Donald Trump will stand for re-election as the nation’s forty-fifth president in November. At this point, some five months before votes are cast, he appears to be behind in most polls. But his defeat is far from certain. In fact, viewed objectively, a good case can be made for his re-election. Why will he win? Here are ten reasons.
- He’ll use his base. Even though little else has been consistent in the Trump presidency, his base of support has been unshakeable. It never seems to deviate by more than a few percentage points from a range of 42 to 45 percent of the electorate. Many pundits use those figures to predict that he will lose, but he didn’t need much more than that amount of support to win in 2016, and, when the other reasons listed below are taken into account, he won’t need much more to win this year.
Trump’s base consists of his “fans.” The word is not intended as a pejorative. It just expresses the adulation that exists for the showman that Trump is. His image—a mix of toughness, political incorrectness, distrust of government and institutions, and iconoclastic attitudes about most established norms—appeals to that segment of the population that feels disrespected, if not entirely disregarded, by the elites in government. They treat him like a rock star at his rallies, and he keeps them cheering with his “greatest hits,” even recycling words like “hoax” and “witch hunt” to fit the occasion. (He says climate change is a hoax, as was the allegation of Russia’s influence over the election. Ditto, the claim that the coronavirus was going to be a pandemic. And anytime anyone accuses him of anything, it’s a witch hunt.)
Trump’s fans will be there for him in November, and the likelihood is that he will fire them up with claims that the election is rigged and that the Democrats are all socialists or criminals or atheists or whatever other labels he can conjure up. Trump’s base will turn out for him, and that fact alone will prevent the kind of landslide defeat that the current polls may be suggesting.
- He’ll emphasize his policies. Trump basically hews to the conservative economic line of his Republican predecessors. Thus, he is anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-government. He favors corporate power and influence in keeping with a free-market approach to economic prosperity. His views on trade are troublesome to true conservatives, but he has avoided making the issue seriously damaging to the big business interests he otherwise promotes.
In foreign policy, his bark is worse than his bite. He threatens freely but then backs off from military engagement. He likes to play up to authoritarians (Putin, Erdogan, Kim, Duterte) and denigrate democratic leaders (Merkel, Macron, Trudeau). The results have hurt the U.S. in the eyes of most of the civilized world, but he has kept us out of another war while keeping the defense industry fully engaged. Thus, while neo-cons are less than thrilled with some of his actions, he generally appeals to the pro-military constituency.
Trump’s attitudes about civil rights and civil liberties have been perhaps the most controversial aspects of his presidency. He often makes remarks that seem in line with racist views. And he often sounds xenophobic when he speaks about immigration. His constant demand for the building of a wall across the country’s southern border as well as his denial of legal entry for those coming from Muslim-majority countries feeds into the MAGA identity that appeals to a variety of voting blocs. And his most recent use of military force to clear a path for himself for his upside-down-Bible photo op will no doubt appeal to all of Franklin Graham’s followers.
- He’ll trash his opponent. Whomever the Democrats picked would have been open to Trump’s M.O. of name-calling and crime-accusing. But Joe Biden presents opportunities that are built-in, and Trump will have a field day with them. For openers, he will use the “Sleepy Joe” moniker to emphasize that Biden is old, gaffe-prone, and not exactly quick on his feet in a debate.
Biden will undoubtedly provide grist for the mill from time to time, as he did last month with a regrettable comment about black voters who support Trump. And when Biden does make such comments or when allegations from his past are revealed, Democrats will be incapable of defending their nominee.
Democrats and Republicans are dissimilar in many ways, especially in how they handle scandals. The Republican playbook is to immediately deny alleged scandals and then try to turn them on the alleger. Democrats wring their hands, at best, or join the chorus of condemnation of the accused at worst. (Al Franken’s fall from grace is the classic example, pushed out of office as he was, not by Republicans, but by colleagues from his own party.) So Trump will have a field day with Biden, and when Biden gives him something akin to Hillary’s emails, Democrats will fail to come to his defense or, worse, will throw gas on the fire.
- He’ll lie. Trump lies whenever it suits his interests. And he is entirely unabashed about it, having not the slightest sense of integrity or morality. Over the last five years (since he announced his 2016 candidacy) Trump has lied so often that the media coverage of him doesn’t even report some of them. MSNBC, the most anti-Trump of cable networks, will often replay Trump’s press conference lies and not even bother to point out that they are lies. That approach may be okay for viewers who know the truth, but for many, the lies eventually become the truth as they understand it. Trump probably never read Orwell’s “1984,” but he clearly understands how that fictional autocracy worked.
Trump will do whatever he needs to do to prevail, and lying is his primary method of refuting an allegation or defending a position. He is so comfortable with lying that he will sometimes cover a first lie with a second by denying that he had ever said the first lie. The new lie either works to make everyone forget the first lie or is so outrageous, as when video is immediately shown of the first lie, that the new lie takes attention away from the first lie.
He’ll lie about Biden once the campaign revs up, and Biden will struggle to reveal the lie. The lies will come one after the other, and some will have an element of truth, which will then put Biden on the defensive and make him look weak, which Trump will then use to emphasize the Sleepy Joe moniker. Or worse. Maybe he’ll use the Hunter Biden “scandal” against Joe and make it worthy of a “lock-him-up” chant. It’s just cannon fodder for the base, but some of it will convince undecideds that “the devil they know is better than the devil they don’t know.”
- He’ll cheat. Trump will violate rules and laws whenever he sees an advantage in doing so. When he’s accused of doing anything illegal, he’ll call it a witch-hunt or a hoax or say that his opponents are desperate. And he’ll do it with impunity since, if he wins, he’ll deny his Justice Department the ability to prosecute him, and if he loses, he’ll likely get a pass from Biden in the name of national unity.
