Trump vs. Biden brings foreign policy to forefront

Foreign policy will play a major role in the 2020 presidential campaigns, according to a new brief from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Joe Barnes, the Bonner Means Baker fellow at the institute, is available to talk to the news media about the 2020 election and foreign policy.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden differ dramatically on a host of foreign policy issues – including “international action on climate change, arms control, the Iran nuclear deal and the U.S. approach to China,” Barnes wrote in a Baker Institute blog post.

Foreign policy has rarely been the leading issue in U.S. presidential campaigns, according to the brief, and domestic policy will remain the primary focus – especially in light of the ongoing pandemic, protests and economic recession. But international relations will play a significant role in the campaigns.

“We can expect Biden, for instance, to assail Trump for soiling the international reputation of the United States and for overseeing a retreat from U.S. leadership around the world,” Barnes wrote.

Barnes argues that Biden is a conventional liberal internationalist, while Trump’s “zero-sum” approach to international relations, where every negotiation must yield a “winner” and a “loser,” is hard to define.

“Trump’s foreign policy is like his presidency itself: highly personalized, erratic, often contradictory and all-too-often marked by ramshackle planning and shoddy execution,” Barnes wrote.

The Trump administration has spent much of its first term defending the president from accusations of Russian interference and facing questions about his ability to defend U.S. interests, according to the post. The recent reports of Russian paid bounties on American soldiers will add a new component to the argument.

However, the U.S. relationship with China may show vulnerability for both candidates, Barnes wrote.

“Biden will claim that Trump has cozied up to China’s authoritarian leadership; Trump will point to his trade war against China as a sign of his willingness to confront Beijing,” he wrote. “These differences will play out against a broader shift toward a less accommodating line toward China in the foreign policy community.”

Barnes warns that a major foreign affairs crisis could impact both campaigns. Potential “flashpoints” like the Persian Gulf, the Korean Peninsula and the South China Sea, Barnes argues, could produce a “rally around the flag” effect and help the incumbent. The current “highly-polarized environment” makes it unclear if this effect will shift popular support toward Trump, he wrote.

“If Trump ran, in 2016, as the “anti-Obama,” Biden is running, in part, as the ‘anti-Trump’: a calm, steady figure who, in foreign policy and elsewhere, will put the Trump years decisively behind the country. (Whether such a restoration is possible is another question altogether.),” Barnes wrote.

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