After Trump, what is the future of the Republican Party?


David Smith, University of Sydney

In the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, seven out of 50 Republican senators voted to convict the former president of inciting insurrection. This has raised more questions than it has answered about where the Republican Party is going.

It still looks like Trump’s party, but for how long? Bill Cassidy, one of the seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump, says Trump’s power over the party will “wane”. He will certainly hope so. The Republican Party of Louisiana has already censured Cassidy for his disloyalty to Trump.

On the other hand, Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s top allies, believes Trump and his supporters are so important to the future of the party that Republicans should nominate his daughter-in-law to replace retiring Senator Richard Burr (who voted to convict).

Some in the party see Trump as a major liability who will only get more toxic. He is the first president since 1932 to oversee the loss of the White House and both houses of Congress in a single term. Joe Biden got the highest vote share of any presidential challenger since 1932 in the highest-turnout election since 1900, earning 7 million more votes than Trump.

However much Trump energised his supporters, he energised more of his opponents.

However much Trump energised his supporters, he energised his opponents more.
Kamil Krzaczynski/EPA/AAP

Despite all this, Republicans came within 90,000 votes of winning both houses of Congress and the presidency in 2020. Many Republicans believe Trump is an electoral asset who helped them outperform expectations and narrow the Democrats’ margins nationwide.

Unlike in 2012, there won’t be a Republican Party autopsy of the election defeat. Large numbers of Republicans doubt the outcome of the election, and most of the party’s legislators are unwilling to tell them otherwise.

In any case, the party went in the opposite direction from the path of moderation that the last autopsy recommended, and within four years they were back in control of the whole federal government.

So what might the future hold?




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The party is unlikely to split

The Republican Party has a huge and energetic pro-Trump base that controls the grassroots machinery of the party. It also represents a formidable primary voting bloc.

It has a much smaller but high-profile faction that wants to leave Trump behind, with significant representation among legislators, donors and media commentators.

For now, the two sides are stuck with each other.

In the past few weeks, figures on both sides have threatened to form new parties if they can’t control the direction of the GOP.

These threats have quickly evaporated. The most a new conservative party could achieve is to damage the electoral prospects of Republicans (something Trump might have contemplated in the face of the impeachment threat).

The American electoral system, which is winner-takes-all from top to bottom, is notoriously unforgiving to would-be third parties. Even people who feel alienated from their own parties are better off staying and fighting for power rather than forming a new party, which would never get anywhere near power.

It has been more than 160 years since divisions over slavery destroyed major parties in the United States. The Republican and Democratic parties have survived since the Civil War despite numerous fractures and even violent conflicts.

Congressional outcasts occasionally defect to the other major party. But, more often, members at odds with their party eventually retire and are replaced by new members more closely aligned with its direction. This process is one of the factors leading to the current polarisation of Congress.




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Moderates are being policed more harshly than extremists

Newly elected representative Marjorie Taylor Greene has become the focus of concerns about right-wing extremism in the Republican Party. Greene has a long history of amplifying dangerous conspiracy theories on social media.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell warned that “loony lies and conspiracy theories” are “a cancer for the Republican Party and our country”. Greene fired back: “The real cancer for the Republican Party is weak Republicans who only know how to lose gracefully. This is why we are losing our country.”

Newly elected representative Marjorie Taylor Greene has a long history of amplifying conspiracy theories.
Shawn Thew/EPA/AAP

House Democrats moved to strip Greene of her membership of congressional committees after Republican leader Kevin McCarthy refused to discipline her.

Greene has been forced to back down from her support of QAnon and some conspiracy theories that congressional Republicans consider beyond the pale.

But Greene’s central conspiratorial grievance – that Trump was robbed of a rightful victory in the 2020 election – is an article of faith and a politically energising force for much of the Republican base. Trump raised US$255 million dollars off it in the weeks after the election.

Many Republicans in Congress acquiesced to the “stolen election” fantasy, some with the excuse that they are faithfully representing their constituents. Even McConnell waited weeks before acknowledging Biden’s victory.

Republicans who openly acknowledged Biden’s victory and dismissed claims of widespread election fraud faced anger and censure from state party organisations, as well as from Trump himself. Republicans who backed impeachment saw immediate retribution, and will almost certainly have to defeat well-supported primary challengers in the future.

The historical willingness of American conservatives to police extremism has been overstated. It doesn’t matter that Trump and Greene are poison to the larger electorate. Neither election losses nor the stigma of “extremism” are enough to kill right-wing political movements in America.

Accepting the Republican nomination in 1964, Barry Goldwater declared that “extremism in defence of liberty is no vice”. Goldwater went on to one of the largest electoral defeats in history, but within 15 years his movement, led by Ronald Reagan, had thoroughly conquered the Republican Party, taken the White House and reshaped American political culture. Trump’s followers have similar ambitions.

‘Trumpism’ without Trump could be tough to pull off

No one knows yet what role Trump will play in future Republican politics. His recent attack on McConnell suggests he at least wants to continue to punish Republicans he sees as disloyal. The possibility Trump could run again will make politics awkward for Republicans eager to claim his mantle for their own presidential ambitions.

The prospect of “Trumpism without Trump” has enticed conservatives and worried liberals ever since the Trump phenomenon began. Republicans have learned to rail against “globalism” and the “deep state”. They are unlikely to return to comprehensive immigration reform any time soon.