The most likely cheating will take place when the votes are actually cast and counted. John Kennedy may have won Illinois (and the presidency) when thousands of ballots in Republican-heavy districts were lost before they were counted in 1960. The allegations were never proved, but if it happened then, it can happen again. Or it might just be a simple ballot construction debacle, such as occurred in 2000 that probably cost Al Gore the state of Florida and the election.
Of course, Trump won’t get his own hands dirty in the cheating. Instead, he’ll rely on officials in states where he needs “a little boost.” Folks like Katherine Harris, the Florida Secretary of State who stopped the recount and declared the state for Bush in 2000, won’t be hard to find when he needs them.
- He’ll suppress the vote. This one is almost a guarantee. Trump will rely on those same lackeys in state governments (governors and secretaries of state) to make voting as hard as possible in swing states like Ohio, Florida, Georgia, and Arizona. In some of those states, even suppressing one percent of the eligible vote can swing the state.
Trump has made clear his understanding of the math, stating recently that no Republican can win if mail-in ballots are available to everyone. So expect fewer mail-in ballots being made available to fewer voters in states where Republicans have control of the processes. The coronavirus threat will also help him if precincts for live voting are limited so that long lines exist on election day. So look for a lot of precinct closures (caused by the virus or some other excuse) that make voting harder. And look for heavy claims of potential voter fraud, causing restricted registration rules.
Elections used to turn on the GOTV efforts of the respective campaigns. But in 2020, getting out the vote is going to depend on how many eligible voters are allowed to vote. Democrats will fight in Congress and in state legislatures to mandate voting by mail and same day registrations. In a true democracy, those kinds of measures would be applauded. In Trump’s America, they will be contested and denied wherever and whenever possible.
- He’ll play the economy. Trump will use the economy to his advantage in either of two ways. First, if the unemployment rate remains high and the stock market fails to recover (or takes another hit), he will blame the bad times on the pandemic. He’ll emphasize how good the economy was before Covid-19 forced everything to shut down and how he never wanted to shut down so completely.
Or, if the economy bounces back, or shows signs of a quick recovery, he’ll take all the credit and emphasize how his leadership and vision are responsible for it. In doing so, he’ll take numerous shots at the Democrats who insisted on shutting everything down when the pandemic first took hold. He’ll proclaim himself a great businessman and argue that only he could see the way to a quick recovery.
Either way, his arguments will resonate with those voters who are back to work or never lost their jobs and with those who rely heavily on the stock market. Others will just remember how good things were before the pandemic hit and will forget any poor management of the pandemic that could rightfully be attributed to him. The economy is likely to look very different in November than it does now. Even the latest unemployment report shows signs of improvement, and the stock market seems to be in a world of its own.
- He’ll demonize his scapegoats for the pandemic. Trump has already set up his arguments on the pandemic. He blames the Chinese for hiding the initial outbreak; he blames the CDC for not alerting him sooner and for issuing mixed messages such as that masks were not required until they were; he blames the governors and mayors (New York’s in particular) for not closing down soon enough. He’ll certainly blame Drs. Fauci and Birx for not providing enough solid information about the likely impact of the virus.
Trump will claim that he limited the potential enormity of the disease through aggressive actions (falsely citing more testing than any other country among other things). He’ll claim that the death toll would have been (and was originally predicted to be) much higher than it ended up being. He’ll let the gang at Fox News (Hannity, Carlson, Ingraham, et al.) proclaim him to be a strong and decisive leader, but for whom the devastation would have been much worse.
He may not be able to erase all of the negative sound bites he created (among them the absurd ideas that shining ultra-violet light into the body and ingesting disinfectant are possible cures). But he will claim to have been clairvoyant and to have been smarter than the scientists. And since the science wasn’t ever certain on Covid-19 (and still isn’t), Trump will impress a segment of the electorate that isn’t really sure just what to believe about the virus.
- He’ll leverage the protests. We have already seen how Trump will attempt to use the current protests to his advantage. He calls the protesters criminals and gets away with it with some voters because the looting and vandalism is easily assigned to the protests. It allows him to play the “law and order” card, which, again, appeals to those voters who see the fires and looting and vandalism on TV, or in social media, and think the protesters are a bunch of spoiled kids or militant revolutionaries or just plain criminals.
A sizeable portion of the American electorate has always responded well to law-and-order appeals. Richard Nixon used it very effectively in his winning campaigns. Ronald Reagan and even Bill Clinton, to a certain extent, did, too. Trump may have been a tad too blatant about it in clearing the streets so he could walk to the church last week for his ridiculous photo op, but to the extent the protests disrupt life and destroy store fronts and businesses, his get-tough approach will resonate with some voters.
- He’ll rely on the Electoral College. Trump may well lose the popular vote again, maybe even by significantly more than the nearly three million he lost by in 2016. But presidential elections are determined by the Electoral College, and Trump may still have an edge there. The election will probably be decided in no more than ten states. Of those, three (Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan) made the difference in ’16. Trump won the three, with a total of 46 EC votes, by less than 80,000 votes.
Trump will lose by wide margins in solid blue states like California and Massachusetts. He’ll win by even larger margins in solid red states like Alabama and Oklahoma. It’s those ten or so that are purple where the election will be decided. If Trump can focus solely on those states, specifically identify the portions of their electorates that he needs, and get them energized through all of the various methods I’ve mentioned (lying, cheating, suppressing the vote, sounding tough, pushing conservative policies, even playing the race angle), he can squeak out a narrow victory.
And if he does lose, it still won’t be over. He’ll claim fraud or raise some kind of a stink about something that will get his base riled up (threatening armed rebellion as they take to the streets with their Second Amendment weapons) while his lawyers file court cases. And with the Supremes lined up 5 to 4 on his side, … .