Nader Entessar emphasized that no US president, including Biden, can bring about meaningful changes in US-Iran relations in short to medium terms. He said if Biden wins the US foreign policy will turn to multilateralism with the first priority being improving Trans-Atlantic relations.

When asked about the possible political turmoil that could lead to Supreme Court decision on the winner of the election, he said that If there is a contested election in 2020 and the matter is referred to the Supreme Court, I believe most of the Trump-friendly Supreme Court Justices will put him back in the White House.

The following is an email interview with Nader Entessar, Professor Emeritus of Political Science in University of South Alabama:

Q1: According to the polls, Trump did a better job in his second presidential debate than his performance in the first debate. Is this going to have any effect on people who have not voted yet?

The polls that were taken after the second presidential debate indicated that the debate did not impact the standing of either of the two candidates in the polls.  In fact, studies have shown that presidential debates in recent years have shockingly had little effect on election outcomes and that this year’s US presidential debates have been the least consequential in decades.  In my judgment, presidential debates have lost their usefulness in recent decades.

Q2: Coronavirus once again is on the surge in the US, and this time the virus has even infected the White House. Some sources say that three to five of Trump’s aides now have COVID-19. Yet the President’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows admits that the “Trump administration is not going to control the pandemic” and it just hopes for a vaccine to come to the market soon. How these latest developments in coronavirus situation change the election game?


Coronavirus Reduced Trump’s Chances of Victory

The Trump administration’s handling of the novel coronavirus has been haphazard and chaotic from the beginning.  As COVID-19 continues to take massive tolls on the lives of many Americans, more and more people are now recognizing the Trump administration’s approach towards this pandemic has been disastrous.  There is no question that Trump’s policies in this regard will be detrimental to his reelection chances.  However, Trump’s hard-core supporters continue to look for culprits elsewhere rather than blame Trump for the disaster that has been ravaging the fabric of the American society.

Q3: It seems that Biden has not been successful in attracting young black voters in Florida. Last time in 2012, Obama won the election by winning this swing state. Do you think Biden could undo his possible Florida defeat by winning another important swing state such as Pennsylvania? How do you predict the results in these two states?


Pennsylvania, Biden’s Winning Card

Biden needs to win at least six or seven swing states in order to garner enough Electoral College votes to win the upcoming presidential election.  Florida is an important swing state with its 29 electoral votes. Polls indicate that Trump and Biden are in a virtual dead heat in Florida. Therefore, Florida can go either way, but if Biden loses Florida, he can compensate for his loss thereby winning another important swing state like Pennsylvania. In the final analysis, ten states will be crucial in determining the winner of the 2020 presidential election in the United States.


Obama’s Meager Share in Biden’s Victory

Q4: Barack Obama’s strategy for winning two elections in a row was to persuade the young blacks under 30 and Latinos to vote whereas Trump’s strategy was to get the votes of white elderlies that had not voted since Ronald Reagan’s era. So, how do you see Biden’s campaign to persuade those who usually do not vote?

Obama has recognized the gravity of the situation in American politics today and thus has decided to actively campaign on Biden’s behalf.  Obama is still a popular figure in American society and carries weight among the younger generation in the United States.  Although Obama’s active role in this year’s presidential campaign is important for Biden, but given the fact Obama has entered the fray rather than late in the game, I am not sure if his campaign will have a noticeable impact on the voter turnout among the youth, especially those in the minority communities.

Q5: Now that Barack Obama strengthens his support for Biden’s presidency and even addressed people in Miami, it seems that Trump recognized the opportunity and insisted on the same differences that in 2016 allowed him to win the White House seat. How do you see Obama’s role in future of Joe Biden possible presidency?

