The Mexican Council on Foreign Affairs (COMEXI) presents the webinar "Upcoming Elections in the United States - Dialogue with Eurasia Group". This webinar took place on October 1st, 2020 and belongs to the "Quarantine Webinars" series. This webinar was developed in collaboration with Eurasia Group and features the participation of Jon Lieber, Managing Director for the United States and Carlos Petersen, Senior Analyst for Latin America. The conversation was moderated by Carin Zissis, COMEXI Associate and Editor in Chief at AS/COA Online.
After providing a brief introduction, the moderator Carin Zissis mentions that the recent presidential debate was nothing like the ones that have happened before. She brings up how it is often said that debates don’t really change voters’ minds, and therefore don't necessarily have an impact on the electoral race. She proceeds to ask Jon Lieber what he thinks about this statement and if he could name one way that he thinks this debate will impact the race. Jon points to how the structural factors in the elections matter so much more than any other components and that given the great polarization in the United States where 80% or more of the population already made up their minds based on purely partisan considerations before the debate begins. He explains how nowadays there is not a lot to learn about the candidates because of the exhaustive media coverage and the access to information that citizens have. In his opinion, one way in which this debate could change some voters’ minds is through the impact of President Trump’s strategy and the way he comes out in the debate, trying to prove how Biden is not suitable to be president because of his age and the apparent inability to maintain his energy levels throughout the event.
Carin Zissis continues the conversation by addressing Carlos Petersen, saying how there is a lot of comparison between Trump and Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), and she asks what he thinks it would mean for AMLO if Biden wins. Carlos says that he does not think it would be much of a change because the way in which López Obrador prioritizes his agenda and his engagement with different situations is very specific and constrained to what he wants to achieve. Regarding the relation with the US, there is not a real affinity between AMLO and Trump, it is more about how López Obrador is more focused on his internal agenda and he doesn’t want to engage that much with the US or other issues abroad. This situation would most likely remain if Biden wins and starts to make demands, AMLO would answer quickly and probably comply in order to continue his emphasis on Mexico, always trying to keep the relationship with the US as stable as possible. As for the comparison between López Obrador and Trump, he explains how three or four years ago there was a general trend with the rise of anti-establishment leaders around the world and people started to see similarities between them, even though they were actually very different and each country’s context also varied greatly.
Carin Zissis makes reference to how four years ago it was said that Mexico was ‘Trump’s piñata’, that he was constantly beating on the country but today nobody really takes it seriously anymore. She asks both speakers what they consider that another four years with Trump in power would mean for Mexico, as well as what would happen in terms of US-Mexico relationship if Biden wins, considering that López Obrador recently went to Washington and did not meet with him. Jon Lieber starts by saying that the big difference between now and four years ago is that there have been two major policy changes, the renegotiation of NAFTA and the fact that immigration has dropped off. On the other hand, Trump has focused more on China by attacking it and blaming it for the recent pandemic. Meanwhile, in a Biden administration, the thing that would govern the contract between the US and Mexico is the innovation of the USMCA enforceable labor rules and environmental rules.
Jon then proceeds to explain the topic of immigration and observes how Biden would not be able to go back to Obama’s levels of deportation because of the lack of political legitimacy he would have, he could get a comprehensive immigration bill if there is a majority of the democratic party in the Senate. Carin asks Carlos if he sees an increase in immigration as a potential scenario and what he thinks about China’s replacement of Mexico as the target for Trump. Furthermore, if he considers this as an opportunity for Mexico and if it has taken advantage of this opportunity, given the new USMCA and the integration of the two countries. Carlos talks about the impacts of the trade agreements from the US and also about investment in Mexico and how there has been a lot of uncertainty generated by domestic politics regarding the potential investments in the future particularly with the energy and electric sectors. He considers that Mexico has a great opportunity to attract investments but it is not doing the job of attracting companies and providing confidence to bring foreign capital.
The moderator continues to ask what the speakers think about the direction that the Senate and the decision making is going to take, given the expected democratic majority. Jon Lieber responds by stating that the most important factor is what happens in the Senate, with a large probability of a democrat majority for the rest of the next administration. There could be a status-quo scenario, where Trump wins the White House and there is gridlock regarding decision making, or a democrat-dominated scenario where Biden wins the presidency and his party takes over the Senate too, being able to really implement changes. Carin Zissis now poses the question regarding which sectors would benefit from a Biden win and which ones from a Trump victory, in the US. Jon responds by saying that Trump’s policies have benefited the oil and gas industries and US-based multinationals. Under a Biden win there would be a flip, the US would be a less attractive target for hosting multinationals because of higher tax rates and changes to how the overseas organs would be taxed.
