The Underestimated Joe Biden

Former American vice president Joe Biden campaigns in Clear Lake, Iowa, August 9, 2019
Former American vice president Joe Biden campaigns in Clear Lake, Iowa, August 9, 2019 (Gage Skidmore)

Former vice president Joe Biden has consistently led the polls, with 25 to 30 percent popular support, as well as the endorsement primary, which tracks support from prominent party members, for the Democratic presidential nomination in the United States.

The only other candidate with such a solid base is Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, but his support is under 20 percent and few elected and party officials back him.

So why are we treating Sanders’ supporters as true believers and Biden’s, as Jonathan V. Last puts it, as “just a group of voters who haven’t abandoned him yet”? Read more “The Underestimated Joe Biden”

Rutte Finds Center-Right Majority in Upper Chamber

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte listens to a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, January 20, 2016
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte listens to a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, January 20, 2016 (European Parliament)

A split on the Dutch far right has given Prime Minister Mark Rutte an alternative to deals with left-wing opposition parties in the upper house of parliament.

The four ruling center-right parties lost their majority in the Senate in May, going down from 38 to 32 out of 75 seats. It looked like they would need the opposition Labor Party and Greens for a majority, who were happy to exchange their support for more left-wing policies.

But this week, the government was able to pass environmental legislation with eight votes from the right, including three defectors from the far-right Forum for Democracy. Read more “Rutte Finds Center-Right Majority in Upper Chamber”

Why Republicans Still Support Trump

American president Donald Trump gives a speech in Paris, France, July 12, 2017
American president Donald Trump gives a speech in Paris, France, July 12, 2017 (DoD/Dominique A. Pineiro)

Donald Trump has been an electoral disaster for America’s Republican Party.

  • Republicans had a comfortable majority of 241 seats in the House of Representatives in 2016 against 194 for Democrats. Now they are in the minority with 197 to 233 seats.
  • Republicans held 33 of the nation’s governorships against sixteen for Democrats. Now they have 26 against 24 for Democrats.
  • Republicans held 57 percent of seats in state legislatures against 42 percent for Democrats. Now it’s 52-47 percent.
  • Republicans had a majority in 32 state legislatures against fourteen for Democrats. Now it’s thirty against nineteen.
  • Republicans had total control in 24 states against seven for Democrats. Now it’s 22 against fourteen.
  • Trump trails his Democratic rivals Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in nearly all presidential election polls. (Trump does best against Pete Buttigieg.)
  • Trump’s approval rating has never been above 50 percent. Read more “Why Republicans Still Support Trump”

Spain’s Response to Catalan Separatism Has Failed

View of the Palau Nacional from downtown Barcelona, Spain, December 29, 2013
View of the Palau Nacional from downtown Barcelona, Spain, December 29, 2013 (CucombreLibre)

Since I moved to Barcelona and started writing about Catalan independence three years ago, I’ve worried that Spain’s refusal to engage with the movement would radicalize it and hollow out the middle in Catalan politics.

This is now borne out by research. Read more “Spain’s Response to Catalan Separatism Has Failed”

Lukashenko Isn’t Interested in Belarus-Russia Union

Presidents Nursultan Nazarbayev, Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin of Kazakhstan, Belarus and Russia meet in Minsk, October 24, 2013
Presidents Nursultan Nazarbayev, Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin of Kazakhstan, Belarus and Russia meet in Minsk, October 24, 2013 (Kremlin)

Earlier this month, the presidents of Belarus and Russia met in Sochi to discuss a merger of their two states. Nothing came of the meeting. Another is due on Friday. It is unlikely to produce results either.

At this rate, the annual talks about closer integration are becoming a tradition without meaning.

Alexander Lukashenko may not mind, but Vladimir Putin does. Read more “Lukashenko Isn’t Interested in Belarus-Russia Union”

The Trans-Anatolian Pipeline, Explained

Welded pipes of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline are lowered in northern Greece, November 2016
Welded pipes of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline are lowered in northern Greece, November 2016 (TAP)

After four years of construction, the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) has started pumping gas into Europe.