Elderly and retirees who live in Florida have long been among the most ardent supporters of the Republican Party. Trump was able to get their support in 2016 and win Florida. However, this year, there is a growing unease among the retirees in Florida due to Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic and socio-economic instability that has characterized his presidency. For example, signs in support of Biden and the Democrats are propping up in The Villages, the largest retirement community in Florida; something that was unimaginable four years ago.  Therefore, Obama’s campaign may help Biden, but as I indicated in my previous answer, at best Obama may be able to help Biden’s campaign on the margins.


Q6: If Joe Biden wins, what will change in current US foreign policy? Will the Democrats’ win invalidate Trump’s isolationist policies at the international and transatlantic level? What will be the fate of the US approach in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf?


Boosting Multilateralism Will Be Biden’s Priority

If Biden becomes the next US president, we will see a shift away from the unpredictability that US foreign policy has displayed under Trump.  Multilateralism strengthening the frayed Trans-Atlantic ties will be given priority.  Under Trump, the US State Department has become highly politicized and a general trend towards unprofessionalism has permeated the fabric of this institution. Biden will most likely try to remedy the damage that has been inflicted on this important institution and its diplomatic corps.


Washington’s Central Policy towards Iran Will Not Change

However, we should not expect a major change in US policies towards Iran. US-Iran problems are more than forty years old now. The myriad US sanctions against Iran are very complex and involve many institutional obstacles, both in the United States and Iran. Even under best circumstances, no US president, including Biden, can bring about meaningful changes in US-Iran relations in short to medium terms.   Some of the Trump administration’s most egregious behaviour, especially its use of foul and undiplomatic language, will most likely be changed under Biden’s presidency, but such changes are symbolic and not substantive in policy terms towards Iran.


Q7: In recent weeks, Trump said many times that if he loses the election, he will not accept the result because probably “Democrats cheated.” The conservative judge Amy Barrett will soon become the ninth member of the US Supreme Court turning the Court’s balance into six conservatives and three liberals. If Trump did not accept the result of his election failure, to what extent the Supreme Court’s decision would be in favour of the Republicans?


Supreme Court Will Declare Trump the Winner!

More than a quarter of federal judges today are Trump appointees, and with the appointment of Judge Barrett, three of the current Supreme Court Justices will be also Trump appointees. Even if Trump is not re-elected in 2020, he will have a lasting and generational impact on the fabric of the US judiciary. If there is a contested election in 2020 and the matter is referred to the Supreme Court, I believe most of the Trump-friendly Supreme Court Justices will put Trump back in the White House. This is what Trump has counted on for some time now, and that is why he and his Republican allies in the Senate are rushing to have Judge Barrett approved as the ninth member of the Supreme Court in case the outcome of this year’s presidential election is to be decided by the Supreme Court.

Q8: Republican dominance in the Supreme Court could last for decades, so some say that Biden will increase the number of the Supreme Court judges to end this superiority before it starts. Do you think it is possible within the United States constitution? Has this sort of action been taken before by a US president?

Biden’s Possible Attempt to Change the Supreme Court’s Ruling Will Be Doomed

Changing the number of Supreme Court Justices is not an easy task. Article III, Section 1 of the US Constitution states: “The judicial Power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”

Therefore, under the Constitution, the number of Supreme Court Justices is not fixed.  However, the US Congress can change it by passing a judiciary act that requires the President’s approval and signature.   The Judiciary Act of 1789 established the first Supreme Court, with six Justices.  There have been several other similar acts that have changed the number of Supreme Court justices.  Since the passage of the Judiciary Act of 1869, the number of Supreme Court Justices has remained nine.  In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt, frustrated by obstacles created against the implementation of his New Deal socio-economic programs, attempted to increase the size of the Supreme Court by adding new Justices who sympathized with his policies.  But this endeavour proved futile and President Roosevelt his ill-fated threat to enlarge the Supreme Court.  Although increasing the number of Supreme Court Justices, or “court-packing” as it is generally referred to, is popular among some progressive circles in the United States, history shows that such a move is a non-starter and is doomed to failure.


Nader Entessar

Professor Emeritus of Political Science

University of South Alabama