It is Trump’s honesty that is most likely to win him re-election
Yes, that’s right. He promised policy and he delivered. A tried and tested political strategy.
Firstly, I do not think this man is fit to serve any elected office, never mind the highest in the land. I believe he cheated his way to the Presidency through a whole-hearted embrace of Russian interference and will attempt to do so again, bludgeoning American values and indeed hitting the very crux of democracy in the free world. I believe he has disgraced the office he occupies and has significantly damaged the United States’ reputation across the world. I believe he should be impeached via a free and fair trail in the Senate and should be removed from office as soon as possible as to prevent further crimes.
Fortunately, most people I speak to agree. Twitter, and other sources of quick commentary, are a wash with outrage over the latest act of repugnance the President commits. More optimistically, Sunday’s Fox News poll indicated Trump’s approval ratings are absolutely tanking, while simultaneously showing he would lose to virtually all top Democrat candidates in a one-on-one.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t really matter, does it? Those who go to Twitter to declare their anger don’t get to decide the outcome of the election anymore than anyone else. They have to compete with everyone else legally allowed to vote in the United States. Many of whom will never had heard of Twitter, mass-polling, the invisible primary, the permanent campaign, or any host of issues Democrat supports consider world-defining at the moment.
Doesn’t this sound all too familiar?
We’re still eighteen months out and already the rising sense of hubris amongst some Democrats concerns me. It is as though they have put up with Trump and his machine for two and a half years now and feel they can finally relax as the election approaches and Trump’s inevitable removal from office gets closer. Unable to fathom a second term, they will simply plough through the primaries and hit the general full steam ahead before declaring a sweeping victory for common sense, decency, and generally good decision making.
Fool me once, and all that…
For the record, at this stage (June 2019), I am cautiously optimistic that Trump will lose in 2020. A number of key factors that allowed him the thinnest of victories in 2016 are now either redundant or irrelevant. Namely, the fairly unpopular Democrat candidate and the complacency of the Democrats’ operation, particularly in the rust belt. Trump’s momentum out of the primaries, and a general paralysis from the opposition of how best to deal with that. Moreover, the specific context will be different too, of course. The Democrat candidate is unlikely to faint on video weeks before the election, and the FBI are unlikely to re-open an investigation into that candidate only a matter of days before voting (before ultimately concluding the same thing they decided months before).
Nonetheless, there are still some carry overs from 2016 that worry me still. The generic context; an incumbent President presiding over a ‘strong’ (I accept that’s subjective) economy is historically enough to secure a second term. But on top of that, Trump’s arguably unique assets he had as a candidate have largely stuck with him during his presidency. For example, despite being a multi-millionaire and President for nearly three years, Trump holds on to the ‘outsider’ image with vigour. Allowing him to maintain a small, but albeit passionate base.
Finally, and crucially, like it or not, on policy he has told the truth and delivered.
It is ironic for a man defined by a desire and an ability to lie so brazenly that a major electoral asset will be consistent policy delivery, but that is a fact that Democrats will have to deal with. To illustrate this point, I want to look at two areas of policy specifically:
- Immigration/border security
Do you remember the chilling chants of ‘build that wall, build that wall’ that would crescendo from the cultish Trump rallies across the country in 2016? Trump pitched himself, absolutely explicitly, as the candidate who would deliver on immigration and border security.
Despite attempts from federal courts and rival politicians to shut him down, he has been remarkably successful in acting on his words. Through the mass deportation of illegal immigrants, to the Muslim ban (another pre-election promise fulfilled), to restrictions on asylum seekers; Candidate Trump made this an issue and President Trump delivered on it.
This is not to mention the Executive Orders on travel bans and refugee suspension (13769, 13780), increased immigration enforcement (13768), and of course, the phasing out of DACA, the cancellation of Temporary Protective Status, and the zero-tolerance policy and family separation on the Mexico border.
