Can Donald Trump Win (Again)? | Mario Laghos
Trump can’t win, they said, now four years ago. Many of us will have seen the Youtube compilations in which GOP grandees, the Liberal commentariat and Hollywood superstars lined up to declare in their supreme wisdom that Donald Trump would never become President of the United States. Outlying voices who said not only that he could win, but that he would win, were openly mocked. Bill Maher and his Real Time panel erupted, now infamously, into hysterics when Ann Coulter proffered that of the then GOP nominees, it was Trump who had the greatest chance of victory come the general election. Oh, how they laughed.
Since the outliers were vindicated last time it’s become something of a meme to be overconfident in Trump’s chances of success this time. Who after all would want egg on their face twice? It doesn’t matter what the polls say, how horrific the gaffe, from the Axios interview to the ill-judged series of loose lipped calls to Bob Woodward, there remains a steely conviction amongst many that Trump is destined to claim victory, again. Having been drastically underestimated the first time, he’s now being drastically overestimated. Fool me once and all that. But this time it is different.
The Known Knowns
The only real known known, in this race, is that Biden is leading in virtually every poll, and by a not insignificant margin. Not only is he leading in the national polls by between 6 and 9 points, but he also commands convincing leads in key battleground states, from Michigan to Wisconsin to his home state of Pennsylvania. The latest Minnesota poll shows Biden 6 points ahead of Trump, this in a state Hillary won by just 1.5% (or 44,000 ~ votes) in 2016. Psephologists tell us Trump can sustain a 2-point popular vote deficit, and still secure an electoral college victory. But the numbers we are seeing right now are insurmountable. What we know says the smart money is on Biden, and the bookies agree.
The Known Unknowns
We know the polls were wrong in 2016, though not by the margin that is often suggested. What we don’t know – and won’t know until election day – is how accurate the polling for the upcoming election is. Nate Silver tells us 2016 polls oversampled for those more likely to respond to a poll, those being educated voters. Since educated voters tend to lean Democrat, the polls artificially inflated support for Hillary Clinton, and did not adequately account for blue collar sentiment. This failure of polling was most keenly felt in the shockwave sent across the Rustbelt and Midwest to which Trump owes his Presidency. However, Silver also reckons that this flaw in the polling has been fixed. The polls being carried out for this cycle are apparently increasing the weighting awarded to uneducated voters, thus fixing the problem and ensuring these polls are reliable indices this time around. He also says any ‘shy-Trump’ effect, if it exists at all, is cancelled out by a ‘shy-Biden effect’. The veracity of the polling remains an unknown, but with leads of up to 9 points, it is hard to imagine that the margin of error could be so extreme as that; but it might be.
The African American vote
In 2016 Trump won 8% of the African American vote, which prima facie is derisory, but vis a vis other 21st century Republicans, 8% is actually pretty good. For four years Trump and his team have been trying to woo the black vote, in style as in substance. For example, the President introduced the First Step Act, a reform of the prison system which is disproportionately benefiting African Americans. In terms of style the President has been able to count among his supporter’s high-profile outriders like Candace Owens and her BLEXIT movement which encourages black Americans to leave the Democratic party. These things being considered, one would expect to see Trump secure a further increase in vote share from the black community, which could be key in tight races, as Georgia threatens to be.
Another good sign for the Trump is that with the Democrat party moving further and further to the left on social issues, from abortion to gender, they might serve to disincentivise the heavily religious African American community from turning out. Indeed, at the time of writing a Channel 4 ‘News’ investigation revealed the 2016 Trump campaign, clearly aware of that possibility, targeted some 3.5 Million African American voters with messages designed to deter them from going to the polls. Liberal Democrats provide precisely the right ammunition for the Trump team to load up deterrence ads with.
The enigma that is Kanye West had previously turned out to support Trump publicly and often, before launching his own ill-fated campaign to become President. It was thought for some time that this could split the black vote to the benefit of Trump, but now having watched Kanye 2020 age like warm milk, that now seems like an unlikely proposition. At the time of writing Kanye’s name is set to feature on the ballot in a meagre 12 states.
But all this is set against the fact that Biden loyally served the first African American president for 8 years. And that might just be enough. Hindsight will be 2020 on this one.
The Hispanic Vote
Trump defied expectations in 2016, winning almost a third of the Hispanic vote, and did particularly well with Floridians of Cuban extraction who played no small role in turning the Panhandle red. Biden doesn’t have anything which marks him out as especially appealing to the Hispanic community, perhaps other than that he is a Catholic, and a Democrat. Meanwhile Trump has been endorsed (again) by the Bay of Pigs veterans, and has just announced his Supreme Court nominee, who just happens to be a Catholic. Though it might be said the endorsement of the 2506 Brigade actually exposes a deeper structural problem running through Trump ‘s voter base, which is one of age. While he might do well enough with older Hispanic voters, an overwhelming turnout amongst younger Hispanics could well nullify that advantage and then some.
(Mostly White) Suburban Women
The main reason Republicans lost the House in the 2018 Mid-term elections was because suburban women, or housewives as the President calls them, turned en masse against the Republican party. Suburban women are going to prove to be the decisive force in this election, and since 2016 have been increasingly moving toward the Democrats. While educated whites are entrenched in their support for Biden, and uneducated whites dug in across no-man’s land, suburban women have swung away from Trump. Trump’s early strategy telegraphed the campaign’s feeling that suburban women remained swingable, and could well ‘come home’.
