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Biden-Trump rematch lacks punch

In March 1971, I spent several hours in a dentist’s waiting room, dreading the impending torture of the drill. The only compensation were the handy American magazines, full of arguably the most anticipated sporting event in history—the Big Fight between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali.

Both were undefeated champions: Ali was returning from the wilderness after four years having being stripped of his heavyweight title for refusing the military draft; in his absence, Frazier had emerged as the greatest boxer around. Beyond the boxing, there was an immense cultural rizz that divided public consciousness: Ali the anti-establishment hero, a conscientious objector; Frazier a war supporter. Not just a packed Madison Square Garden but a closed-circuit and free television audience of 300 million waited for Ali’s famed shuffle and Frazier’s killer left hook. In the event, Frazier won in 15 rounds. Ali would avenge the defeat in a 1974 rematch and in the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ in 1975 but by then the world, as is its wont, had moved on; the Vietnam war was over and the oomph had gone out of the contest.

Fifty years on, Americans are doomed to suffer a different rematch: Joe Biden versus Donald Trump, the latter having emerged as the presumptive Republican nominee on Super Tuesday, or Super Snoozeday as one wag remarked, given its dull predictability. Nobody, but nobody, wants this rematch: twenty per cent of American voters have been classified as “double haters”: they hate both Trump and Biden, only they cannot tell who they hate more. Yet it is a supreme irony that this most powerful and talented of all nations has no better choice on offer.

Biden’s main problem is that he has celebrated too many birthdays: he will be 82 if inaugurated again. His recent state of the union address was celebrated not so much for its content but for the fact that he did not trip on the way to the rostrum. Yet he had no serious contender for the Democratic nomination. Besides the deference to incumbency, there is a broad understanding that Biden has done a steady job in a troubled post-Covid landscape, even if that is rarely communicated. In addition, there is Biden’s claim that he is the only one capable of beating Trump. Yet he is up against the young and the progressive Democrats, besides the Arab Americans, for his overly forgiving attitude towards Israel.

In the other corner is the highly divisive and provocative Trump. Despite his attempted January 6 insurrection, and facing 91 felony charges in four indictments, he has practically pocketed the Republican nomination and polls give him the edge against Biden. The dream boy of the New York elite is also a champion populist appealing to base instincts by espousing racism, white supremacist thought and anti-immigrant rhetoric as it suits him. His loyal MAGA constituency that voted for him in 2020 is still solidly behind him.

Things are expected to go all the way to 15 rounds. Indications are that only about one lakh uncommitted voters in five or six swing states will ultimately decide the presidency. Biden’s best bet might be Trump himself: Americans may baulk at giving him the White House again, especially if by then he is a convicted felon.

Meanwhile, the seatbelt signs are on. Trump’s gibes, not half as witty as Ali’s ditties, are plumbing new depths: he recently mimicked Biden’s stutter. A presidential debate, if it takes place, will have fireworks too, though unlikely to match the thrill of 1974 Frazier-Ali brawl in the ABC studio, when the two champs ended up wrestling on the floor on live television. Still, it’s a thought.


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