Trump has breathed new life into old conservative staples such as law and order and the perils of socialism. But Trump’s relationship with his supporters goes far beyond his political positions, or even the grievances and emotions he harnessed.

Trump’s appeal was based on the perception that he had unique gifts that no politician ever had. He cultivated a media image that made him synonymous, however incorrectly, with business success. His tireless verbal output, whether through Twitter or at endless rallies, created an alternative reality for his followers. Many saw him as chosen by God.

That kind of charismatic magic will be extremely difficult for any career politician to recapture. Republicans may discover that Trumpism is not a political movement but a business model, a model only ever designed for one benefactor.The Conversation

David Smith, Associate Professor in American Politics and Foreign Policy, US Studies Centre, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trump is impeached again in historic vote. Now Republicans must decide the future of their party



Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Bryan Cranston, Swinburne University of Technology

In a historic vote today, Donald Trump became the only US president to be impeached twice.

By a margin of 232–197, the Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives voted to charge Trump with “inciting violence against the government of the United States” for his role in encouraging the insurrectionists who stormed the US Capitol last week.

When Trump was impeached by the House last year for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, no Republicans joined the Democrats in the vote.

This time, however, ten members of Trump’s own party supported the effort to remove him from office.

Is there any chance of conviction?

Now that the House has voted to impeach Trump, a trial will be held in the Senate, though the timing of this is unclear at the moment.

For Trump to be convicted, 67 senators need to vote in favour. If all 50 Democrats and independents vote to convict Trump as expected, then at least 17 Republicans would need to join them.




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So far, only three (Lisa Murkowski, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey) have indicated they would do so. Mitt Romney, a vocal Trump critic, will probably join them, and Susan Collins is a possibility.

Even though the most powerful Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, is said to be privately supporting the impeachment effort (and publicly said he hasn’t decided how he will vote), the numbers required to convict Trump will likely still fall short.

McConnell's vote will be crucial.
The future of the Republican Party may come down to how McConnell votes in the Senate trial.
Senate Television/AP

What’s at stake for Republicans?

Trump’s former national security advisor, John Bolton, has said the president “will be remembered as an aberration” when he leaves office after noon on January 20.

Nevertheless, the Republican Party will go on. And it will need to find its identify in the post-Trump era.

Do they continue with the arch-conservatism of the past decade that gave rise to the Tea Party and Trump, or do they return to the more traditional Republican politics associated with George W. Bush, John McCain and Romney?

While some Senate Republicans have loudly declared their allegiance to Trump, others appear to be suddenly on the fence.




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Lindsey Graham, who went from being one of Trump’s most outspoken opponents to his staunchest backer in Congress, last week broke with Trump over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. However, Graham is strongly opposed to impeachment.

McConnell, too, could be looking ahead to rebuilding the party post-Trump, which is why he is said to be wavering on his vote to convict Trump. As one Republican close to him told Axios,

If you’re McConnell, you want to be remembered for defending the Senate and the institution.

The most prominent Republican to join the impeachment effort in the House is Liz Cheney.

The daughter of former US Vice President Dick Cheney has only been in Congress since 2017. After just two years, however, she was elected chair of the House Republican Conference, the third-most senior Republican position in the House after minority leader (Kevin McCarthy) and minority whip (Steve Scalise).

A rising star in the party, Cheney surprised many when she said she wouldn’t run for the open Senate seat in Wyoming last year, opting to stay in the House.

With both McCarthy and Scalise voting against impeachment today, Cheney’s move suggests she is positioning herself as a leader of the anti-Trump faction in the party, with eyes on perhaps becoming the first female Republican House speaker.

Why purging Trump might not be possible

It must be noted that a significant portion of the American electorate still supports Trump and his policies. According to FiveThirtyEight, about 42% of Americans do not support impeachment. And among Republicans, just 15% say they want him removed from office.

Whoever leads the Republican Party post-Trump will need to consider how they will maintain the rabid support of his “base”, while working to regain more moderate voters who defected from the party in the 2020 election.

The reason McConnell is reportedly said to be considering voting to convict Trump is that is would make it easier to purge him from the party.




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But purging Trump will be difficult. Even without Twitter, the power Trump wields is immense. The fear among many Republicans is that he can encourage primary challenges to any incumbents he feels have wronged him.

He’s done this many times before. In 2018, Trump strongly endorsed Brian Kemp in his successful campaign for governor of Georgia, but when Kemp rejected his claims of election fraud in November, Trump announced he was ashamed of having supported him. Trump loyalists are already looking for a primary challenger to him.

Trump has also called for primary challenges to Republican Ohio governor Mike Dewine and John Thune, the number two Republican in the Senate.

Security concerns among Trump’s supporters

Trump doesn’t appear to want to go away quietly, which is also a cause for concern from a security standpoint.

This week, a leaked internal FBI bulletin warned that armed protests are planned for all 50 states and Washington DC in the days before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20.

Some state capitol buildings have begun boarding up their doors and windows, while 15,000 National Guard troops have been mobilised for deployment to the nation’s capital ahead of expected violence and unrest.

A member of the Pennsylvania Capitol Police
A member of the Pennsylvania Capitol Police stands guard at the entrance to the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg.
Jose F. Moreno/AP

This is an unfortunate sign of how many expect Trump’s supporters to respond to both his impeachment and Biden’s inauguration — even with Trump finally urging against further violence and unrest.

