Why Trump could win a second term
PARIS — It would be a huge mistake to write off the 2020 U.S. presidential race result as a foregone conclusion. Many did so in 2016, taking as a no-brainer that Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump. Some self-deluded Clinton supporters found it so impossible to believe that Trump had won that they have spent much of his first term in denial, attempting to blame it on unproven meddling by foreign bogeymen. Polls show former Vice President Joe Biden in the lead by an average of about 7 points nationally. In reality, the figure is meaningless. Regardless of who they claim to support, 51 percent of Americans of all stripes believe that Trump will beat Biden, according to a Pew Research Center poll from last month. And they have every reason to be correct.
Trump has never enjoyed the support of the majority of Americans, so it’s a mistake to read too much into popularity polls. Hillary Clinton was more popular than Trump in 2016, but she still lost to him for one reason: Trump won the Electoral College math contest and beat Clinton in enough of the swing states to put him over the line. Remember when Biden’s Democratic Party opponents dropped like flies leaving Biden as the last man standing, uncontested, in the primary race? The party had evidently come to the conclusion that Biden represented the party’s best shot at defeating Trump for the simple reason that he could pull off victories in the swing states against Trump and thereby prevent a repeat of the 2016 shock loss. And that’s all it’s really going to come down to again this year — barring any wild and unforeseen event.
Trump’s big advantage over Biden is that his core support is much more unshakable, with 66 percent of his supporters backing him strongly, compared to only 46 percent of Biden’s, according to the Pew survey. But what’s even worse news for Biden is that his supporters’ main reason for backing him is that he isn’t Trump. This effectively reduces the election to a referendum on Trump himself, and places the president’s fate largely in his own hands.
A series of presidential debates have been set, and for the first time voters are going to be able to see how each fares against the other without any safety net. If Biden fails to aggressively challenge Trump’s often liberal and freewheeling approach to provable facts and reality, then Trump will win. If Biden lets Trump define him — leading voters to believe, for example, that he’s a tax-and-spend liberal who’s going to take away their hard-earned money and curtail their freedoms — then Trump will win. If Biden comes across as less psychologically astute than Trump, then Trump wins. Normally debates aren’t a major deciding factor, as most voters lean strongly one way or the other — unless there’s a glaring reason for them to change their mind. And given that we haven’t yet witnessed a direct, unassisted matchup between these two men, surprises may await.
Democrats have also placed far too much stock in uncontrollable events that they’ve leveraged to bash Trump. Much of everyone’s year has been dominated by the coronavirus crisis, and Democrats have leveraged Trump’s handling of it against him. They haven’t proven, however, that Biden’s actions would have led to a much different result, as the virus seems to be running its course everywhere in the world with little regard to political machinations.
Using the current state of the U.S. economy against Trump is also a non-starter as most people realize that extrinsic factors related to the COVID-19 fiasco are primarily responsible for this predicament. Trump could even feasibly argue that Biden’s statements suggesting that he’d be more favorable to shutting America down would have caused even more economic carnage.
Pointing to Washington establishment elites — from former Trump administration members to military brass — who are all now coming out of the woodwork (sometimes even with tell-all books) to dish dirt on Trump may backfire. It was a strong disdain for this establishment that enabled Trump to seduce voters in the first place. Cries about Trump breaking a system that the silent majority of voters of all stripes already felt was rife with corruption is only going to allow Trump to paint Biden as a swamp creature himself. And for all of Biden’s talk of bringing dignity back to the White House, voters may just chalk it up to being forced to choose between sophisticated mafiosos of the establishment machine and scrappy Trump hoodlums. In this matchup, the underdog may hold more of an appeal.
In any case, Team Biden would be committing a critical error in treating this race like a cakewalk. That happened four years ago, and the Democrats are still wiping the cream pie off their face.
(Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and host of an independently produced French-language program that airs on Sputnik France. Her website can be found at http://www.rachelmarsden.com.)