Is this safe? They said it was fine. Now they're saying it's not okay." I understand why there's enormous caution on the part of the FDA, but I wish, wish, wish the communications had been a little softer around all of this. Also will be a problem in terms of export, as J&J is going to be a piece of that. And again, others around the world will say, "Well, if I don't get Moderna, if I don't get Pfizer, I'm not sure I want to take it at all." So all of this is negative news, though I would still say the United States this year is looking really, really good among major economies in dealing with pandemic.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Welcome to your week and I've got your Quick Take and thought I would talk a little bit about where we are with Iran. One of the Biden administration's promises upon election was to get the Americans back into the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal. As of last week, negotiations are formally restarted, and pretty quickly, in Vienna, they're not direct. The Americans and Iranians are both there, but they're being intermediated by the Europeans because they're not yet ready to show that they can talk directly to each other. That's Iran being cautious in the run-up to their presidential election coming this summer. But the movement is there. So far the talk has largely been about sequencing the Iranian government, saying that all of the sanctions need to be removed before they're willing to go back into the deal, because the Americans after all, unilaterally withdrew from a deal that the Iranians were indeed adhering to, and the inspections did confirm that.

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