Most presidents aim to leave office with the nation better off than when they entered, but Trump’s legacy appears to be cementing a more divided country, where his brand of aggressive “conflict politics” may be the new norm.

This is a no-win situation for the country. And Republicans are still trying to figure out which side of history they want to be on.The Conversation

Bryan Cranston, Lead Academic Teacher – Politics & Social Science (Swinburne Online), Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is Trump’s truculence an attempted coup or the last-ditch efforts of a man whose star is fading?


Daniel Cooper, Griffith University and Brendon O’Connor, University of Sydney

US President Donald Trump’s time in the White House is coming to an end. But, as has become obvious over the past few weeks, he is unlikely to deliver a gracious concession speech.

Instead, the president has spent much of his time since the November 3 election plotting ways to undo what has turned out to be a rather clear victory for President-elect Joe Biden — all credible media outlets have given Biden 306 electoral college votes to the outgoing president’s 232. The successful candidate needs to amass 270 electoral college votes to win the presidency.




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Time is simply running out for Trump. By December 8, all states are required to certify their results, with the electors in each state to cast their votes by December 14. The inauguration of the next president takes place on January 20 2021.

None of this should obscure the anti-democratic coup d’état Trump is attempting as he refuses to concede defeat. However, it is unlikely to succeed.

His legal challenges alleging fraud and misconduct are close to running their course. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against his claim that election “observers” were too far away in Philadelphia from workers counting ballots. In Georgia, a hand recount has finished with Biden confirmed the victor. And Michigan lawmakers appear ready to defy the president, who now seems intent on wreaking havoc on the certification process.

Trump’s efforts to undermine the legitimacy of the election are real. His attempt to influence Republican state legislators, in effect to persuade them to replace electors committed to voting for Biden with electors ready to vote for Trump, is profoundly undemocratic. Under a winner-takes-all system, Michigan’s 16 electoral college votes should be going to President-elect Biden, the clear winner of the state by almost three percentage points.

If Trump had succeeded in overturning the results, one could go as far as questioning America’s status as a liberal democracy. Not since Southern secessionists contested the legitimacy of Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 has a single actor been so nefarious in their attempts to undermine an incoming president.

Look no further than Trump’s actions on the transition. With over 250,000 Americans dead from COVID-19, and case numbers exploding around the country, one would think an orderly transition in which the incoming president is given access to experts knowledgeable about the country’s readiness for mass distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine would be an urgent and unquestioned priority.

But not in Trump’s White House. The General Services Administration, run by a political appointee of the president, must certify Biden as the winner before the incoming administration is given access to top public health officials.

Such certification will eventually take place, as the president simply runs out of options. We suspect he will grudgingly acknowledge he will not be president for the next four years, repeating a never-ending series of fabrications about the legitimacy of the 2020 election. His arguments will resonate with his “base” and will have consequences beyond this election cycle.

Trump supporters continue to rally in protest against the election result.
Jay Janner/AP/AAP

Analysis by the Pew Research Center finds:

While a 59% majority of all voters say elections in the United States were run and administered well, just 21% of Trump supporters have a positive view of how elections were administered nationally. Among Biden supporters, 94% say the elections were run and administered well.

The magnitude of these differences is stark and suggests Biden will have much work to do in bringing the country together — if indeed that is possible. Biden himself is attempting to restore moral leadership to a country torn apart by pandemic, racial division and illiberal tendencies in the executive branch of government.

Rhetorically, Biden has hit many of the right notes, emphasising themes of unity and national healing. How this will play out in a policy sense will be seen once he takes office.

Despite Trump’s attempts to thwart him, Biden is going ahead with a calm and determined transition.
Alex Brandon/AP/AAP

Of course, Trump will continue to make life difficult for the incoming Biden administration. Some reports suggest he is already considering running for office in 2024.

So, it should not be surprising if the outgoing president leaves a number of surprises for President-elect Biden. Some press reports in the US are stating that on Middle East policy, trade with China, securing oil drilling leases in Alaska, and the Iran nuclear deal — which Biden may wish to rejoin — the Trump team is doing its best to reduce the incoming administration’s policy options.

Political theorist David Runciman argues that in democracies molehills are often made out of mountains. Vote counting, constantly updating vote tallies, failed legal challenges, recounts, the wearing effects of days of politics dominating life, Biden’s non-spectacular calmness, certification and the meeting of the Electoral College will turn this post-election mountain into a molehill as Trump’s attempted coup will eventually fail.




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However, Trump has regularly shown us that, in the internet age, mountains can also be made out of molehills. The president’s lies and tweets have turned his presidency into a kind of reality TV show that has in turns transfixed, energised or horrified much of the world. Nevertheless, the show is in its final season and has not been renewed.

We are reminded of an article Rebecca Solnit wrote during the earliest days of the Trump presidency. In it, she presciently captures the predicament in which Trump now finds himself. Although his base and a large number of Republicans still support him, Trump has always surrounded himself with loyal followers reluctant to question their leader’s judgment and authority. This produces a form of isolation that is of Trump’s own making, a consequence of the man’s temperament and unwillingness to tolerate uncomfortable truths.

Reflecting on Trump-like leaders, Solnit explained:

In the end there is no one else in their world, because when you are not willing to hear how others feel, what others need, when you do not care, you are not willing to acknowledge others’ existence. That’s how it’s lonely at the top. It is as if these petty tyrants live in a world without honest mirrors, without others, without gravity, and they are buffered from the consequences of their failures.

