US Democrats in Europe prepare for a rematch against Donald Trump

With Donald Trump cruising toward the Republican nomination as his challengers struggle to cut into his support, the US’s presidential election is underway – and many Democrats are worried about Joe Biden’s starting position.

The risk for the Democrats is that without a truly competitive primary to activate the base, Biden will struggle to get sympathetic voters fully engaged until much later in the electoral cycle. Meanwhile, Trump has been formally running a re-election campaign for more than a year, and has had few other demands on his resources besides civil and criminal legal proceedings.

This disparity in the candidates’ time and their voters’ enthusiasm has many Democrats worried that come the summer, they will be left playing catch-up as they try to re-elect a president whose poll ratings remain discouraging. And a major part of fighting back involves mobilising the overseas vote.

The party’s well-established foreign operation, Democrats Abroad, has chapters in more than 100 countries. Its long history has seen it turn out hundreds of thousands of US voters living in foreign countries.

They are able to vote in both primaries and general elections, and in the latter, their ballots count at the state level – meaning they can be a decisive bloc in presidential races that sometimes hang on just tens of thousands of votes.

This was the case in 2020, where Biden’s victory depended on ultra-thin margins in several key states. Based on current polling, Biden will be fighting to cling on in many of the same places, and votes sent from abroad could provide the advantage he needs.

All over the world

As things stand, the Democratic Party has a more advanced and complex operation outside the US than the Republican Party does. According to Angela Fobbs, spokeswoman for Democrats Abroad in Germany, there is “a world of difference” between the way the US’s two main parties approach overseas campaigning.

Where the Republican equivalent is a political action committee that essentially campaigns on its own, Democrats Abroad is a full-on component of the Democratic Party, meaning its connection with members is substantially deeper.

“Our organisation is set up to represent Americans abroad,” she told Euronews in an interview, “and help them where they have issues, such as the fact we have to file taxes from abroad, that some people can’t get retirement benefits like Medicare or Social Security.

“We can actually work with our Congressmembers to help our members with issues that they have,” Fobbs explains, “which makes a huge difference.”

Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

But it’s not just organisational strength that might give overseas Democrats an edge: it’s the implications a second Trump presidency would have for both Americans abroad and their families at home.

As Fobbs explained, one of the most serious worries about Trump is his well-established disdain for NATO and the US’s military obligations in Europe.

“Germany is home to the largest American military community outside the US, in Ramstein,” she says, “and so people have some specific issues that other countries might not have. One of those is, I mean, honestly, the last time they were in control of the government completely, the Republicans spent a lot of time talking about shutting down the military bases here.”

This would not only affect the lives of these service members and their families, but European security as a whole.

The German government, one of Ukraine’s most important backers in its fight against Russia, has been working on contingency plans for a possible war between Russia and NATO erupting over the next two years.

These plans rely on the possibility that NATO could ably deploy hundreds of thousands of troops in response to a Russian escalation – and were the US to begin drawing down its troops from Europe, the resulting drain on NATO’s resources could give Russia a major opening.

Hands to the pumps

To maximise their potential impact on the election, the Democrats need to impress upon Americans everywhere that their votes still count. And even after the drama of the last two elections, there is still plenty of work to be done just to make sure they cast ballots at all – never mind who for.

“Sometimes people that aren’t necessarily aware of how many people live outside of the United States, and that we are still US citizens,” says Fobbs. “I’ve had people ask me, ‘Oh, am I still a US citizen? Because I’ve been living outside the US’. And the answer is yes! And I still care about about what goes on in the United States, not just because of the political issues, but because my family is there.

“So people are really just waking up to the fact that we exist and that we are an actual constituency for the US government.”

For Fobbs, as for many others in the US and beyond, a second Trump administration is a deeply frightening prospect in itself.

The word “fascism” is being used more than ever to describe his platform and the attitudes of his base – and in Fobbs’s view, the danger posed by the former president’s movement extends far beyond the US.

“As goes America,” she says from Germany, “so goes the world.”

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