Donald will need to change his spots if he wants a second term
The presidential election began yesterday. With about 103 weeks left before Americans return to the polls in November 2020, the big question is whether Donald Trump will rerun his victorious 2016 strategy or make adjustments after what happened in the mid-term elections.
The results suggest it’s time for Trump 2.0.
It is now part of US election lore that Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by unlocking overlooked blue-collar votes in the rural and rusted-out industrial areas of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. This then became the core of Trumpian populism.
That margin of support gave Trump a narrow victory in the Electoral College to offset his deficit in the nationwide popular vote. That’s the system in the US, and it’s a good one, preserving the relevance of all 50 states in picking presidents. But can Trump rethread the same electoral needle?
On Wednesday, all three of the now famous Trump states went decisively blue, with the reform governorships of Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Rick Snyder in Michigan now in the hands of Democrats.
The intriguing Upper Midwest outlier was the Ohio governor’s race, where Republican Mike DeWine defeated Richard Cordray, an Elizabeth Warren clone. Bucking the regional trend, suburbanites in Ohio’s counties around Columbus and Cincinnati voted decisively for DeWine.
But no one will mistake the immeasurably low-key DeWine for Trump.
The results in Florida and Texas — two must-win states on almost any Republican Electoral College map — were also problematic. Trump won Florida by 1.2 points in 2016.
A victory on Wednesday in the Florida governor’s race by Tallahassee’s left-wing mayor Andrew Gillum would have created a nightmare for Trump by instantly putting Gillum in the national conversation for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Trump dodged that bullet when his candidate, Ron DeSantis, defeated Gillum. For that, Trump deserves credit. But the margin was microscopic — 0.6 per cent at last count. And against a candidate in Gillum whose politics essentially duplicate those of representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York City’s left-wing wonder woman, or Bernie Sanders. Gillum’s astonishing performance at least suggests that Florida is in play. Popular Florida Governor Rick Scott’s apparent win over incumbent Democrat senator Bill Nelson looks like solace for Republicans in the state, but Scott has invested heavily in courting the Hispanic vote, and he steered clear of Trump’s closing argument against immigration.
Before Wednesday, no one would have thought Texas, with 38 electoral votes, could be in play for the Democrats in 2020. Some will argue that Ted Cruz’s narrow Senate win over representative Beto O’Rourke can be explained by Cruz’s personal unpopularity. But with the help of extraordinary turnout, surely energised by anti-Trump sentiment, O’Rourke overran Cruz in the state’s two biggest population centres, Dallas and Houston. Democrats also flipped two house seats, defeating John Culberson in Houston and Pete Sessions in Dallas. The millions of dollars out-of-state Democrats poured into the O’Rourke race to drive voter turnout will return in 2020.
One of the great slanders of the past two years is that the “party of Trump” consists mainly of nativist, even “racist,” white males, or what the PBS’s White House reporter at Trump’s bearbaiting news conference yesterday called a “white nationalist” appeal. This,
The millions of dollars out-of-state Democrats poured into the O’Rourke race to drive voter turnout will return in 2020.
presumably, covers all 63 million of the people who voted for Trump in 2016.
The reality is that Trump’s 2016 “base” included many traditional, suburban Republicans. Some voted for him, some against Hillary Clinton, and some for a conservative Supreme Court majority. Trump’s presidency has delivered what those voters wanted on policy, the economy and the judiciary. But exit polls and the suburban results suggest he hasn’t delivered what many of them want in a presidential persona.
On paper, the least complicated path toward a second Trump presidential victory should be straightforward. Since the Democrats’ argument to the American people opens and closes with “hate Trump”, Trump might pull their plug by making himself less an engine of Democratic turnout and fundraising. In short, dial it back. In short, he won’t.
Since the summer of 2017, Trump’s unfavourable rating has run in virtually a straight line at 55 per cent. Perhaps he can sit on his unexpanded 2016 base and roll past that strong unfavourable number into a second term.
But it’s difficult to see how it adds up to an Electoral College majority — unless the Democrats cave in to their own unappeasable base and nominate a left-liberal loser, as in 1972, 1984 and 1988.
As always, lady luck remains Trump’s greatest ally.