Of course, sooner or later Trump will realise the presidency must be vacated. He will have to face the one thing in his life he has always tried to avoid: defeat.The Conversation

Daniel Cooper, Lecturer at Griffith University, Griffith University and Brendon O’Connor, Associate Professor in American Politics at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Biden’s Electoral College win was narrow in the tipping-point state; Labor surges in Victoria



AAP/AP/Carolyn Kaster

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

With all states called by US media, Joe Biden won the Electoral College by 306 votes to 232 over Donald Trump, an exact reversal of Trump’s triumph in 2016, ignoring faithless electors. Biden gained the Trump 2016 states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia; he also gained Nebraska’s second district.

While Biden’s win appears decisive, he won three states – Wisconsin (ten Electoral Votes), Arizona (11) and Georgia (16) – by 0.6% or less. Had Trump won these three states, the Electoral College would have been tied at 269-269.

If nobody wins a majority (270) of the Electoral College, the presidency is decided by the House of Representatives, but with each state’s delegation casting one vote. Republicans hold a majority of state delegations, so Trump would have won a tied Electoral College vote.

Wisconsin (Biden by 0.6%) will be the “tipping-point” state. Had Trump won Wisconsin and states Biden won by less (Arizona and Georgia went to Biden by 0.3% margins), he would have won the Electoral College tiebreaker.

The national popular vote has Biden currently leading Trump by 50.9% to 47.3%, a 3.6% margin for Biden. This does not yet include mail ballots from New York that are expected to be very pro-Biden.

Biden is likely to win the popular vote by 4-5%, so the difference between Wisconsin and the overall popular vote will be 3.5% to 4.5%. That is greater than the 2.9% gap between the tipping-point state and the popular vote in 2016.

Prior to 2016, there had not been such a large gap, but in both 2016 and 2020 Trump exploited the relatively large population of non-University educated whites in presidential swing states compared to nationally.




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This article, written after the US 2016 election, has had a massive surge in views recently.

Relative to expectations, Democrats performed badly in Congress. In the Senate, Republicans lead by 50-48 with two Georgian runoffs pending on January 5. In the House, Democrats hold a 218-203 lead with 14 races uncalled. Republicans have gained a net seven seats so far, and lead in ten of the uncalled races.

Before the election, Democrats were expected to win the Senate and extend their House majority. The House would be worse for Democrats if not for a judicial redistribution in North Carolina that gave Democrats two extra safe seats.

US polls understated Trump again

New York Times analyst Nate Cohn has an article on the polls. Biden was expected to greatly improve on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance with non-University educated whites and seniors, but the results indicate that Trump held up much better with these demographics than expected.

Trump also had large swings in his favour in heavily Latino counties such as Miami Dade, Florida; polls suggested a more modest improvement for Trump with Latinos.

After the 2016 election, most polls started weighting by educational attainment, but this did not fix the problem. Cohn has some theories of what went wrong. First, Republican turnout appears to have been stronger than expected. Second, Trump’s attacks on the mainstream media may have convinced some of his supporters to not respond to polls.

A third theory is that coronavirus biased the polls’ samples, because people who followed medical advice and stayed home were more likely to respond to pollsters and more likely to be Democrats. Polls had suggested Biden would win Wisconsin, a coronavirus hotspot, easily, but he only won by 0.6%.

While US polls understated Trump in both 2016 and 2020, it is not true that international polling tends to understate the right. At the October 17 New Zealand election, polls greatly understated Labour’s lead over National. Polls also understated UK Labour at the 2017 election.

Victorian Labor surges after end of lockdown

In a privately conducted Victorian YouGov poll reported by The Herald Sun, Labor led by 55-45 from primary votes of 44% Labor, 40% Coalition and 11% Greens. Premier Daniel Andrews had a strong 65-32 approval rating, while Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien had a terrible 53-26 disapproval rating. The poll was conducted from late October to early November from a sample of 1,240. Figures from The Poll Bludger.

A Victorian Morgan SMS poll, conducted November 9-10 from a sample of 818, gave Labor a 58.5-41.5 lead, a seven-point gain for Labor since the mid-October Morgan poll. Primary votes were 45% Labor (up five), 34.5% Coalition (down 5.5) and 11% Greens (up two). In a forced choice, Andrews had a 71-29 approval rating, up from 59-41 in mid-October. Morgan’s SMS polls have been unreliable in the past.

Labor wins Queensland election with 52 of 93 seats

At the October 31 Queensland election, Labor won 52 of the 93 seats (up four since 2017), the LNP 34 (down five), Katter’s Australian Party three (steady), the Greens two (up one), One Nation one (steady) and one independent (steady). Labor has an 11-seat majority.

Primary votes were 39.6% Labor (up 4.1%), 35.9% LNP (up 2.2%), 9.5% Greens (down 0.5%), 7.1% One Nation (down 6.6%) and 2.5% Katter’s Australian Party (up 0.2%). It is likely Labor won at least 53% of the two party preferred vote. The final Newspoll gave Labor a 51.5-48.5 lead – another example of understating the left.

Labor gained five seats from the LNP, but lost Jackie Trad’s seat of South Brisbane to the Greens. Two of Labor’s gains were very close and went to recounts, with Labor winning Bundaberg by nine votes and Nicklin by 85 votes.

