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Opinion Trump voters should be loving Joe Biden

President Biden arrives for a virtual briefing about Hurricane Ida at the White House on Aug. 30. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
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If Trump voters cared a whit about substance, they would be swooning for Joe Biden right now.

In ways both enthusiastic and reluctant, President Biden has pursued a surprisingly Trumpy agenda:

He has implemented the rapid and complete withdrawal from Afghanistan that former president Donald Trump negotiated with the Taliban.

He has maintained Trump’s tariffs against China and on metal imports.

He has continued a Trump policy that allows for the rapid deportation of asylum seekers.

He achieved the longtime Trump goal of a massive infrastructure spending deal — and continued Trump’s practice of heavy deficit spending.

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He has furthered Trump’s coddling of the Saudi regime (by letting it off the hook for murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi) and Russia (by greenlighting a gas pipeline to Germany that circumvents Ukraine).

He has left in place Trump’s hard-line Cuba policy and has so far failed to reinstate the nuclear deal with Iran.

So where’s the love from the MAGA crowd?

Ninety-four percent of Trump voters disapprove of Biden, according to a CBS News poll this month, including 86 percent who strongly disapprove. Trump voters even disapprove of the (Trump-negotiated) pullout from Afghanistan, 61 to 39 percent.

The likely reason for this is obvious, and depressing. Trump voters weren’t attracted to him because of his policies but because of tribal partisanship and because they liked Trump’s style: his attacks on institutions, government-by-tweet, the violent talk and, yes, the white nationalism. Conversely, Democratic voters support Biden despite many policy disappointments because he has brought calm and stability and isn’t slashing away daily at the fabric of democracy.

Certainly, Biden offers a sharp repudiation of Trump in areas such as climate change, civil rights and covid response. It’s also true that some of the populist Trump policies Biden has continued — protectionism, big spending, bringing home the troops — appealed to the left long before Trump’s rise.

The Afghanistan pullout, which Republicans now blame on Biden, is the clearest case of continuity. Trump had agreed with the Taliban on a May 1 withdrawal, and Biden’s only change was to add four months for the evacuation — not enough, as it turned out. “I started the process. All the troops are coming back home,” Trump boasted at a rally two months ago. The Biden administration “couldn’t stop the process. They wanted to, but it was very tough.” Trump had previously suggested sticking “as close to” his May 1 pullout date “as possible.”

On immigration, Biden has, notably, halted Trump’s border wall. But Biden kept in place Trump’s use of a health code, Title 42, so that, under the guise of preventing the spread of covid-19, U.S. officials can rapidly remove migrants without allowing them to seek asylum. Biden had originally planned to maintain Trump’s absurdly low annual cap on refugees at 15,000, only raising that to 62,500 after an outcry on the left.

As Politico’s Anita Kumar reported this month, the Biden administration has supported the expiration of some visas, endorsed tougher green-card requirements, backed denying of permanent residency to thousands of legal immigrants, and defended a number of Trump immigration positions in court. The Biden administration has been accused of violating required protections of migrant children in government custody, as the Trump administration notoriously did. In one prominent case where Biden did reverse a Trump policy, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority last week required the administration to revive Trump’s “remain in Mexico” initiative for asylum seekers.

Biden rejoined the World Health Organization, but he was slow to share the U.S. vaccine surplus and raw materials with the rest of the world, and he has ignored the WHO plea that booster shots wait until more of the world gets vaccinated.

The administration has been in no hurry, despite corporate pressure, to end Trump’s punitive tariffs on Chinese goods. Biden actually strengthened “buy American” requirements for the federal government from where they were under Trump.

In the field of human rights, Biden violated a campaign promise and continued Trump’s failure to hold Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accountable for the murder of Khashoggi, even though the CIA concluded that the prince approved the killing. Though Biden said he would end U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen, he also cleared a Trump arms deal that sends $23 billion in advanced weaponry to the United Arab Emirates, which is involved in the conflict.

To his credit, Biden has imposed sanctions on Russia for its cyberattacks on U.S. interests. But his administration in May waived sanctions on the company building Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which Biden claimed to oppose, as Trump did. On Friday, Ukrainian members of parliament wrote that Biden’s decision “rewards” Russian President Vladimir Putin and frees the Kremlin to pursue “large-scale offensive operations against Ukraine.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky finally gets the White House visit this week that Trump infamously conditioned on political favors. But Zelensky must be wondering whether betrayal of Ukraine has become a bipartisan pursuit.

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