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Politics & Security

INTERVIEW | Veteran Journalist on the US Election and What to Watch For in a Biden-Trump Rematch

Veteran journalist Yoshihisa Komori compares the foreign policy approaches of the likely candidates for the 2024 US election and the implications for East Asia.

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Journalist, author, and Reitaku University professor Yoshihisa Komori is a longtime observer of American affairs and US relationships with other countries around the world. (© Reitaku University)

The United States presidential election is less than a year away. Already, the two major parties are ramping up for a foreseeably bitter race. 

Donald Trump, the Republican Party frontrunner, is well on his way to securing his nomination. Meanwhile, the former president faces mounting legal scrutiny with four indictments that could adversely affect his campaign if convicted. Nevertheless, he stays fully committed to the race.

For the Democrats, some in the liberal camp are increasingly questioning their candidate. They wonder whether President Joe Biden, who has displayed debilitating cognitive conditions time and again, is suited for another term.

The faltering popularity of the incumbent administration's policies over the war in the Middle East and Ukraine also bodes ill for his reelection prospects. But concerns aside, the Democratic Party remains convinced that the 81-year-old commander-in-chief is fully geared for a second term. 

Therefore, absent any unforeseen event, a Biden-Trump rematch appears to be the most plausible scenario in November.  

Incumbent President Joe Biden (left) and former President Donald J Trump (right). (©Public Domain)

We must wait to see whether the tide turns in favor of Biden or Trump, each seeking a second term. Either way, the implications will be profound for both American constituents and global observers. 

JAPAN Forward spoke with Yoshihisa Komori, award-winning journalist and former Sankei Shimbun bureau chief in Washington, to gain more insight. Komori shared his views on topics ranging from Biden's foreign policies to Trump's hypothetical second term. He also explained how the election could impact Japan. Excerpts follow. 

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Comparing Foreign Policies

Our world faces two pending crises, one in Eastern Europe and the other in the Middle East. What is your assessment of the Biden administration's foreign policies? How does it compare to the Trump administration?

The Biden administration's foreign policies have been a perpetual failure. Under four years of Trump, despite having some flaws, our world faced no major wars and was much safer. The Trump administration projected a clear message: If any country seeks to upend the status quo, it will be met with a fierce military response. This has slowly faded under the current administration, which prioritizes cooperation and dialogue. 

This was particularly evident in the Biden administration's stance in the Ukraine crisis. Early in the crisis, Biden announced that military options (ie, boots on the ground) were off the table. It was a move that deviated from America's longstanding foreign policy posture.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy greets US President Joe Biden in Kyiv in February 2023. (© The White House)

I am not arguing that the US should take direct military action. However, removing military options has emboldened Vladimir Putin's aggression. By the same token, Biden's "military avoidance" has encouraged the dictator in China and militia groups in the Middle East to engage in more menacing behavior.

How about policies vis-a-vis North Korea? 

Here again, the Biden administration has diverged from the traditional American policy position of complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Biden and some in the Democrat's left-wing circle, like former US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, have shifted from denuclearization to nuclear management and containment. 

In other words, they seek to "manage" North Korea's nuclear activities and "contain" its proliferation. All the while, they are acknowledging North Korea as a nuclear state.  

This is a stark contrast to the Trump administration. The former president was determined to leave open the option of a military response before the Korean Penisula turned into a "hell on earth." To that end, the US considered various military options, including a possible radar attack, an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack, or even a massive ordinance air blast (MOAB).  

The Other Republican Candidate: Nikki Haley

The Republican primary race is now a battle between former US President Donald Trump and former US Ambassador to UN Nikki Haley. Do you think Trump will be the Nominee? What about Biden?   

I think Trump is well on his way to securing the nomination. Just in the last few weeks, several separate polls indicate him leading Biden in a hypothetical rematch. 

Republican presidential candidate and former US President Donald Trump gestures as he stands with Chris LaCivita, Susie Wiles, Jason Miller, John Brabender and other campaign officials during his caucus night watch party in Des Moines, Iowa, on January 15, 2024. (©Reuters/Brian Snyder)

Now, I can't say the same for Biden. His debilitating physical and mental health is a serious concern. Last September (2022), the incumbent president forgot about Congresswoman Jackie Walorski's death during remarks at a hunger conference. A few months ago, the 81-year-old leader had trouble recalling his latest state visit to Ireland

It is not a laughing matter but a serious concern. Partisanship aside, this issue needs to be addressed by the ruling party going forward. If the President's physical well-being is truly in jeopardy, it could gravely compromise the safety of the US and its allies.

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As you mentioned, Trump is performing strongly in the polls. But some argue that Trump's legal battles could ultimately hurt his chances of reclaiming the presidency. What are your thoughts? 

True, Trump has been indicted in four separate sedition cases and faces various other legal hurdles. But those calling for Trump's conviction or undermining his chance of reelection are largely registered Democrats or those from the left-wing corporate media. 

The left-leaning mainstream media is consistently feeding stories that Trump's second term will be a catastrophe. They claim that this time around, Trump will truly unleash his authoritarian side. I find these stories nonsensical and unscrupulous.

On Third-Party Candidates

Constituents who are fed up with the traditional two-party system call for a third-party candidate. Could this change the electoral landscape in November? 

This isn't the first time American voters have pondered the idea of a third party or candidate. Take, for instance, the 1980 presidential election. Long-time GOP congressman John Anderson ditched his party and ran against then-president Jimmy Carter. Or in 1992 and 1996, businessman Ross Perot ran against incumbents George HW Bush and Bill Clinton, respectively. 

In those cases, the two independent candidates were unsuccessful, and their votes came short of their early polling results. 

Most American voters aren't truly seeking a third-party candidate. They are merely frustrated by the Washington establishment and unchanging two-party domination. 

Robert F Kennedy Jr testifies during the House Judiciary Select Subcommittee. He is running as an independent candidate in the 2024 presidential election. A December poll shows 1 in 5 voters are open to backing RFK Jr. (©Public Domain by Tom Williams)

At the end of the day, constituents tend to revert to their preferred party come election time. There's still a possibility that undecided or nonpartisan voters could divert some votes to an independent runner(s). The degree to which this will impact the outcome of the 2024 election remains to be seen. 

On Trilateral Relations Including South Korea

Tokyo, Washington, and Seoul have been ramping up military cooperation. In August, their three leaders announced the "Camp David Accord." How will the 2024 election impact Japan, especially in the security realm? 

Fundamentally, there isn't a huge partisanship divide on Washington's security policies vis-a-vis Japan. Both the Democrats and the Republicans, for the most part, have respected the bilateral security alliance. They have both utilized the apparatus to maintain peace and stability in East Asia. 

Some critics have questioned whether Trump will continue this tradition early in his term. They argue that he would try to upend the status quo and undermine America's traditional alliance. 

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But this has turned out to be utterly unfounded. In fact, under the Trump administration, the Japan-US security alliance tightened and expanded in its scope. If he's reelected, this trend will likely continue. 

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