Wednesday 18 July 2018

If US voters' wallets feel full, then Trump is on for a second term no matter what values he tramples on

US President Donald Trump. Photo: AP
US President Donald Trump. Photo: AP

Andrew Buncombe

Matt Drudge announced his scoop with the level of understatement one would expect from the king of digital tabloid news. "TRUMP SET FOR SHOCK ANNOUNCEMENT," he tweeted from his own personal account, his keyboard's capital letter button held firmly down.

Shortly afterwards, he followed up from the 'Drudge Report's' handle: "WORLD EXCLUSIVE - Just one year into his Presidency, Trump will stun the political world by announcing he is running for re-election in 2020. Digital guru Brad Parscale will be named campaign manager, 'DRUDGE REPORT' has learned."

In truth, few people doubted Donald Trump would not be up for a second term in the White House. Some of his critics, both within the Republican Party and outside, might have pondered or, rather, fantasised, that the 71-year-old might, for whatever reason, quietly bow out after one term, deciding there was nothing more he could do for the country.

But those were in the minority. Everything we have learned about Donald John Trump, from his days as a 1980s tabloid fixture all the way through to his surprise entry into the White House in January 2017, is that he is not a man to give up gracefully. Neither is he an individual to admit defeat. Others also pointed out that the day after his 2017 inauguration, he formally filed paperwork for his re-election committee.

Despite that, Trump's confirmation that Parscale, a former digital adviser, will lead his re-election campaign, represents the first official confirmation from the president that he is seeking a second term.

Now, the question is, can Trump do it again? And to the horror of Democrats, progressives and others who loathe him, the answer is: very possibly.

A flurry of caveats need to be laid out straight away. No one can know the political environment in 2020, Trump may have been indicted by Robert Mueller and heading for impeachment, or he may have been defeated by a Republican primary challenger. And while the White House doctor gave him a very clean bill of health, it is always possible he will be forced to stand aside because of poor health, or worse. John F Kennedy was assassinated during his first term; Franklin D Roosevelt died of a cerebral haemorrhage shortly into his fourth. (Two-term limits were introduced shortly afterwards.)

There is much that might point against a Trump re-election. Records suggest the former reality television star is the most unpopular president of all time. For much of his first term, his approval ratings have trudged along in the mid-30s. They jumped after the passage of his tax bill late last year, but then slipped down again.

RealClearPolitics, which collects and collates various polls, suggests it currently stands at 41pc, though it notes there is a spread of 13 points. And don't the Democrats expect to do well in the mid-terms? A recent poll by CNN found suggested registered voters were planning to vote 54-38 in favour of the Democrats. If that proved to be the case, the Democrats would have the sort of numbers they have not enjoyed since 2006 when they secured both the House and the Senate.

Yet while his opponents may loathe to admit it, Trump has a lot going for him - as shown by the odds of 2/1 listed by oddschecker.com, which aggregates various betting shops odds. (The closest rivals are Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders at 11/1.)

Firstly, Trump is the incumbent, and incumbent presidents usually win when they run for re-election. Individuals such as George HW Bush, who lost to Bill Clinton in 1992 after reneging on a promise not to increase taxes, are the exception to the rule.

The office brings huge advantage in terms of media coverage, name recognition and the ability to raise money.

The second thing Trump has in his favour is that, to the people who voted for him and gave him that stunning win, think of him as nothing less than a hero. A poll taken on the anniversary of his election found that 82pc of those who supported him would do so again.

But it is not just among his hardcore supporters that Trump has solid support. Following a first term in which Trump rowed back on regulations Barack Obama had introduced at the Environmental Protection Agency, cracked down on immigration, enacted a version of his travel ban, got Neil Gorsuch confirmed on the Supreme Court and, crucially, oversaw a tax reform package the Republicans had not seen for 30 years, Trump can present himself to the GOP as a man who has delivered on his promises.

In a recent article headlined 'Republicans Are Coming Home To Trump', the polling and politics website FiveThirtyEight reported a Gallup poll put Trump's approval rating among self-identified Republicans at 86pc. "It was the third straight week that his rating was above 85pc - an improvement compared with 2017," it said.

For all the major issues facing the US - climate change, inequality, racial tension, gender struggles and Trump's puerile and bullying use of social media - when it comes to voting, for most Americans no issue is more important than that of their wallets. If people feel the economy is doing well, that their job is safe, that they have a little more money left over at the end of the month, then they typically tend to vote not to change that.

Right now, unemployment stands at 4.1pc, a 10-year low. While much of the credit for that belongs to Barack Obama, Trump has already seized it as his victory. Wages in the United States increased 4.4pc in November of 2017 over the same month in the previous year, and they seem set to continue - a figure that could equal anything during Obama's term.

The other, crucial, thing the president has in his favour is that for all of the anti-Trump sentiment that exists in the country, the Democrats do not look battle-ready.

A series of special elections have revealed that the party has not agreed to a solid or substantial platform other than opposing Trump. As many party figures have said, they need to offer voters a genuine alternative message, especially on economics.

Indeed, often it seems the party is still having the same fight over which it split in 2016, as it sought to decide whether to opt for the cautious incrementalism represented by Hillary Clinton or the more radical change proposed by Sanders. And while there are a lot of very good quality candidates within the party, the fact that the generation of yesteryear - 68-year-old Warren, Sanders (76), and 75-year-old Joe Biden - are topping the polls offers little hope to those looking for new ideas. Nothing underscored the party's haplessness more than the recent suggestion that Oprah Winfrey may do battle against Trump.

All of this does not represent an endorsement of Donald Trump. From the perspective of anyone who values progressive ideas, who believes in science and empiricism rather than Chinese "hoaxes", who supports the Paris Accord, who believes America is a nation of immigrants of all colours and all faiths and is a better place for it, who believes women should be respected and valued rather than insulted, and who thinks tax cuts should help the poor and not just the wealthy, then Donald Trump's first term has so far been an abomination.

But that does not mean he is not going to win a second.

Irish Independent

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