Federal Newspoll: 51-49 to Coalition

In last week’s federal Newspoll, conducted November 4-7 from a sample of 1,510, the Coalition had a 51-49 lead, a one point gain for Labor since the mid-October Newspoll. Primary votes were 43% Coalition (down one), 35% Labor (up one), 11% Greens (steady) and 3% One Nation (steady). Figures from The Poll Bludger.

Scott Morrison is still very popular, with 64% satisfied with his performance (down one) and 32% dissatisfied (up one), for a net approval of +32. Anthony Albanese’s net approval jumped eight points to +4, but he continued to trail Morrison as better PM by 58-29 (57-28 previously).

A YouGov poll in former Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon’s seat of Hunter had a 50-50 tie; this would be a three-point swing to the Nationals from the 2019 election. Primary votes were 34% Labor, 26% National, 12% One Nation, 10% Shooters and 8% Greens.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What’s behind Trump’s refusal to concede? For Republicans, the end game is Georgia and control of the Senate



BRANDEN CAMP/EPA

Markus Wagner, University of Wollongong

The world may have expected the chaos and uncertainty of the US presidential election to end when Joe Biden was declared the winner last weekend. But these are not normal times and Donald Trump is not a conventional president.

Concessions that used to be a part of the political process have been replaced by baseless allegations of voter fraud and election stealing, loud, all-caps shouting on Twitter and plans for a “Million MAGA March” on Washington.

The courts are the proper venue for candidates to challenge the results of elections. But a legal process requires evidence of illegality — and as of yet, the Trump campaign has produced very little.

So, then, how long can Trump string things out — and, more importantly, what’s the end game?

More lawsuits are filed, with little chance of success

Lawsuits can be filed for a number of reasons after an election: violations of state law by local election officials, discrimination against voters, political manipulation of the outcome or irregularities in the ballot counting process.

The Trump campaign has filed numerous lawsuits in both state and federal courts. Some challenges in Georgia and Michigan were quickly dismissed.




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In one case filed in Pennsylvania, Republicans sought to stop the vote count in Philadelphia on the grounds Trump campaign officials were not allowed to be close enough to the ballot-counting process.

Under questioning from the judge, the Trump campaign lawyers were forced to admit a “non-zero number” of Republican observers were present. The judge, clearly exasperated, responded by asking, “I’m sorry, then what’s your problem?”

Trump supporters demonstrate near the Pennsylvania state Capitol last weekend.
Julio Cortez/AP

In another filing before a federal court in Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign alleges voting by mail runs afoul of the Constitution’s equal protection clause, a claim bound to fail.

The most interesting – and perhaps most viable – case concerns whether a state court can extend the time limit for mail-in ballots to arrive.

In this case, the Trump campaign challenged a decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to allow mail-in votes received up to three days after election day to be counted.




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The US Supreme Court twice declined to halt the counting of these votes, but did order the ballots to be segregated, leaving the door open to a challenge after the election.

A group of Republican attorneys-general filed a brief at the US Supreme Court this week urging it to take up the case.

Amy Coney Barrett, the newly appointed Supreme Court justice, did not participate in the earlier decisions, and it remains to be seen if her vote would change the outcome should the case reach the court.

Hoever, this may all be a moot point, as there are likely not enough late-arriving ballots for Trump to make up the sizeable gap to Biden in the state.

Even with a conservative majority, the US Supreme Court is unlikely to play a role in the election outcome.
Patrick Semansky/AP

Attorney-general steps into the fray

Attorney-General William Barr has also inserted the Department of Justice into the post-election drama, authorising investigations by US attorneys into alleged voter fraud across the country. The move outraged the top official in charge of voter fraud investigations, prompting him to resign.

The Department of Justice has historically stayed out of elections, a policy Barr criticised in his memo, saying

such a passive and delayed enforcement approach can result in situations in which election misconduct cannot realistically be rectified.

The department’s about-face is important for several reasons. It changes long-standing practice, as Barr himself admits. The general practice, he wrote, had been to counsel that

overt investigative steps ordinarily should not be taken until the election in question has been concluded, its results certified, and all recounts and election contests concluded.

Of course, Barr has ingratiated himself with Trump before, most notably in his 2018 memo to the Justice Department expressing concerns over the Mueller investigation.

Many had wondered why Barr had remained unusually quiet for so long on the election. It appears he is back, and willing to support Trump and the Republican cause.

The end game: Georgia and the US Senate

Given Trump and Republicans have very little chance of overturning the result through these tactics, the question remains: what is the goal?

Yes, this all could be explained simply as Trump not liking to lose. But setting such indulgences aside, the reason for this obstruction appears to be two upcoming US Senate runoff elections scheduled for January 5.

Georgia state Rep. Vernon Jones speaks at a Trump rally in Atlanta this week.
Mike Stewart/AP

Under Georgia law, a runoff is required between the two candidates that came out on top if neither wins 50% of the vote in the state election.

The Republicans currently hold a 50-to-48-seat edge in the Senate, meaning control of the chamber now comes down to who wins the two Georgia runoffs.

The positions taken by Republican senators in recent days are telling — they have stood firmly behind Trump’s challenges and gone out of their way not to congratulate Biden on his victory. Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota put it bluntly,

We need [Trump’s] voters […] we want him helping in Georgia.