For context, in the 2016 financial year, the US accepted nearly 85,000 refugees from around the world. In 2017, the government said it would reduce this to 45,000 and a year later, Mike Pompeo announced the figure would once more decrease, this time to 30,000. Whatever you think of the humanity of this policy, 30 states voted for this platform and Trump has delivered it.
The impact Trump has had of the issue of immigration can’t be overestimated. In 2012, only 48% of people thought the issue was ‘very serious’ (compared to 73% who thoughts ‘political ethical scandals’ were — oh, how times have changed). By the end of 2018, 78% thought the issue was ‘very serious’ — joint second to the economy and only surpassed by healthcare.
We can expect a similar trajectory for abortion rights.
2. Abortion Rights
Four years ago, in January 2015, Bloomberg published this interview with Donald Trump, long before he was a serious contender. He is asked:
“Where are you now on the question of whether abortion should be illegal?”
Immediately he responded saying “I’m pro-life… it’s a serious issue”
(granted, he does say with caveats; life of the mother, incest, and rape, which is more than can be said for some of his Republican colleagues).
While in the White House, the reinstatement — and expansion — of the ‘Mexico City policy’ (first implemented under Reagan in 1984, incidentally) marks a truly massive assault on a American citizens’ right to their own bodily autonomy by blocking US federal funding for organisations that provide abortion referrals and counselling. Moreover, Trump has eased the Obama administrations attempts to protect Planned Parenthood’s funding, and recently banned fetal tissue in government-funded medical research.
This has no doubt given impetus to states such as Alabama, Georgia, Missouri and more to push for abortion policies that hitherto would never have been considered unacceptable, even under most Republican Presidents.
It doesn’t just end there, either, particularly for Trump’s socially conservative base. What about moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, or what about re-negotiating NAFTA, withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords and the Iran Nuclear Deal? Or what about the stock-market records? Or ‘standing up’ to China, Mexico, and Iran (while being weirdly friendly to North Korea…)? Could you imagine Romney or McCain doing that? Could you imagine George Bush?
And what about the mass of conservative appointments he’s managed to make to the federal courts. Arguably his most significant legacy. One term or two.
The Democrats can disagree with these policies until they are blue in the face, but the reality is, Trump promised he would deliver and he did. Crudely, that is what voters want and Democrats are foolish if they expected anything else.
The best case scenario for Trump is he fulfils a promise, satisfies his base and dismantles the notion that he cannot achieve anything as President. Worst case scenario, he puts a jet-pack up the backside of an issue Republicans can champion in 2020, 2024 and beyond, long after Trump has left. Meanwhile the Democrats stumble over themselves in arbitrary purity tests.
This ability alludes to something all the more terrifying for Democrats, and all the more difficult to contend with, let alone sufficiently counter. That is his ability to pluck an issue out of relative electoral obscurity — neither immigration nor abortion rights featured disproportionately heavily in the last two or three election cycles , for example— convince the electorate that the issue is of direct importance, or even better, that it is of a direct threat to them, then manufacture a view point — using his preferred media outlets to peddle this new-found passion.
Most devastatingly of all, however, is that with remarkable and consistent accuracy — Trump aligns his apparent view point with that of a sufficiently large, but likely hitherto unrepresented, chunk of voters; often against the perceived wisdom of the rest of the media/political commentariat, and even close advisers. Bringing an issue to life that even his supporters didn’t realise they felt strongly over.
This is not meant to be a ‘haha, I told you so’ moment, far from it. It is, though, a sharp reminder that while the Democrats appear to be in a strong position, they are still stumbling over how best to tackle Trump. With talk of a Green New Deal, Medicare for all, student-debt cancellation, and relatively large increases in minimum wage, Democrat supporters are right to ask how likely it is their candidates will be able to fulfil their promises with the same effectiveness.
It is a worthy reminder then that, to his base at least, he is a man of his word who delivers policy; not the unhinged maniac that Twitter sees him as.
Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.