Interview
"Biden understood that people want a president who fights, and launched a plebiscite 2.0 against Trump"
Almost two months before the midterm elections, academic Michael McCarthy analyzes the president's turnaround and Donald Trump's double fight. The Latino vote, the cultural battle and the alternative script that the anti-Trump Republicans do not find.

 With just over two months to go before the midterm elections, Michel McCarthy warns of a fundamental change in Joe Biden. Although he cannot guarantee that the president's turnaround has occurred in time to twist electoral destiny, the adjunct professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University analyzes in detail the strengths of the Biden administration, both domestically and in its international politics. The Democrats must overcome the impact that the highest inflation in four decades has on their voters, but they rely on an advantage: the division between Republicans and the leadership of Donald Trump, challenged by the FBI offensive and his own party.

McCarthy is a researcher at the Center for Latin American Studies at the American University. He also has an eye on Latin America: he is the CEO of Caracas Wire and Ceibo Growth Strategies, two strategic advisory firms that work with customers interested in Venezuela and Argentina, companies, investment funds, banks and international organizations.

How do you assess Biden's present in the home stretch?

President Biden realized that people in the Democratic Party, and also many people who define themselves as independents, want to see a president who fights for a platform. That he not only tries to work with Congress or tries to talk to businessmen and different interest groups, but he is really there to defend a proposal. The President's decision to leave Washington and visit federal places to speak directly with different groups is a sign of this attempt. So Biden is trying to shoulder this responsibility, to put up a fight against what some people in the Democratic Party see as the semi-fascist threat of Trumpism. I think that the main idea of the Biden campaign will be to polarize - in a kind of plebiscite - against Trump 2.0. Something similar to what happened two years ago.

Biden aseguró que las elecciones son un punto de inflexión y señaló a Trump como un amenaza

You say that Biden noticed it. What happened for the President to decide this change?

Biden knew that at some point it was going to be necessary to make this change of roles, to take off his jacket, to go up on stage and be a candidate again, not just a president in power. The White House estimated the following: if we manage to approve some proposals in Congress -as they effectively did- then we can justify the tour because we will be able to explain the achievements we have had as government. It is a matter of time. The President has to do both things. He has to be the most cautious and reserved head of state, but he also has a role as leader of the Democratic Party.

Biden is recovering in the polls, but is he close (or far) from meeting his initial goals? If you have to assess it from the point of view of effectiveness, what would you say?

Biden's proposal had to do primarily with democracy. As he said on the campaign trail, trying to heal the political soul of American democracy. Second, to restore economic opportunities for the middle class, and they have had positive and negative results on that. Now Biden team says that we are going to star seeing the positive results of the legislative victories, after a very difficult period because of the inflation. The third issue is abortion, which was absent at the beginning, but is now part of the discussion agenda due to the Court's ruling. The Democratic candidates perceive it as something that can help in the mobilization, not only in the Democratic basis, but also with women voters who define themselves as independent. It is a pivotal voting bloc for Democrats in this election.

Biden knew that at some point it was going to be necessary to make this change of roles, to take off his jacket, to go up on stage and be a candidate again, not just a president in power. He has to be the most cautious and reserved head of state, but he also has a role as leader of the Democratic Party.

Another issue you mentioned is immigration. It seems to be something the government could not solve. There is an attempt to leave Trump behind, but at the same time the government does not consolidate its own politics.

I think we must give him a lot of credit for having tried to face the crisis directly and in a humanitarian way. Instead of using a toxic speech against immigrants and their countries. That is a very important change that must be underlined. It is a very complex issue and it has not been easy to resolve.

Parallel to this, there is the issue of the perception of the Latino community in relation to the administration. There are some warning signs not only for the Biden administration, but for the Democratic Party. In the last midterm elections, in 2018, the Democrats had a 47-point advantage in the Latino vote. That has already changed and in a very important way. Everything indicates that the Democrats do not have the advantage they used to, at least according to the polls. Biden won two-thirds of the Latino vote in the presidential elections, and it seems that this is not the case now.

"Being Latino and being a Democrat in Texas does not mean being progressive"

Do you think that it's connected to the immigration issue?

No, I think it is a combination of factors. The Democrats have not had a well-thought-out and well-executed strategy for attracting Latinos to the party or recruiting Latino candidates, which has really been a major problem. The criticism heard from Latinos within the Democratic Party is that many party leaders and strategists want to use Google Translate to appeal to Latinos. They cannot really connect because they have not approached these groups and they do not have the cultural understanding of the preferences of this part of the population, which is a very diverse one. It is not easy to use a single topic to connect with that group. They think it will be easy to attract those voters with the argument that the Democratic Party is the party of the working class. But it is not only the economic issue, it is the cultural issue and also the issue of trying to achieve transition towards renewable energies.

The Republican Party has had an intelligent strategy: they have developed a new message, based on cultural and security issues more than anything else. That has allowed them to get closer to that population because in general terms, many of the Latinos are Catholic or Evangelical and abortion plays in favor of the Republican Party. The truth is that the Democratic Party has no empirical basis to think that it has won the Latino vote automatically. After November, that premise will no longer be valid.

Why did they get away? Why did they loose the Latino vote?

There is no a single reason. As I said before, there is the cultural issue and that of insecurity. There are not enough candidates in terms of candidates in strategic places. In the United States, party identification is a single factor, the other one is whether I identify with the candidate, not so much with the platform or the party line. Many of the Latino voters are new voters, and their votes are out there and they are not really convinced they are for or against. Nor would I leave out the notion of Trump as a strong leader, of saying things as they are supposed to be. In some cases, like the Venezuelan community in Florida, that was a clear advantage for him. They see the Democratic Party acting in a reserved manner on political issues, as if it were associated with socialism.

