“Will the United States stay united and governable?“

What’s at stake for the US and what impact of the outcome of the midterms will have – An Interview with Clay Risen

Joe Biden seems absent in the campaign, whereas Donald Trump is out there, helping his supporters secure candi­da­cies for the mid-term election. Why is that?

The Democrats are playing for inde­pen­dents, and many – but not all – Repub­li­cans are playing to turn out their base. Biden is not very popular in purple states and swing districts, and recently we have been seeing a big swing to the right among college-educated women, the constituency he would otherwise be out there addressing. Trump remains popular among the GOP base, so he’s making appear­ances for those candi­dates – Kari Lake, for example, in Arizona – who are running a base-first strategy.

Most Americans say they are not happy with the handling of the economy by the Biden admin­is­tra­tion. Would they be seeing a better day with the repub­li­cans control­ling the house?

Perhaps, but not for any causal reason. The economy is tight­ening for several reasons far beyond Biden’s control –The Ukraine War, lingering supply-chain issues, rising interest rates by the Fed –but he has also signaled a change in those things he can control, namely domestic spending. I don’t see him pushing any major domestic spending packages in the next few years, regard­less of who controls Congress.

Donald Trump seems to be having a chance to run again for president, or do you think the Repub­li­cans could put forward another candidate? And if so, who would that poten­tially be?

Trump is running, and I don’t see anyone else. Ron DeSantis is the only viable alter­na­tive, and he is quietly signaling that he will sit out in 2024. He’s very young and doesn’t need to make enemies in the party. 

In the Democrats’ camp, there was hood for Kamila Harris to become a natural successor of Joe Biden. That view seems to be not widely shared anymore. What happened?

We’ll see. Fair or not, she developed a repu­ta­tion as cold, calcu­lating, and not espe­cially likable. To me, there is some truth to that, but also a big double standard because she’s a woman. It’s also simply the case that vice pres­i­dents have a hard time moving into the White House. They get exposure but not much chance to prove them­selves; they have to play second fiddle to the president. Only a handful have done it; George H.W. Bush is the only vice president to win an election directly into the pres­i­dency since Martin Van Buren. 

A third of Americans, seventy preventing Repub­lican voters believe that Joe Biden is not a legit­i­mate president. Under these circum­stances: How will the United States will stay united and governable?

I have no idea. Most days I don’t think it will. We have to change the political culture first, and I’m not sure how we get there. I think the solution has to be a move beyond the two-party, winner-take-all system, but that’s much easier said than done.

The reper­cus­sions of a broken democracy in the United States would be felt every­where in the world, poten­tially leading to an entire collapse of the existing world order. In your opinion, why seems no one in the Repub­lican Party to be aware of what is at stake?

I think many people in the Repub­lican Party are indeed aware of what’s at stake but have come to believe that the threat to democracy comes from the left. I also believe there is a good bit of nation­alist myopia on the right, which simply refuses to take into account the inter­re­la­tion­ships of American culture and politics with those of the rest of the world.

What options do you see for the Democrats to bolster the American economy and combat inflation? 

Oof. That’s a tough one. I don’t think there is much the Democrats can do. I think the Fed’s recent moves are the right ones, as painful as they are in the short term.


Clay Risen is a reporter at the New York Times and the author of “The Crowded Hour: Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Riders and the Dawn of the American Century,” among other books.


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