With new regulations on the climate space, there would likely be significant federal subsidies for green energy enterprises, as well as for the transportation sector with Biden’s attempt to reach a net zero emissions, and additionally the pharmaceutical sector would also be in a positive scenario regarding private services but also with a big change on health care. Following the line of the topic of green energy, Carin asks how Biden’s green energy policies would affect Mexico, considering that AMLO has not been the ‘greenest’ president and clearly does not advocate for these ideals. As a response, Carlos suggests that the two issues that would become key for the US and Mexico under a Biden administration would be labor and environmental, being a potential source of pressure. Carin Zissi now continues by asking if the news about Trump’s avoiding of taxes will have any impact on the outcome of the election. Jon does not think that they will and that it is a very straightforward situation, either people like Trump and support him or they don’t.
Carlos participates in this moment by referring to when Trump and AMLO were being compared and he says that the same thing happens with López Obrador’s followers, who supported him anyways. The moderator goes back to Jon, this time asking about if there is anything that could break the relationship between the Republicans and Trump, and she also asks what could possibly alter the ‘bromance’ between Trump and AMLO. Jon says that as long as Republicans keep winning they will stick by Trump, but if he starts to fall and loses popularity it is very probable that his followers will lose interest in supporting him too. On the other hand, Carlos does not think that this ‘bromance’ exists between the two presidents, it is more of an appeasement strategy by López Obrador where foreign policy stands outside his circle of focus and he only seeks to have a neighbor as stable as possible and that does not cause any trouble for him.
One aspect that is very sensitive and controversial, and could demand more involvement of the mexican president regarding the US’ actions is the part of the remittances. Lastly, Carin brings up the topic about the Electoral College and how difficult it is to explain it to people in Mexico, so she asks the speakers which states do they consider as the most impacting on the results of the election. Jon says that Trump has to win Florida and Pennsylvania in order to have a path to victory, and if Biden wins those states then he will probably win. The states that he follows most closely along with other analysts are Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
The moderator now passes to the question section, starting with one coming from Luis Rubio, asking the speakers if Biden would implement some kind of policy or project that forces Mexico to deal with corruption, such as Hillary Clinton had planned. Jon comments that Biden’s campaign has been mostly about domestic policy instead of foreign policy, there has not been anything very specific about this matter. Carlos agrees and further expands by saying that Biden’s campaign appears to be focused on the issues previously mentioned involving labor and environmental issues, and a certain attention to immigration but more from South America more than Mexico.
The next thing that Carin wants to know is if Jon and Carlos think that the process after voting day (November 3rd) will go smoothly or if there will be complete chaos and a long wait after a final winner is called. Jon states that Trump’s strategy is to try to delegitimize the outcome in states in which Biden will probably win, mostly the ones with mail ballots. He acknowledges that it is difficult to know if Trump will achieve his strategy but all legal votes have to be counted and accepted; though there is a very high chance that the winner will be announced within seven to ten days after November 3rd, without the chaotic situation. The following question has to do with the idea of the expected transition and if there will be a change in style from the Republican Party in the midterm. Jon says that Trump kind of forced some change in the existing coalitions that were already happening anyway, and the reason for realignment in the US has been that democrats have become the urban party and the republicans the rural party and the suburban voters are the swingers.
One of the questions of this election is whether this process will continue or reverse, taking into account the fact that demographics in the US is also changing. Carin continues by asking if the speakers see a Biden administration taking a strong stand in defense of democratic institutions and demanding that Mexico rehabilitates the agendas of its now weakened government offices to channel bilateral cooperation and could Biden condition cooperation and security or implicitly become a control watcher of the 2021 midterm election in Mexico. Carlos says he would expect some kind of normalization of the State Department and in general the institutions from Mexico and the US which have worked together. He further confirms that many of the problems that Mexico faces right now about its security strategy are because of its own policies and domestic issues, lacking coherence and specific long term plans. Regarding the involvement that the US could have in mexican institutions, Carlos thinks it is very limited and it is not likely that the US will act as a watchdog in the upcoming elections.
The question that follows from Verónica Ortiz, who wants to know if the speakers expect a higher latino or hispanic voter turnout now than in 2016. Jon mentions that in general turnout is going to be huge this year and he would expect a rise among all demographic groups this election. Continuing with the questions on behalf of the audience, the moderator asks about the viability and possible damage of the appointment of pro-Trump electors in the Electoral College. Jon answers by saying that this is the nightmare scenario for the election, Trump’s strategy has a lot to do with this by delegitimizing the ballots and Congress would be the one to determine the winners. If the Senate stays republican, then this situation could actually happen. Reaching the end of the conversation, Carin Zissis brings up an issue that is key right now and the speakers had not commented about, which is the Coronavirus and the approaches that each candidate has towards future actions. Jon mentions that the US response is more about the vaccine than anything else and Carlos agrees and adds that it is the same case in Mexico, where the vaccine is a priority.
As the last question, Carin asks Jon about the Supreme Court of the US and what will happen if the election ends in the Supreme Court’s hands. Jon thinks that the Supreme Court nominee will get confirmed before the election and that it is ultimately pure politics, if Trump counts with political legitimacy and the support of the institutions he can fight the decision and have a huge impact on the outcome.
Elaborado por Valeria Maceiras