Why Donald Trump Is Losing: The Man Is Beginning To Matter As Much As His Message

Why Donald Trump Is Losing: The Man Is Beginning To Matter As Much As His Message

by R Jagannathan - Tuesday, October 20, 2020 11:56 AM IST
Why Donald Trump Is Losing: The Man Is Beginning To Matter As Much As His MessageUS President Donald Trump. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
  • History may record that Donald Trump defeated Donald Trump in November 2020, but it will also record that he confronted a higher evil than himself during his four years in the White House.

There is one reason – and only one – why Donald Trump seems likely to lose the 3 November US presidential election: Trump himself, with his WYSIWYG personality.

WYSIWYG, or what-you-see-is-what-you-get, does not often work in politics, where politicians have to curb their natural inclinations and speak the language of political correctness, even if their real views are quite different from what they claim. But Trump has been WYSIWIG from the start, and his inability (or unwillingness) to reinvent his language or persona is what is going to cause his downfall.

Two factors (among many others) determine political success: one is the inherent message that a candidate personifies or exudes; the alignment of the messenger with voter moods.

In 2016, when Trump unexpectedly won, his WYSIWYG persona did not matter for his message was in tune with the mood of large parts of the electorate outside California and New York, both of which were the biggest beneficiaries of globalisation and technological growth. Those left out of this largesse were Trump’s main (and often silent) backers, and for them who he was did not matter. What he stood for did. This is why even when his crude remarks about women, the differently abled and his political opponents made the headlines, it did not deter them.

In the field, Trump was the only guy who seemed willing to take on the vested interests in Washington and New York, something his opponent Hillary Clinton seemed to typify. Even women voters did not decisively swing to her side in that election. The mood was for a vote against the privileged elite, and Trump personified that better than his opponent. Who he was as a human being did not matter.

But post-Covid-19, America is expecting something different from its President. When hundreds of Americans are dying all around you and the economy is in a shambles, Trump, far from talking the language of empathy and care, went about denying the reality of the pandemic, very often refusing to wear even a mask. No matter what he did or didn’t do, there is no certainty that America would not have lost thousands of its people to Covid, but Trump kept telling his voters that it will just go away and that economic revival was more important.

The problem is he was right to emphasise economic revival, but the way he did it made it seem as if he was the wrong man to lead the country at a time of widespread anxiety about the future. When the country is worried about both lives and livelihoods, you needed a President who was capable of reassuring his people, not one carelessly claiming everything would be fine.

Contrast Trump’s attitude with the sombre daily briefings of the New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. New York was the epicentre of the pandemic in the initial months and Cuomo gave the daily bad news in press conferences marked by great sobriety and concern over the loss of lives. Cuomo actually did not achieve anything fantastic, but his attitude mattered.

In fact, wrong parallels are drawn between Trump and Narendra Modi, but the reality is the two are different as chalk and cheese.

When confronted with Covid, Modi immediately sprang into action, and spoke to the citizen reassuring them that the hardships of lockdown were needed to keep Covid away. Even when that did not work, he allowed the economy to reopen gradually while telling the people to follow safety norms (do gaz ki doori, masks, hand-washing, etc).

This is in sharp contrast to what Trump did, who simply wished Covid away and told everyone that all was all right when it manifestly was not. This is also why few people hold it against Modi that the country saw a huge spike in infections as the lockdown was lifted gradually. They understood that Modi cannot fight the odds beyond a point.

Modi was also good at reinventing his image from election to election. The Hindu leader of 2002 morphed into the development icon of 2007 and the problem solver of 2012 and the poor messiah of 2014-19. He then became the staunch patriot who could land a blow or two against both Pakistan (Balakot) and China (Doklam).

He took advantage of the anti-corruption movement of 2011-14 and became their nemesis in his first term, so much so that businessmen wondered if this was the same Modi who would meet them at the slightest opportunity when in Gandhinagar. Now, Modi is again building trust in businessmen, again reinventing himself.

Trump simply failed to reinvent himself between 2016 and now, when US voters are deeply anxious about Covid and America’s place in the world.

The reason why Joe Biden could win, and possibly with a landslide, is also because he has masked his failures by being the nice guy to bad guy Trump. Even though there are many indications that his son Hunter Biden was linked to some Ukrainian interests, and his own conduct with some women has been questioned, the mainstream media – and Facebook and Twitter – actually went out of their way to debunk these stories.

The Deep State wants to see the back of Trump as soon as possible. When Trump unexpectedly won in 2016, the Deep State and the media went to war with him, for he was not one of them.

Biden, despite his faults, is seen as worth protecting as he is the ideal anti-Trump, and hence worthy of being given the benefit of the doubt on his personal failings. Biden is benefiting the same way Trump did in 2016, where the message mattered more than the messenger.

WYSIWYG politicians who fail to hide their weaknesses when the voter is demanding another kind of assurance often bite the dust. This is why Donald Trump may well lose the presidency. Nate Silver’s www.fivethirtyeight.com, predict that in most of their scenarios, Biden wins 88 out of 100 times. Biden’s popularity lead is 52.7 per cent to Trump’s 41.7 per cent – a lead difficult to reverse just two weeks from voting day.

However, Trump is unlikely to be dumped in the dustbin of history, for the changes he has brought are not inconsiderable, including the reset in ties with China, Russia and India. He needlessly irritated his allies in NATO and elsewhere, but he is the first President to put on record that China is the evil the world will have to confront.

Ronald Reagan said that about the Communist Soviet Union (he called it the evil empire), and the regime collapsed barely a few years after that. The Chinese empire is unlikely to crumble like the Soviet Union, but Trump signalled the beginning of the end of a hegemony even before it has attained truly gigantic proportions.

History may record that Donald Trump defeated Donald Trump in November 2020, but it will also record that he confronted a higher evil than himself during his four years in the White House.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
Join our Telegram channel - no spam or links, only crisp analysis.
Get Swarajya in your inbox everyday. Subscribe here.

An Appeal...

Dear Reader,

As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.

Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.

We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.

Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.

Become A Patron
Become A Subscriber
Comments ↓
Get Swarajya in your inbox everyday. Subscribe here.

Latest Articles

    Artboard 4Created with Sketch.