Can Trump still win?

Donald Trump is in trouble.

With a jobless rate of 10% and an astounding 175,000 deaths from COVID-19 – triple the number of US fatalities in the Vietnam War which damned Lyndon Johnson in 1968 – there is an unmistakable allure to pronouncing Trump dead and buried.

Biden is leading Trump both nationally and in the battleground states. The Economist gives Trump a one in ten chance of securing another term at the White House.

“There is an unmistakable allure to pronouncing Trump dead and buried.”

Trump’s approval ratings are equally as bleak, teetering on the edge of 40%. The last time a president won re-election with such abysmally low approval ratings was Harry Truman. But Donald Trump is no Harry Truman. Trump is seeking re-election during a global pandemic which has ruthlessly undone years of economic growth, tearing a thriving economy from his electoral playbook.

Yet August is not November. 2016 taught Democrats this the hard way.

So, what could boost Trump’s electoral chances?

Coronavirus breakthrough and economic recovery

Despite 10.2% of the nation being unemployed, this figure has been eroding since April when it hit a staggering 14.7%. Whether states re-opening was reckless or not, it undoubtedly jolted the economy. Last week, the number of Americans filing for unemployment fell below one million for the first time since March. There are signs of improvement, and Trump may capitalise on them.

Despite widespread consensus among economists of the need for greater fiscal stimulus, many of the measures of the original stimulus bill have terminated. Congress has adjourned without passing further relief, largely due to Republican refusals to compromise with the Democrats on a second bill.

In many ways, Republican intransigence on the stimulus is perplexing; an agreement would doubtless boost the economy, improving Trump’s chances of re-election. Perhaps Republicans should reconsider.

There is also the possibility of a vaccine being produced by the end of the year. Although unlikely that the federal government will deliver widespread production by election day, it is within the realms of possibility that the first doses could arrive as early as October, giving the Trump campaign much needed political currency.

Biden’s Blunders

There is also the possibility that Biden will stumble in the debates. Although Biden’s most optimal strategy presently is to allow Trump to tie his own political noose, there will be debates. And as we watched, often painfully, during the primaries, Joe Biden is no stranger to the verbal ‘gaffe’.

Listeners of the hit-radio show ‘The Breakfast Club’ were reminded of this in May, when the former Vice President exclaimed that black voters considering voting Trump, “ain’t black”.

“Biden is no stranger to the verbal ‘gaffe’”

The fear is that, faced with the bombast of Donald Trump on the debate stage, Biden will be exploited for his lack of verbal agility. Every incoherent sentence and every blunder will be pounced upon by Republicans. A culmination of such mistakes could serve to validate the Trump campaigns labelling of the former Vice President as a man in the throes of cognitive decline, however unfair a caricature that is.

However, the more Trump portrays Biden as a tired, decrepit ‘gaffe machine’, the lower he sets the bar for Biden at the debates. At this rate, mediocrity from Biden on the debate stage may well translate into a success for his campaign, and a self-inflicted defeat for Trump’s.

The debates may be the key to undermining Biden, but Trump should be careful what he wishes for.

Foul Play

If Trump continues to lag behind Biden as election day looms, Trump will almost certainly play dirty with American democracy.

The primaries have already raised a series of red flags. In Atlanta, Georgia, voters waited for up to five hours to cast their votes after newly installed voting machines malfunctioned. In Milwaukee, voting centres were slashed from 180 to just 5. If primary season is anything to go by, November could be catastrophic.

An obvious antidote to this chaos is ‘mail in’ voting. However, the President has baselessly attacked this process, insisting falsely that it’s expansion would make 2020 ‘the most INACCURATE and FRAUDULENT election in history’; capitalisation courtesy of Trump.

There is a dual rationale behind these attacks. If the race is close, Trump hopes that his rhetoric of illegitimacy and fraudulence around mail in ballots will damage the integrity of the election, allowing him to contest the result politically and legally.

“Trump will do everything and anything within his power to maintain his grip on the presidency”

At the same time, restrictions on mail in voting may reduce the number of Democrat voters in urban democrat strongholds, as in Milwaukee – an ethnically diverse Democratic stronghold in the largely white state of Wisconsin – which saw its turnout decline by 9 percentage points, disproportionately hurting Black voters. The President has even suggested pushing back the election, a move condemned on both sides of the partisan divide.

Although more of an authoritarian pipedream than anything else, it highlights that Trump will do everything and anything within his power to maintain his grip on the presidency.

Can Kanye Help?

It remains to be seen whether Kanye West’s presidential bid is rooted in anything more than his own egotism. His campaign ‘rally’ was notably vacuous of any coherent policy and caused greater concern for his mental health than it did for any potential impact he may have on the race.

That said, the rapper has declared his candidacy in several states. In fact, recent reports have exposed Republican operatives aiding Kanye’s campaign by gathering signatures in swing states. Though unlikely, the aim here is to use Kanye as a mechanism through which to siphon Democratic voters away from Biden to the aid of Donald Trump. Assumptions that Kanye could steal Democratic votes on the basis of being African American seem reductionist and logically shallow. Still, it would be foolish to discredit Kanye completely.

Let’s not count him out yet

It’s easy to assume Biden is on the straight and narrow. Indeed, Trump’s path to the Presidency is littered with obstacles. But crucially, there still is a path.

Trump’s strategy seems obvious. He could change his tone. He could be a voice of unity for a country in crisis. He could be a leader.

He could do his job.

But if the only thing standing between Trump and victory in the fall is for him to do his job, there is every reason to believe he will lose. He has continually divided the country at a moment in which cohesive leadership would almost certainly work to his electoral advantage.

“There is every reason to believe he will lose.”

But it is not too late. The economy could recover. Biden could stumble in the debates. A coronavirus vaccine could be 2020’s famed ‘October Surprise’.

Sure, Trump is in trouble, but let’s not count him out yet.

Image by Michael Vadon via Creative Commons

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