The Democrats have not had a well-thought-out and well-executed strategy for attracting Latinos to the party or recruiting Latino candidates. The criticism heard from Latinos within the Democratic Party is that many party leaders and strategists want to use Google Translate to appeal to Latinos.

In one of your articles you stated that with Biden all international politics is local politics. Does this link add something or not?

It adds, because among Biden administration's victories is undoubtedly the defense of Ukraine against Putin's aggression. It is one of the few issues that generates bipartisan support both in Congress and in society. That helps Biden divide the Republican blocs between Trumpists who seek to justify aggression against Ukraine and those who are part of the Republican establishment and cannot make an argument on Putin. That is the central issue of the last six months and it adds a lot to Biden, and also the victory that the capture of the Al Qaeda leader represented. This is a major change after the abrupt withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan.

Trump is an omnipresent figure due to the campaign, the election, and the FBI. What is he looking for at a political level?

I like the idea of defining Trump as an omnipresent factor because it illustrates his impact beyond his candidacy, and even in an election where he is not a candidate. Trumpism without Trump is a political reality. And in fact, it is a cause that can benefit the Democrats in the fight to preserve the majority in the Senate. The candidates who have receive Trump's support face a very tough situation: winning the voters of the center. The Republican Party has a great leader, but is a great leader who can undermine some candidates chance of success in the States. I think that in a red wave scenario, Trump was thinking of launching his presidential campaign before November and then trying to take credit for it. Now, as the uncertainty is greater, he is rethinking his strategy. Due to a series of factors, Trump is now in a situation of waiting rather than attacking. It is a major change which occurred in the last 30 to 60 days. The possibility of it being released remains more or less high because that may have an impact on the FBI investigation against him.

After the raid, other leaders like Pence or DeSantis supported him and he even grew in the polls. Does Trump benefit himself from the victimization or is he complicated by the FBI?

It depends. Winning the Republican primary elections does not guarantee that you will win the general election. It is true that Trump rose in the polls but does not have majority support. I think that Trump is a person who defines his strategy step by step. He needs to consolidate his lead, be the leader and have an edge over DeSantis, the other top candidate.

Why Republicans who reject him cannot push him off the scene, first the establishment and now other leaders like Pence, Pompeo and Cheney?

Well, because the Republican establishment itself was in a kind of collapse for a while now and they have had no way of creating a new political thesis to win the elections. Within their system, they had no alternative to winning at the national level. Trump did have a different script, which was successful in 2016 and unsuccessful in 2020, largely due to the impact of the pandemic. It must be said. An alternative script for the Republican Party is still missing. They have no created this new script as a road map to win the presidency. In fact, the other politicians who are mentioned as possible candidates have taken several pages from the Trump book, in terms of their way of articulating and focusing on different issues associated with the Trump phenomenon. That shows the impact Trump had. Whether you liked it or not, it does not matter, he is there as a political force.

"Trump is a used up bullet and if Reagan were alive, the Republican Party would see him as a left liberal"

Whether he wins or loses the internal, his ideas are victorious within the Republican Party.

I would say it is a combination of ideas with a disruptive style that is already at the center of the manual. Now it is the manual of the Republican Party. We might think that the Tea Party gave rise to and was the origin of all that, but Trump embodies it. That is the difference. When someone embodies it, it is hard to disassociate the person's ideas and style.

Humillada por la derrota en Wyoming, Cheney no se retira y prepara su venganza contra Trump

Can Liz Cheney's confrontation with Trump be a starting point to put a stop to Trump, or is it something testimonial without political consequences?

At the moment, it will not have big consequences in terms of the competition to see who is going to be the most popular candidate. Liz Cheney is a very smart politician who has known how to move during this period to position herself. She is often quoted by the press, but not necessarily supported by the masses. She can lead the government plan as vice president and a candidate to take some votes away from Trump, but she and the entire Lincoln Project group - whom I respect a lot - do not have a candidate who can really challenge Trump. She has a different impact.

Trump did have a different script, which was successful in 2016 and unsuccessful in 2020 largely due to the impact of the pandemic. An alternative script for the Republican Party is still missing. They have no created this new script as a road map to win the presidency. In fact, the other politicians who are mentioned as possible candidates have taken several pages from the Trump book.

Do you consider Cheney a representative of the Lincoln Project?

Her vision is aligned with theirs. I do not know if she is a member, but she is one of the important people among non-Trumpist Republicans. She is going to be an important factor in the debates within the party, but having the votes is something else.

Other Trump opponents like Adam Kinzinger say there is no leadership among Republicans. Is there not, or is Trump's leadership suffocating the rest?

There are many leaders within the Party. The phenomenon of Ron DeSantis and that of some center-right governors are important because there is management behind them and it can show results. There's also Larry Hogan, the governor of Maryland who cannot run for re-election and is close to running for president. He is an important man and he represents a part of the party that does not yet have national representation, although he is ambitious to get there.

You say that Trumpism without Trump is a reality. What is Trump's legacy that will remain even when retired?

I would talk about Trump's legacies, but I would especially like to dwell on cultural polarization. It had been a latent factor and now it manifests itself on many fronts. Of course that is seen in many countries, but cultural polarization can impact any strategy. It shows the emotional impact of people when making decisions. The cultural field is still something new for politicians, especially for democrats. I think the Republican Party has known how to use the cultural field for a long time, and we are going to see if the Democratic Party can launch a counter-strategy to generate a balance of power in the cultural battle: the issue of police and the attacks on ethnic groups, sexuality, abortion, gay marriage and the relationship between religion and national life. It is more difficult to study these issues and analyze them by management results. We are living a time when the cultural issue and the emotional factor have changed the way of doing politics in the United States. All this is spread through social media and fake news.

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