Joe Biden is a pragmatist. With just five months to go until his rematch against Donald Trump, the veteran Democrat is making political decisions based on an electoral calculation. These decisions, intended to undermine Trump’s appeal among wavering voters, cross into economic, domestic and foreign policy. They are taking him closer to the views of his Republican opponent.

A case in point is immigration – one of Trump’s electoral strengths, and one of Biden’s biggest weaknesses. Biden, who is lagging behind Trump in the polls, has just signed an executive order denying asylum to migrants who enter the United States illegally.

Michigan has become a major problem for Biden

Immigration is at record levels, and Trump regularly accuses the Democrats of negligently or wilfully mismanaging the crisis at the southern border. For months, Biden has tried to rectify the situation through legislation, but his plans have been blocked by congressional Republicans. Biden’s decree is a late attempt to control the border and change the narrative. The president also has his attention on voters in Arizona, a swing-state that has become the most popular place to enter the US. In 2020, Biden won the state and its 11 votes in the electoral college by just 0.3 per cent.

The beleaguered president has also enacted Trump-style protectionist policies designed to retain the support of blue collar workers in industrial heartlands, whose jobs have been threatened by cheap imports.

In May, Biden imposed huge tariffs on various Chinese goods, citing ‘national security’ and China’s ‘unfair trade practices’. He quadrupled tariffs on Chinese batteries, solar cells and electric vehicles. The duties for the latter rose from 25 per cent to 100.

The tariffs have been criticised by liberal Democrats for undermining the transition from fossil fuels, but they come as Biden is struggling in Michigan – the hardest state to predict, and the centre of the American car industry.

Michigan has become a major problem for Biden. Biden re-took this ‘Blue Wall’ state in 2020 with 50.62 per cent of the vote, but polls show him trailing Trump. In what is expected to be one of the tightest races, Biden is set to lose support from the state’s Arab-American electorate, who are appalled by the president’s near-total support for Israel. What is more, Robert F. Kennedy Jr – a popular independent with a Democratic surname – has secured enough signatures to be on the Michigan ballot.

Biden’s electorally-pragmatic policy-making has intensified in the last month, but it has been visible throughout his presidency with regard to Cuba. Biden was part of the Obama administration that began normalising relations with Cuba, and in 2020 he campaigned to repeal Trump’s policies overturning the rapprochement.

However, since Trump took Florida by stressing his commitment to the US embargo, and by labelling Biden a crypto-communist, Biden has shown no interest in brokering another détente. The president’s adoption of Trump’s Cuba policies won’t win him the state (Florida, for so long a bellwether, is now solidly red) but it’s a clear case of Trump compelling Biden into a right-wing stance.

Biden is deciding policy through the lens of an electoral calculation. His echoes of Trump demonstrate how much he is struggling to match his presidential rival. Trump’s strength is forcing Biden to the right.

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