The Senate plays a crucial role for the Biden presidency. If it remains in Republican hands, this could leave Biden with few avenues to implement his favoured policies on the economy, climate change or health care and would deny Democrats the ability to expand the Supreme Court.

Already, it’s clear the focus of the GOP is shifting toward Georgia. The two Republican Senate candidates this week called for the resignation of the secretary of state, a fellow Republican, repeating Trump’s baseless claims over voter fraud in Georgia.




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According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, this was done to appease Trump

lest he tweet a negative word about them and risk divorcing them from his base ahead of the consequential runoff.

Is democracy at stake?

It appears all these efforts are aimed at one goal: energising the Trumpian base for the Georgia run-off elections by delegitimising not only Biden, but the election process itself.

The long-term implications are momentous. The US is already bitterly divided, as demonstrated by the large voter turnout on both sides in the election. This division will only deepen the more Trump presses his claims and signals he won’t go away silently.

This continued fracturing of the US would prevent Biden from achieving one of the main goals he set out in his victory speech: bringing Republicans and Democrats together.

If half the country buys into his claims of a stolen election, the real danger is the erosion of democracy in the US as we know it.The Conversation

Markus Wagner, Associate Professor of Law, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Biden’s pivot to science is welcome — Trump only listened to experts when it suited him


Sam Baron, Australian Catholic University

In his acceptance speech at the weekend, US President-Elect Joe Biden signalled a return to science as a key policy shift for the United States.

“Americans have called on us to […] marshal the forces of science and the forces of hope in the great battles of our time,” he said, assuring the public the Biden-Harris COVID plan “will be built on the bedrock of science”.

His message, on its surface, is a response to the Trump administration’s disdain for scientific advice, most notably in the COVID response and withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.

But Biden’s remarks are deeper and more interesting than a simple spruik for science-led policy.

A track record of ignoring evidence

Is Trump’s administration anti-scientific? Yes and no.

According to a report compiled by the journal Science, the Trump White House has indeed pursued an agenda of suppressing science by slashing funding. But this agenda has been largely unsuccessful.

During Trump’s term, funding for the National Institutes for Health rose by 39% and the budget for the National Science Foundation rose by 17%. This is explained, at least in part, by Congress resisting the White House’s efforts to defund science.

Setting aside direct attacks on funding, the Trump administration has also positioned itself as anti-science in other, more visible ways.

It has a track record of ignoring scientific advice on issues ranging from the deadliness of COVID, to the impact of human activity on the climate, to the bizarre “Sharpiegate” episode in which Trump apparently used a marker pen to alter the forecast track of Hurricane Dorian.

Cherry picking to suit an agenda

Yet it would be wrong to paint Trump as unequivocally anti-science.

He poured money into quantum computing and artificial intelligence, and invested heavily in space exploration, promising a return to the Moon this decade. And, at the risk of stretching this argument beyond breaking point, he called on civil engineering to deliver his Mexican border wall.

Trump also used science to win an election. Let’s not forget the pivotal role of Cambridge Analytica in his victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016. A mixture of data science and empirical psychology delivered voters to Trump in the millions.

While it is difficult to know exactly what methods Cambridge Analytica used, it is possible that a method known as psychographic targeting was part of their approach. This involves analysing users’ behaviour on social media sites such as Facebook — for example, by tracking the content that individuals “like” — as a basis for delivering targeted advertising that fits a person’s personality.

It is perhaps no accident, then, that quantum computing and artificial intelligence got the thumbs-up. In the world of voter manipulation, it is hard to think of a scientific investment that would yield a better return.

Painting Trump’s administration as entirely anti-intellectual overlooks one of the key factors that delivered him electoral success in the first place. His 2016 victory was in one sense a scientific achievement, delivered by technological algorithms designed to exploit publicly available data with unprecedented effectiveness.

Such a result is absolutely repeatable. As long as methods such as psychographic targeting go unregulated in the political sphere, future candidates could leverage data science in much the way Trump did to win the White House.




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Science in the public interest

Biden’s approach is not just a pivot back to respecting expertise, but also a pledge to embrace science in the public interest. The Biden-Harris COVID plan, for example, will be founded on expert advice but will also, as Biden explained, “be constructed out of compassion, empathy and concern”.

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in a meeting with Biden's COVID-19 advisory council.
On Monday, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris attended a meeting with Biden’s COVID-19 advisory council.
Carolyn Kaster/AP

Hopefully this heralds an end to the use of science to achieve narrow and selfish political ends, and a return to the appropriation of science for the common good.

While I applaud the kind of science Biden wants to embrace, I daresay he faces a difficult choice. If he refuses to use science to further any partisan political ends, his party runs the risk of getting rolled in the next election by a demagogue who does not suffer the same burden of decency.

Perhaps he can get ahead of this by asking us all to have a serious conversation, on a global scale, about the use of science in winning elections.




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At the very least, we should reject the narrative that the Trump administration repudiates science in its entirety. That only makes it harder to see the danger the improper use of science poses to democracy.

We are, it is often said, living in a post-truth world. The Trump administration’s denial of evidence, and its capacity to lie about everything from coronavirus cures to election results, provide several classic examples. After four years of “alternative facts”, Biden’s vocal support for scientific expertise was a breath of fresh air.

