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Better off than 4 years ago? It might've been worse under Donald Trump

President Joe Biden speaks at the United Auto Workers conference in Washington on January 24. Photo by Ting Shen/UPI
President Joe Biden speaks at the United Auto Workers conference in Washington on January 24. Photo by Ting Shen/UPI

In the 1980 U.S. presidential election, Ronald Reagan asked the blockbuster political question that would obliterate Jimmy Carter's candidacy: "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"

In the 2024 election, no doubt that question will be resurrected by Republicans.

But let's reverse that.

Suppose Donald Trump had won in 2020. Would Americans be worse or better off than four years ago under a second Trump term? Of course, 3/4 of Americans would be pleased that neither Trump nor Joe Biden would be on the ticket in 2024 unless Trump was attempting to repeal the term-limiting 22nd Amendment. Assuming that was not the case, a good question is who would have been the Democratic and Republican candidates in 2024?

One wonders.

Former President Donald Trump exits the courtroom in his civil fraud trial in New York. Photo by Louis Lanzano/UPI
Former President Donald Trump exits the courtroom in his civil fraud trial in New York. Photo by Louis Lanzano/UPI

Answering the better or worse off question is obviously speculative because Trump lost. But had Trump won, what might he have done over the past four years that could provide any answers, no matter how speculative?

The first crisis was the Afghan withdrawal in the summer of 2021. Remember it was Trump who negotiated the agreement with the Taliban in Doha without the presence of the elected Afghan government headed by President Ashraf Ghani.

Given the faults and flaws of that agreement, which then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not sign (allowing that privilege to go to the negotiator, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad). That the same military leadership would have been in place under Trump as well as Biden, why would a disastrous withdrawal have been avoided?

Biden extended the deadline. Had the original withdrawal date set by Trump been met, how would chaos not have ensued, because the earlier evacuation would have left less time for coordinated planning? Indeed, the withdrawal could have been even worse.

Second, Trump would have inherited a Democratic Congress. How any legislation critical to dealing with the economic damage done by the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuilding the infrastructure would have been passed or signed into law is difficult to imagine. Most likely, even worse gridlock would have persisted. Without the legislation passed under Biden, it is likely the economy would not have grown or that a recession would have been avoidable.

Third is the border issue. Trump's promise to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it would still have been nonsensical. The Remain in Mexico policy depended on Mexican compliance. And Mexico would not and did not. Further, many of the executive orders signed by Trump and Biden on immigration on the border prompted lawsuits that certainly would have delayed or prevented any action. It is hard to see, despite Trump's promises, how the border issues would have been resolved.

Fourth, how would Trump have handled Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine? Trump had been burned by his interactions with Ukraine. His "perfect" phone call with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky in part led to articles of impeachment passed by the House. His derisive attitude toward NATO remained.

Would Trump have supported Ukraine at all, or to the level that the Biden administration has? How would Trump have dealt with NATO and the European Union on Ukrainian aid and membership? It is not clear he would have, even though he asserted he would end that war in 24 hours. Indeed, the only way that was possible was through a Ukrainian surrender.

Fifth, how would Trump have coped with Oct. 7 and the subsequent Islamist militant attacks against U.S. forces in the Middle East and the Houthis' strikes on Red Sea shipping? Advocates would say the assassination of Quds commander Qassem Soleimani in Iraq would have suggested that Trump's responses would have been forceful. But that killing led to a substantial increase in Irani and proxy missile attacks on U.S. forces. And after Iran downed a U.S. Reaper drone in international waters, Trump called off the retaliatory strike.

Sixth, would rivals such as Nikki Haley have arisen to challenge Trump for the GOP nomination in 2024? And last, would Trump have been charged with 91 indictments? Or would he have self-pardoned or shut down the cases?

All this is speculation, of course.

However, before addressing the question of "Are you better off today than four years ago under Joe Biden," reconsider if Trump had been president. Given the seemingly irreparable divisions between the two parties, where one stands politically is how that question might be answered.

But suspend these realities for a minute. That answer might be helpful in determining how independents and undecideds might vote in 2024.

Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist, a senior adviser at Washington's Atlantic Council, the prime author of "shock and awe" and author of "The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large." Follow him @harlankullman. The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.