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.

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