Why Donald Trump Defied The Conventional Political Wisdom Once Again

Why Donald Trump Defied The Conventional Political Wisdom Once Again

by Arihant Pawariya - Wednesday, November 4, 2020 11:04 PM IST
Why Donald Trump Defied The Conventional Political Wisdom Once AgainUS President Donald Trump.
  • One thing is clear from Donald Trump’s unexpected performance in this election — he was a bad candidate for the right cause.

Counting of votes for the US presidential elections is currently underway and it seems that Joe Biden will manage to drag himself past the victory line and win 270 electoral votes needed to become president.

At one time it appeared that Donald Trump might retain the residency in the White House but his massive leads in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan — three of the most important battleground states — started withering away as the mail-in ballots started getting counted.

Though the path to victory is not yet closed for Trump, it is looking increasingly difficult. Nevertheless, everyone — including the Democrats, especially the Democrats — are stunned at how nail-biting the contest has turned out to be, and is nowhere close to a landslide for Biden they were dead sure of.

Despite four years of non-stop challenge to Trump’s authority, repeated questions over legitimacy of his 2016 win, constant hounding and harassing at every turn, his character flaws, mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic and a huge turnout by Democrats compared to last time — Trump’s performance has stunned everyone.

It’s clear to everyone by now that Trump’s likely defeat is due to two main factors — his character flaws and the way he mishandled Covid-19 pandemic (which is also due to his character flaw).

As many discerning minds had said only Trump could defeat Trump and that is exactly what seems to be happening. The same factor which won him presidency in 2016 is proving to be the biggest obstacle in 2020.

In any case, Trump has managed to put up a great fight. Victory or not, he has belied expectations again and by miles. There are five reasons why Trump was able to do so.

First, it’s not easy to unseat a sitting president unless the challenger is more charismatic and everyone knows Biden isn’t one. In the last four decades, only twice has an incumbent lost the White House — Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan in 1980 and George Bush Sr to Bill Clinton in 1992.

Both Clinton and Reagan were far superior politicians than their opponents and far more charismatic in comparison as well. Both also benefited from the terrible state of economy leading up to the election.

So, it was going to be extremely difficult for Biden to win against Trump in a conventional election cycle — pre-Covid, when the economy was booming or if Trump had shown slightly better behaviour in office, even a fraction of statesmanship that Clinton or Reagan possessed.

Second, the economy was starting to do much better with the US registering 33 per cent gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the third quarter of this fiscal year. It gave hope that under Trump, the economy will be back to normal quickly with job numbers rising and unemployment falling.

But clearly, there wasn’t enough time to reach the same level of robustness before the election and millions are still out of the job. But in every poll that asked likely voters about a better candidate between Trump and Biden, the majority of people picked the former as the more suited person to make the economy great again.

Third, the widespread rioting in many US cities helped polarise the electorate in favour of Trump. Everyone — from pollsters to Democrats to political pundits — seem to have dismissed it as a non-factor but when one side riots, anywhere in the world, it leads to silent mobilisation for the other side. And it shows in the increased voter turnout for Trump.

Of course, there were other factors at play but this is one major aspect that almost everyone has either played down or completely missed in their analysis.

Fourth, Trump proved to be an oath-keeper while in the White House. Presidential candidates usually make many promises during the campaign but end up achieving little after winning the office.

Trump walked the talk to the pleasant surprise of his Republican base and to the shock of his Democrat opponents. He may not have succeeded in delivering everything he promised but that wasn’t because of his lack of efforts.

Whether it was tax cuts, cutting regulations, building the wall on the US-Mexico border (in progress), getting out of Paris climate deal, Iran nuclear agreement, standing up to China with trade deals, disbanding North American Free Trade Agreement, ending war in Afghanistan, bringing soldiers home, crippling ISIS or appointing super conservative judges to the Supreme Court and lower judiciary, he managed to bring radical changes in the US policy, foreign and domestic, in a short time.

Fifth, Trump managed to fill three Supreme Court seats in his short tenure. To put it in perspective, this is the highest score since Reagan in the 1980s who appointed four judges in eight years.

The latest appointment of Amy Coney Baret just 10 days before the election seems to have played a major role in energising the conservatives across battleground states and underscored the importance of winning the White House for their party even if they may not like Trump’s character.

From Trump’s unexpected performance in this election, one thing is clear — that he was a bad candidate for the right cause. The fact that he almost retained many states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan that Republicans won in 2016 after years speaks volumes about his message.

The takeaway for Republicans would be to find a more refined candidate with the same populist message.

Clearly, the majority of Americans still care as much about the character as they do about the content. As Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon once said about him, he was an "imperfect vessel" for the revolution he had in mind.

Now, the challenge is to find that perfect vessel. It would not be easy because the imperfect vessel Trump is unlikely to go away and could very well be thinking of re-running in 2024.

The very thought of losing to a candidate like Biden must be killing him from inside and he would start itching for his revenge soon.

Arihant Pawariya is Senior Editor, Swarajya.
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