He could win again, you know. I woke up this morning realising that Trump could win again. And that we may be fooling ourselves if we think he won’t. And I wasn’t thinking particularly about the summit with North Korea but just about the odds. And they were the same odds that indicated that he would win in the first place in 2016.
I had a great holiday in America that year. I spent a week in July with friends who were going to vote Trump, watching the wall-to-wall coverage of the Republican Convention. For a political junkie like me, it was bliss.
I spent the following week with friends who were voting Hillary, watching coverage of the Democratic Convention. This was Upstate New York, Hillary Country. And she lived only a mile away. When the lone Trump supporter in the area put up a massive Trump billboard, some local teenagers tore it down. Their parents insisted that they put it back and stood over them as they pasted it up again. Because these – after all – were Democrats. They believed in free speech. They also believed that Hillary couldn’t lose against Donald Trump.
But the bizarre circus that was Trump’s campaign distracted us from political realities. Hillary was asking for a third term for the Democrats and that hadn’t been done since Roosevelt, followed by Harry Truman, won five consecutive terms for the Democrats in the 30’s and 40’s.
But now, Trump is the sitting President and another electoral rule of thumb comes into play: Voters favour the incumbent. That rule suggests that Trump is more likely than not to get a second term. Even the hapless George W Bush got a second term.
As well as incumbency, the other thing going for him is the economy. Unemployment is at about 4%, the best it’s been in 10 years. And wages have been rising. And even though much of the credit for that should go to Barack Obama’s handling of the global recession, pumping money into the economy to keep people at work, Trump will claim the credit for the results.
Despite his chaotic revolving-door administration, polls show that over 80% of those who supported him would do so again. For that constituency, he has done some of what he promised. Reduced the US commitments to stop climate change, cracked down on immigration, put into place a version of his travel ban and introduced the sort of tax reform package that Republicans say will help corporations and small businesses. And that Democrats say will benefit the ultra-rich.
But would people vote for Trump again? Even if the Robert Mueller investigation looking into alleged Russian interference in the US Presidential election of 2016 found that Trump campaign figures were complicit? His own supporters probably would. But what if there were moves to impeach him?
Well, it’s hard to know how things will have panned out by 2020 and whether impeachment, if it arises, would have happened before another election. But then, who’s to run against him? The Democrats haven’t yet come up with an inspiring new-generation candidate. Or, indeed, an effective economic policy to attract some Trump voters. Neither have those Republicans who disagree with Trump come up with a challenger.
Like many people in Europe, I was shocked in the last few days at the contrast between the way that Trump dumped on his G7 allies and the way he’s cosying up to the North Korean leader. Then I remembered that, if you watch US television, you’ll rarely see anything about European or Canadian politics. Foreign news is about other big powers, like China or Russia. Or big strategic interests in Asia or the Middle East.
And North Korea and its nuclear programme is a big strategic interest which, if it works out, Trump can use effectively in the ongoing rallies and fundraising for the 2020 campaign that he’s been doing since his election. And, you know, fair enough. Denuclearisation is better than the alternative.
So, yes, he might get re-elected. It’s depressing but it might happen. And when somebody like Angela Merkel opens her arms to migrants, or when somebody like the new Spanish Premiere, Pedro Sánchez, offers a safe haven to desperate refugees rescued from leaky boats on the Mediterranean, you hope that Trump and Brexit and the politics of closed borders and closed minds won’t triumph and that we’ll find our way back to a more generous world. And we will. It’s just that it might take longer than we think.
As originally broadcast on Drivetime with Mary Wilson, Tuesday, June 12th.
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