Officially, Justin Trudeau doesn’t have any favourites in the U.S. Democratic race, but it’s a safe bet that the prime minister would be delighted if Joe Biden ended up as that party’s candidate for president.
It was only a little over three years ago that Biden came to Ottawa and urged Trudeau to take up Barack Obama’s progressive torch on the world stage.
“The progress is going to be made, but it’s going to take men like you, Mr. Prime Minister, who understand it has to fit within the context of a liberal economic order, a liberal international order, where there’s basic rules of the road,” Biden declared at a big dinner in Ottawa in late 2016.
“Vive le Canada, because we need you very, very badly.”
The former vice-president was handing Trudeau those marching orders just as Obama’s term was winding down and the U.S. was bracing itself for the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House.
Trump, who’s no fan of Biden for any number of reasons, would probably prefer to fight Bernie Sanders, or so he keeps signalling.
Now that the Democratic race seems to be shaping up as a race between Sanders and Biden, the president’s concern for Sanders’s fortunes seems almost touching.
Trump put out a series of tweets and spoke to reporters on Wednesday about how Sanders’s momentum had been stalled in this week’s Super Tuesday of voting in the Democratic contest.
“The Democrat establishment came together and crushed Bernie Sanders, AGAIN!” Trump wrote in a Wednesday morning tweet.
Speaking to reporters later, Trump elaborated, slamming Sen. Elizabeth Warren for allegedly taking votes away from Sanders on Super Tuesday.
“Elizabeth Warren was the single biggest factor in that election last night,” Trump said. “She was very selfish.”
A Trump-Sanders race for the presidency this fall would be an epic one to watch — from the safe distance of Canada. As many political observers have already noted, it would be peak polarization for the United States, fought between the leading disrupters on the right and the left of the U.S. political spectrum.
“It’s uniquely possible that Trump sees some of himself in Sanders — a total political outsider who has long been mocked and dismissed by the so-called elites within the party,” CNN’s Chris Cilizza wrote in a recent piece, headlined, “Why is Donald Trump always defending Bernie Sanders?”
Strategy is also at play here, obviously. Polarization works for this president: It gave him his win in 2016 and it continues to feed the Republican base. Trump isn’t interested in the middle ground. He plays politics along the lines of sharp division.
That’s another big difference between Trump and Trudeau, especially at this juncture in their political careers.
While Canada’s prime minister is trying to tamp down this year’s outbreak of polarization in this country, the president is trying to ratchet up polarization in the U.S.
Trudeau’s hopes to keep Canada governable — as well as win re-election — rest on finding a middle ground amid all the extremes on environment, economy and the spate of Indigenous blockades of the past month.
Trump’s hopes for a second term rest on exactly the opposite kind of politics: whipping up divisions rather than brokering compromises.
I’ve been asking around recently about this stark division in Trump-Trudeau politics: why polarization is helping Trump and threatening Trudeau.
One senior government member suggested that it has to do with disruption. Trump needs to pull political poles apart to break down the system; Trudeau has no interest in disrupting the world order.
That fits with those not-so-long ago words from Biden, about how it was Trudeau’s job to stand still in the middle of all the disruptive forces swirling around the world in the wake of Brexit and Trump’s election.
Trudeau is going to be asked repeatedly over the coming months whether he has any favourites in the presidential race. He will say that it’s his job to work with whomever Americans choose.
When it comes to the Democrats’ choice, Trudeau and Sanders could probably get along. Sanders seems to like Canada.
But only Biden has used Trudeau in a political ad — a few months ago, showing that now-famous scene in which Canada’s prime minister was with other world leaders at the NATO summit, laughing at Trump.
A Biden-Trudeau relationship may not be a revival of the “bromance” Canada’s PM had with Obama, but who knows
Biden also told that 2016 dinner in Ottawa, “I think (Obama) was worried you’d like me more than you like him.”
Susan Delacourt is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.