When you observe the US election through the lens of Trump trying to win over suburban women, it all makes sense. Have you noticed for example how Trump ditched that garish, shiny red tie for a nice subtle navy number with pink stripes? Now you have. The President’s Supreme Court pick is a suburban woman with school age children, which we can be sure is no coincidence. This not to mention the policy he’s banging on about most to anyone who will listen is his recent executive order to ban the requirement for low income housing to be integrated into suburbia.
We know suburban women are telling pollsters they’ll go for Biden. We know they voted Democrat two years ago. But they did vote for Trump 4 years ago. Maybe they will again.
The Unknown Unknowns
Some Americans love Trump; but most don’t. One of the biggest unknowns is what Americans are more enthused by, the prospect of four more years of Trump, or the opportunity to tell him “you’re fired”. The second component to that unknown is whether those who are enthused by the prospect of firing the President are willing to flock to a senile Biden as the means to that end. Might a significant enough number pivot to the Greens, particularly in light of Biden’s centrist debate performance? Is the pathological nature of TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome) enough to see Biden through? Fundamentally this will be a turnout election, the victor will be the man who can enthuse his base to come out in the numbers required, and the increase in mail in ballots is going to make that enthusiasm much harder to quantify, even come election day.
COVID & The Economy
Will voters look upon Trump more favourably in light of the record speed of the recovery, and the slowing rate of spread of COVID amongst American communities, or will they begrudge that the crash and burn was ever permitted to happen in the first instance? Will voters identify Trump with security, particularly in relation to borders, and Biden as a ‘politically correct’ candidate unwilling to make the tough decisions like closing down immigration? Will voters think of a Biden Harris administration as more competent than a messy, confused, oafish Trump White House? Will any of this make a difference? Probably not.
Mogul to Walter Reid
The President, as we all know, has been taken to hospital after having contracted the Coronavirus. He reportedly has mild symptoms. Trump has two comorbidities associated with Coronavirus, his age and his weight, but given the advent of a whole range of remedial drugs like Remdesivir and Dexamethasone, as well as all the other medicinal luxuries the most powerful man in the world can likely expect to enjoy, I assume Trump will emerge from this health crisis without too much trouble. Though I am loath to pass judgment on such a case, from a medically uninformed position no less, one can scarcely avoid doing so at this point in any serious analysis.
Trump’s personal battle aside, the diagnosis, treatment and quarantine of the President throws up a whole new series of questions. We have to ask if this has not served to vindicate (in the public consciousness at least) Biden’s obsessive wearing of masks? Has the President in turn become a self-parody, a ‘tough guy’ President from a by-gone age who threw caution to the wind only to become a victim of his own machismo? Is this a case of the snake of toxic masculinity coming to eat its own tail? What could be more repellent to suburban moms? One can’t help in seeing a parallel with the five Marlboro Men who died of smoking related diseases.
Some observers have claimed the hospitalisation of our Boris led to a wave of public support for the British government. As YouGov have pointed out, this isn’t true. On the contrary, the hospitalisation of the PM marked the beginning of the end of what had hitherto been record levels of public support for the British government. The PM’s personal ratings did rise from 54% to 60% during his tenure in hospital, and if Trump can enjoy a similar increase in personal ratings, he would be well served politically. While his America First policies are popular, and he polls better than his Democratic rival on the economy, many are turned off by his braggadocios style. It’s easy to imagine the American people coming together in prayer for the President in a spirit of unity, and in so doing soften their personal antipathies. Maybe a vulnerable President will engender sympathy and the benefit of the nurturing instincts of women, with whom Biden presently enjoys a massive lead. But none of this will likely translate into votes.
The top line of this whole affair is to elevate the Coronavirus as the central issue of this campaign. This is bad for Trump any which way you slice it. How can we take talk of a border wall seriously when the enemy is already endemic in the nation and the society?
The (Ill Fated) Prediction
Both polling and election results in the previous four years indicate Trump has a base of around 35 – 40% of Americans who will vote for him no matter what. Biden doesn’t have a cult following, but he does represent the only opportunity for the other 60% of the country to kick Trump out of the White House, this gives him a bigger pool from which to draw voters.
Trump’s hope of winning does on one level count on increasing the Republican’s share of the black vote, the suburban vote, and the Hispanic vote, but his hopes fundamentally rest on his capacity for turning out his base. If Trump can enthuse counties that support him to turnout to the polling booth in huge numbers, he stands a good chance of holding onto Florida, Georgia, Texas and maybe North Carolina and Ohio. But even this might not even be possible.
Does anybody really believe Biden is going to take their guns away? Is Biden going to ‘socialise medicine’? Will conservative’s turnout in huge numbers as if America itself were on the ballot? I would posit the answer is no. At this point it seems there is no realistic chance of Trump winning the general election. He simply hasn’t delivered enough for blue collar workers, having been a slave to the Paul Ryan agenda in his first two years in office, he emerged from that malaise only to be knocked out by the COVID crisis. Expect Trump to lose Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan as a consequence.
The end result will be a clear electoral college defeat, but not a total one. Conservatively put it looks like it could be as low as 290 to 248 in Biden’s favour. In terms of the popular vote expect Biden to win with 5 to 6 million votes more than Trump. The only path to victory is for Trump is to hold Florida, Texas, and Georgia, while simultaneously winning a state he failed to win in 2016, Minnesota. The chances of this, are slim.