The President Never Loses: What Might That Mean for the Run Up to November, and the Election Itself
BY: Rhys Wallis
If anyone reading this has seen the interview Donald Trump gave on Fox News with Chris Wallace, then you will know that the President does not like to lose. If you listen to the President’s account, you will also see that Trump has never lost in his life. His casinos, despite filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on numerous occasions, are listed among his successes alongside many of his business ventures. However, this poses problems for him. Based on available polling data, Donald Trump is not projected to win the Presidential Election in November. And he does not like that.
Problem number one can be thought of as a pre-election problem. This entails how Trump will seek to portray every issue he can in terms of his electability. This is not unusual in an election year, and Trump is far from the first President to do this. But these particular set of circumstances make this more troublesome for the President. He cannot hold his mass campaign rallies. The tactics which allowed him to ride a red wave to the Oval Office four years ago just cannot happen this time because if he fills an arena, he breaks his own administration’s guidelines. And if he does not fill an arena, the public relations may be politically damaging (like the fallout from the debacle in Tulsa, where 6,200 out of the 19,000 expected attendees actually showed). This all means that the President has to make his own campaign appearances, out of things that really should not qualify as campaign appearances. Rose garden press conferences? Yes, they are now campaign rallies. Coronavirus Daily Briefings from the Press Room in the White House? Yes, they are now campaign rallies too. Tactical deployment of federal forces into Democrat controlled states and cities to play the narrative of Democratic Lawlessness versus Republican Law and Order? Unfortunately, that is also a campaign strategy. The President is going to manufacture scenarios to make himself look like the law-and-order President, because that is how he thinks he will win the election.
Moving on, we come to problem number two. Joe Biden is not the best candidate for Donald Trump to be up against, given his positive qualities in areas like bipartisanship and experience. But he is also far from the worst candidate for Trump to compete with. Prone to mental lapses and not the most impassioned speaker anymore, Biden is hardly someone you can see as a bastion of great structural change. Biden is beatable, and that weakness will encourage Trump to double down. The debates will prove to be vitriolic and nasty. Wherever Biden shines a light on one of Trump’s deficiencies, Trump will get out the biggest military grade spotlight he can find and shine it back in his face to reveal everything down to the minutiae of his opponent’s record. It worked against Hillary. This idea of whataboutism is pervasive in the Trump campaign; it is the idea that dragging another person down with you is as good as rising above them. Will the Democrats anticipate it this time? They missed it in 2016. If a President reaches 2 terms and is then term-limited, then the Democrats will be rid of him. However, he will have had ample time to mold the nation into the image of his legislative framework. This all boils down to one of the hardest fought, and nastiest election campaigns the US, and possibly the world, has seen in modern times.
The final problem may occur after the election, and only if the President does not win. The smooth handover of power from one outgoing President to the incoming one is part of American tradition and is necessary to soothe wounds from bitter campaign battles. After trashing the Bush administration repeatedly in his 2008 Campaign, Barack Obama and George W Bush still managed an amicable transition in January of 2009, and the handover of power was smooth, even in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis. Furthermore, in 2000, one of the most disputed election results of all time, the Clinton administration eventually accepted the result of the election, and President Bush was able to assume power smoothly. This might not happen if we wake up on the morning of November 4th and see headlines reading something like: ‘PBS can now call the winner of this election – President Elect Joseph R Biden’. President Trump has given no assurance that he will accept the results of the election. He did not do so in 2016, and he has not done so now either. He won in 2016, so of course he respected the result. But he did not accept that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, claiming instead that the numbers were inflated by illegal voters. And if he does the same again, or loses the electoral college, then things could get messy. He has a loyal and devoted group of followers, who believe what he says. If he cries foul and tweets incessantly that the election was rigged, then good luck having a United 50 States when Joe Biden takes the Presidential Oath. But for this to happen, he needs some form of justification. This would have to be something that is already ingrained in people’s minds. Otherwise, he will just look like he could not accept defeat. Luckily for him, he already has something he can exploit: mail in voting. Trump has been calling these rigged, citing flimsy evidence. But sometimes it does not actually take any evidence for people to believe a claim. There are incidences of voter fraud through mail in voting, but these are negligible when compared to the wider picture, and cannot be seen as evidence to support the President’s claims. Instead, this entire narrative is the bedrock for Trump’s response to the election result. If he wins, he can fall back on the evidence provided by those seeking to discredit his arguments. But if he loses, then the idea is already in people’s minds. They might think it plausible that the election was stolen from their ‘rightful’ President.
All of these problems compound into a very tough year for anyone not on Team Trump. However, the opposition will fight just as hard as the Trump campaign. Watchers of the US Political scene better hold on tight, because we are in for a bumpy ride.
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