TANAP is part of Europe’s Southern Gas Corridor, connecting the South Caucasus Pipeline (completed) with the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (still under construction). It aims to transport natural gas from Azerbaijan all the way through to Italy, where it flows into the European market.

Once the system is fully operational, it should be able to pipe 16 billion cubic meters of natural gas into Europe per year. Read more “The Trans-Anatolian Pipeline, Explained”

Republicans Are Destroying Institutions to Save Their Party

The United States Capitol in Washington DC at night, September 18, 2014
The United States Capitol in Washington DC at night, September 18, 2014 (Thomas Hawk)

Republicans in the United States are ramping up their attacks on norms and institutions in pursuit of partisan interest. That is a danger to the whole country.

Journalists and universities have for decades been disparaged by the right as hopelessly biased to the point where only 15 percent of Republicans trust the mass media anymore, down from 46 percent two decades ago, and 73 percent believe higher education is going in the wrong direction.

The party now has the Justice Department, the FBI, the courts and arguably the Constitution in its sights. Read more “Republicans Are Destroying Institutions to Save Their Party”

What Went Wrong for Britain’s Liberal Democrats?

Jo Swinson unveils the Liberal Democratic manifesto at a party conference in London, England, November 20, 2019
Jo Swinson unveils the Liberal Democratic manifesto at a party conference in London, England, November 20, 2019 (Liberal Democrats)

Britain’s Liberal Democrats were polling as high as 20 percent in September, when it seemed just possible they might beat Labour into third place. The projection now is they will end up with 11 percent support in the election on Thursday, up from 7-8 percent in the last two elections but still a far cry from the 22-23 percent Charles Kennedy and Nick Clegg won in 2005 and 2010.

Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat leader, even lost her seat in Dunbartonshire East to the Scottish nationalists by a margin of 149 votes. It means her party will need to find a fourth new leader in five years.

What went wrong? Read more “What Went Wrong for Britain’s Liberal Democrats?”

Conservatives Learned the Lesson of the 2017 Election

Boris Johnson, then the mayor of London, visits Hampstead Heath, April 15, 2012
Boris Johnson, then the mayor of London, visits Hampstead Heath, April 15, 2012 (i-Images/Andrew Parsons)

Britain’s Conservative Party learned the lesson of the 2017 election, when then-Prime Minister Theresa May lost her majority on the back of some rather limp campaigning.

This year, under the more charismatic, if perhaps less reliable, Boris Johnson, the Conservatives have been in an optimistic mood, emphasizing hoped-for possibilities of economic, political and social renewal after Brexit.

The mantra of their campaign was to “get Brexit done” after three years of back-and-forth negotiations with the EU. The calculation was that this would appeal to working-class Labour voters in constituences that want to leave the EU. The exit poll released by the three major broadcasters after polling places closed on Thursday night appears to bear this out. Read more “Conservatives Learned the Lesson of the 2017 Election”

Swedish Center-Right Adjusts to Rise of Far Right

Swedish Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson attends a meeting of European conservative party leaders in Brussels, December 13, 2018
Swedish Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson attends a meeting of European conservative party leaders in Brussels, December 13, 2018 (EPP)

Sweden’s center-right Moderates have broken ranks with other mainstream parties by holding talks with the far-right Sweden Democrats.

The Moderates, who most recently governed Sweden from 2006 to 2014, had until now backed a cordon sanitaire around the Sweden Democrats, who are still seen as beyond by pale by centrists and leftists.

But years of political isolation haven’t made the Sweden Democrats less popular. On the contrary. They have risen from 13 percent support in last year’s election to 25 percent in opinion polls, tying with the ruling Social Democrats and ahead of the Moderates, who are at 17-19 percent. Read more “Swedish Center-Right Adjusts to Rise of Far Right”