But, perhaps unintentionally, Biden has also revealed a dangerous faultline of democracy. By positioning his administration as one that uses science only for the common good, he is tacitly acknowledging democracy’s vulnerability to science and technology.

Biden’s words remind us that technological advances threaten to propel us into a world where political differences become irreconcilable, and respect for democratic norms is not guaranteed.The Conversation

Sam Baron, Associate professor, Australian Catholic University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Biden has announced a COVID taskforce to guide him through the crisis. But there are many challenges ahead



Carolyn Kaster/AP/AAP Photos

Lesley Russell, University of Sydney

Tackling the health, economic and social crises wrought by the coronavirus pandemic is the first order of business for US president-elect Joe Biden and his transition team.

Biden this week announced his bipartisan coronavirus taskforce to begin work immediately and continue after he is sworn in as president in January.

The taskforce inherits a range of challenges. Coronavirus is now rampant in the US, and the Trump administration has run down the public health infrastructure and largely abandoned attempts to control the pandemic, preferring to gamble on the imminent arrival of a vaccine.

What will Biden inherit?

The pandemic in the US is now described as out of control. Hospitals in many states are overwhelmed, the economy is disrupted, and unemployment rates are double what they were in February.

The urgency of the problem is highlighted in forecasts released last week by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These predict that in the week ending November 28, there will be 450,000-960,000 new coronavirus cases and 4,600-11,000 deaths from COVID.

Even these stark warnings may be overly optimistic. On November 8, the US was averaging 116,448 new cases a day. So far, more than ten million Americans have been infected, and significant numbers remain disabled with prolonged side-effects. The situation will undoubtedly be much worse by the time Biden is sworn in on January 20.




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Who is on the COVID taskforce and what will they do?

Biden’s coronavirus taskforce is headed by three physicians: Vivek Murthy, the former US surgeon general; David Kessler, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; and Marcella Nunez-Smith, who is recognised for her work on promoting health and health-care equity for marginalised populations. All are well known in public health, science and political circles.

Biden said in his acceptance speech these leading experts will:

…help take the Biden-Harris COVID plan and convert it into an action blueprint… That plan will be built on bedrock science… I’ll spare no effort, none, or any commitment, to turn around this pandemic.

The taskforce will build on several months of consultation and work under the auspices of the Biden campaign.

The Biden coronavirus plan, issued during the campaign, is a comprehensive document that recognises the responsibilities of the federal government in ensuring states, counties, local communities, health-care and incarceration facilities, educational systems and individuals have the protections, resources and information needed to address the pandemic. Special focus is placed on tackling the racial and ethnic disparities highlighted by the pandemic.

The taskforce must reach out to the states — both Democrat and Republican — as the Biden plan relies on their cooperation with new federal initiatives. These include possible mask mandates, supply chains for personal protective equipment, testing supplies, therapeutics, vaccines and needed additional health-care services.

Getting straight to business

The taskforce has already briefed Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris. Biden then issued a public statement on November 9, further detailing his plans for tackling the pandemic and rebuilding the economy.

His statement coincided with news from Pfizer about the promising test results for its coronavirus vaccine. Biden’s response was one of cautious optimism, in stark contrast to President Donald Trump, who hyped the stock market implications.




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How will the taskforce work with the White House team?

The taskforce’s work is unlikely to step on the toes of the White House coronavirus advisory group, which has largely ceased to function as Trump has lost interest.

Trump has lashed out at Tony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and threatened to fire him.

The former chief spokesperson for the White House coronavirus advisory group Deborah Birx has issued an urgent memo pleading for “much more aggressive action” to curb the virus.

Trump now listens only to the controversial Scott Atlas, a specialist in medical imaging rather than infectious diseases.

The Trump administration’s approach to the pandemic in recent months is succinctly summed up by White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows:
“We are not going to control the pandemic.”

This is ironic in light of Meadows’ own infection, joining Trump and many other members of the White House in having contracted the coronavirus.

What else happens during this transition period?

In 2008, the outgoing Bush administration was willing to take advice and guidance from the Obama transition team on efforts to address the global financial crisis. Most notably, Bush agreed to Obama’s request to ask Congress to release more funds for the economic bailout.

Biden will now push to get the Senate to pass a coronavirus relief bill that is so urgently needed. This would include additional unemployment benefits and funding boosts for treatment, testing and tracing, and for education and health-care systems.

Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell have each recently indicated their interest in passing such a measure, but they are at odds on the scope of legislation.

Could Biden’s input help them find common ground, or will partisanship prevail?

Many issues need to be tackled all at once

The Biden-Harris team will need to work simultaneously on these issues and a raft of others. Biden must, in short order, announce his cabinet and get them working on their agendas; assess which of Trump’s actions need to be undone (including withdrawal from the World Health Organisation and the Paris climate agreement); develop legislation and executive orders if he can’t get the Senate to work cooperatively and pass bills that come forward from the House of Representatives; and have a contingency plan in case the US Supreme Court overturns Obamacare in 2021.




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Biden’s transition team features many people who previously worked for the Obama administration. This bodes well for strengthening and rebuilding Obamacare into Bidencare. Ensuring people have affordable access to health care has never been more important.

Biden has also promised to reinstate the national and international public health and first responder systems that Trump dismantled. This includes bringing back the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense and continued support for the work of the World Health Organisation.




