If Trump Wants His Message To Win, He Should Exit With Grace And Not Play Legal Spoilsport

If Trump Wants His Message To Win, He Should Exit With Grace And Not Play Legal Spoilsport

by R Jagannathan - Monday, November 9, 2020 12:17 PM IST
If Trump Wants His Message To Win, He Should Exit With Grace And Not Play Legal SpoilsportUS President Donald Trump.
  • Donald J Trump lost because, despite his message being acceptable to his base, significant parts of his core voters were not sure he was the right man to deliver that message.

If there is one thing coming across loud and clear in the US presidential elections which Joe Biden won, it is this: the winner will usually be the man (or woman) whose message resonates with the electorate. In presidential elections, where people vote as much for the man as his party or message, the two (man and message) must be in alignment.

Donald J Trump lost because, despite his message being acceptable to his base, significant parts of his core voters were not sure he was the right man to deliver that message. This was particularly clear in the lackadaisical way Trump handled the Covid crisis, where he did not show any kind of concern for people. Even his own base could not have found this edifying. Not that any US state did much better in fighting Covid, but most Governors were at least talking the right language, showing the right kind of concern for people in distress.

Since elections are won by wooing the political centre and middle, the message has to go beyond what your own base will accept. Americans this time were looking for reassurance that things would be fine not only in terms of livelihoods, but also in terms of lives. Trump was convincing on one (handling the economy), but not on the other (Covid).

Many citizens, appalled by the violence seen in US cities after an Afro-American man died in Minneapolis last May due to police brutality, were looking for someone who would calm things down, not stir things up. Trump was hardly their man.

This is why the electorate accepted Biden as the least bad alternative — a second choice even for the Democratic party — to Trump. After being declared President-elect yesterday (8 November), Biden made exactly the kind of emollient speech that a divided nation was looking for: he called for unity, bipartisanship, etc. The man and the message worked in unison for Biden; in Trump’s case, the man simply was not seen as the right choice to many outside his base.

The question is: why did Trump win in 2016, when he was the same politically incorrect man, and a misogynist and callous human being to boot? The answer again was the alternative. His rival Hillary Clinton was even less liked than him. The choice was between two people who many disliked, but the man with the better message won. Clinton simply had no elevating message to offer against Trump’s promise of helping those left behind by the self-serving policies of the Left-liberal elite.

We may see this happening in Bihar too, where the exit polls have given Tejashwi Yadav a win against Nitish Kumar and his JDU-BJP coalition. The likeability factor is not small when it comes to Nitish Kumar, and women are said to prefer him to the RJD, but Yadav, apart from not being any less likeable, also had the right message. In Covid times, the biggest concerns relate to incomes and livelihoods. To put it mildly, Nitish Kumar was not the ball of fire in dealing with the migrant crisis that endeared Uttar Pradesh’s Yogi Adityanath to his voters.

And Kumar’s own 15-year record of reasonable governance did not matter much when people had much bigger concerns over lives and livelihoods. A younger face promising them a better deal worked with the youth.

Coming back to the US presidential election, the message specifically for Trump is simple: if he wants his message to prevail, he needs to exit gracefully instead of dragging the country through another period of uncertainty by challenging the verdict in the courts. He has to be a better man than he has been so far.

To be sure, the verdict has been impacted by huge volumes of mail-in and absentee ballots, where the scope for hanky-panky is not inconsiderable.

Some commentators have indeed pointed out that the math of Biden’s overwhelming support from mail-in ballots did not add up. Others have pointed out that election frauds have helped Lyndon Johnson in his early career; Abraham Lincoln was nearly tripped by the then new phenomenon of mail-in ballots.

There is surely something not quite right in a system where nearly half the electorate votes in absentia weeks ahead of the election, and mailed votes keep coming in long after election day is behind us. Given the litigious US system, it might even be possible for a voter whose vote arrived late at the counting centre to sue the US postal service for denying him his democratic rights.

America has a first world economy hitched to a third-world voting machinery that does not quite do it credit, where each state does its own thing even in a national election.

These are points worth correcting, but after Biden’s win is accepted as fact. America likes fighters, but it may not quite love sore losers. America does not mind smart electoral gambits, which is what the Democratic party mounted this time by encouraging mail-in- voting in several states, but it does not want the political legitimacy of a winner questioned too much.

Trump made a huge mistake by underestimating the determination of his enemies, in politics, media and the academic ecosystem. His rivals made the same mistake in 2016.

If Trump wants his message to mean something, he has to quit with grace. The court battle is worth waging for cleaning up future elections. The American voter will not forgive him for giving her another traumatic period of uncertainty, this time over a disputed election.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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