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None of this will be successful unless, and until, Biden can bring Congress together to act and simultaneously begin healing the divisions in the nation. He must restore trust in government and science, ensure transparency and accountability, and build a common purpose so people will act for the common good. That’s a big ask — but the coronavirus pandemic demands it.




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The Conversation


Lesley Russell, Adjunct Associate Professor, Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘America First’ is no more, but can president-elect Biden fix the US reputation abroad?



Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Gorana Grgic, University of Sydney

Throughout the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency, Joe Biden spent significant time reassuring American allies around the world that Trump’s America is not “who we are” and pledging “we’ll be back”.

Now that he’s the president-elect, those who were most worried about another four years of “America First” foreign policy are no doubt breathing a sigh of relief.

Much has been written about a Biden presidency being focused on restoration, or as David Graham of The Atlantic put it,

returning the United States to its rightful place before (as he sees it) the current president came onto the scene and trashed the joint.

Then-Vice President Biden meeting Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2013.
LINTAO ZHANG / POOL /EPA

The old world order doesn’t exist anymore

This idea has revolved around restoring the post-1945 liberal international order – a term subject to a lot of academic contention. The US played a central role in creating and leading the order around key institutions such as the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organisation, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the like.

However, there is now no shortage of evidence that many of these institutions have come under extreme strain in recent years and have been unable respond to the challenges of the 21st century geopolitics.

For one, the US no longer wields the relative economic power or influence it had in the middle of last century. There are also increasingly vocal critics in the US — led by Trump — who question America’s foreign commitments.

Trump questioned the US commitment to NATO and expressed affinity for Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Hau Dinh/AP

Moreover, nations themselves are no longer the only important actors in the international system. Terror groups like the Islamic State now have the ability to threaten global security, while corporations like Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Facebook have such economic power, their combined revenue would qualify them for the G20.

Equally, the so-called liberal international order was built on the idea that a growing number of democracies would be willing to work within institutions like the UN, IMF and WTO and act in ways that would make everyone in the system better off.

Clearly, that has not been the case for the past 15 years as democracies around the world slowly eroded, from European Union states like Hungary and Poland to Brazil to the US.




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Biden can’t fix everything at once

Trump’s 2016 election seemed to have been the final nail in the coffin for the idea of a truly liberal international order with the US as a benevolent leader.

From his first days in office, Trump was on a mission to roll back US commitments to myriad organisations, deals and relationships around the world. Most significantly, this included questioning commitments to its closest allies in Europe, Asia and elsewhere that had been unwavering for generations.

Trump damaged some of America’s strongest alliances in Europe.
Francisco Seco/AP

Biden takes over at a precarious time. The world is more unstable than it has been in decades and the US image has been severely damaged by the actions and rhetoric of his predecessor.

There is no naivety on Biden’s part that he will be able to fix everything that was broken along the way. After all, many of these challenges predated Trump and are merely a reflection of a changing world.

Furthermore, Biden will have many pressing domestic issues that will demand his immediate attention — first and foremost addressing the greatest public health and economic crisis in a century.

We are also likely to see growing pressure for Biden to pursue a more progressive climate policy and a better-managed industrial policy, though he’ll be greatly constrained in what he can do if the Republicans maintain control of the Senate.

All of this will limit both his bandwidth and appetite for an overly ambitious foreign policy agenda.




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Rejoining the world, with managed expectations

Given this, Biden’s presidency should be approached with managed expectations. Unlike President Barack Obama, he did not campaign on lofty promises of change. He ran on being the opposite of Trump and, as such, being better able to understand the intricacies of foreign policy.

This will mean a swift return to multilateralism and rejoining the deals and organisations Trump abandoned, from the Paris climate agreement and Iran nuclear deal to the the World Trade Organisation and World Health Organisation.

Given these moves by Trump required no congressional input, Biden will be able to return to Obama-era policies in a relatively straightforward fashion through executive action.

However, this didn’t produce the expected “blue wave” and national repudiation of Trumpism, so it remains to be seen whether friends and foes alike can be convinced the past four years were an aberration. In essence, how good can America’s word be moving forward?

Biden’s campaign put a great emphasis on strengthening America’s existing alliances and forging new ones to maintain what he frequently refers to as “a free world”.

This will involve a substantial change from the way Trump managed US alliances, nurturing relationships with authoritarian leaders in the Middle East, for example, and some of the least liberal eastern European states.

This shift will benefit America’s traditional allies in western Europe the most. However, these countries are more determined than ever to stop depending on the whims of the Electoral College to decide their security. Instead, they are strengthening their own defence capabilities.

‘America First’ finished second

Lastly, on the greatest geopolitical question of our time, there is no doubt the US will continue its competition with China in the coming years, no matter who is president.

Yet, there are still plenty of questions around how Biden will handle this relationship. His campaign adopted a much more hawkish stance toward China compared to the Obama administration, which reflects a growing bipartisan consensus the US must get tougher with Beijing.




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At the same time, there is significant debate about how far his administration should push Beijing on issues ranging from technological competition to human rights, particularly given Biden has said the US needs to find a way to cooperate with China on other pressing issues, such as climate change, global health and arms control.

America might be coming back under Biden, but this is not the same world or the same country it once was. So, while the restoration of the US will be challenging, one thing is certain: “America First” finished second.The Conversation

Gorana Grgic, Lecturer in US Politics and Foreign Policy, US Studies Centre, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.