In addition to all Democrats, many if not most Republicans were both stunned and taken aback by the extent of Donald Trump’s verbalized racial outburst last week. Though well aware of that racism, they hoped it would be kept within bounds, if not of deniability at least without arson. Quite aside from any ethical repugnance, elected Republicans fear the potential damage to their electoral prospects. However, almost all of them are in greater fear of confronting or contradicting Trump.
According to reports this week, both the White House and the Trump campaign tried to contain the furor, but then the “Send her back!” rally took place in which Trump failed to rebuke those in the loud chorus screaming the new revised glee club epithet of hatred. One result is that Democrats united to defend the members of The Squad and roundly condemn the president.
Polls reinforce this analysis. For example, The Atlantic published a poll showing that swing voters may approve of Trump’s economic performance, but their disapproval of his personal traits and practices, especially his use of the race card, outweigh their support for Donald Trump. Values count. Elections are not just a transactional exercise. Trump’s temperament, bad manners and character certainly weaken his support, not only among swing voters, but among virtue conservatives.
Overall, Trump is approved of by at most 45% of voters. Though his pull is very strong among the white supremacists and still relatively strong among virtue supporters, the latter support is vulnerable. Trump’s campaign strategy has certainly pushed independents away from Trump and possibly even some members of the supine Republican Party that has so easily acceded to his racist messaging.
The reality, incumbents with approval ratings below 50% generally lose even when polls suggest they will be victorious. Gerald Ford went into his race deeply wounded from his contest for the nomination with Ronald Reagan and only garnered 48% of the vote. Jimmy Carter, far from a strong candidate, beat Gerald Ford and won 50.08% of the vote. Even if Eugene McCarthy had not run as an independent, Carter’s vote total would have been 51% with the balance of 1% going to others. However, when Jimmy Carter faced Ronald Reagan four years later, Reagan won a landslide victory despite trailing Carter significantly in most polls two weeks before voting day.
Ronald Reagan won the 1980 general election in a landslide despite trailing as much as 8% behind Jimmy Carter in some mid-October polls. In mid-October polls in the Donald Trump – Hilary Clinton match, Trump also trailed Clinton significantly, by an average of 6% in most polls. Both times, the results confounded expectations by the Democratic inadequate response to late breaking news – the failure of Carter to get the American diplomats held by the Iranians released and the late “news” that Hilary was once again a possible suspect by the FBI. These were not just chance or unplanned events; they were part of the Republican strategy to bring out their vote and to weaken the Democratic turnout. Expect much of the same in the November 2020 election. Hopefully, the Democrats will have learned from 1980 and 2016.
Finally, George H. W. Bush lost in his re-election bid against Bill Clinton. But the economy was in recession as it had been when Carter ran for re-election. And, given the economic context, going speedboat racing in a period of recession did not endear Bush Sr. to voters. The lesson – events count far more than polls. More importantly the way a candidate responds to adverse events, to the angel of God holding the Sword of Damocles over one’s head, counts even more than the polls and even more than the events.
Those in power always are in imminent and ever-present danger of a fall from grace. Power and authority, pomp and ceremony, wealth and position, are all maintained by the single strand of hair from a horse’s tail. The task of the opposition in an election is to ensure that the single strand of hair is cut since it is easy enough for conflicted voters to break away from Trump as shown in the 2016 election.
Currently, swing voters are poised to break away from Trump in even increased numbers since they distrust Trump on:
- handling taxes fairly (Democrats have increased their support in this group to 9 points);
- deal with immigration with both greater compassion and better management skills (Democrats now enjoy a 10 point spread);
- and, not surprisingly given the botch up of the job by Republicans, Democrats have increased the gap between themselves and the Republicans by 34 points on managing the health care crisis.
Since conflicted voters already overwhelmingly disparage Trump’s narcissistic and lying character, to repeat, Democrats are poised for a very strong victory, but they must, they have to be prepared for events to upend their planning. With Trump’s openly racist and xenophobic attacks on four Democratic congresswomen this past week, he steadily incinerated his economic arguments that could favour him. A clear majority of Americans disparage his comments as racist and un-American. Given the pattern of Bush and Obama, Trump will carry at most 5% of the majority of voters who disapprove of his overall performance as president.
Trump’sspecial and out-of-the-ordinarypolitical campaigning is simply stupid and not just used as a distraction or smart base politics. He barely won the electoral college in 2016, winning three key states by less than 1%, lost the popular vote by a considerable margin and in 2018 blew it. Singlehandedly, Trump doused the fire and divide between the radicals and the traditionalists in the Democratic Party. The issue, for me, is not whether Trump will lose – he will unless the Democrats self-destruct – but whether he will take the supine Republicans down with him.
Will they too depersonalize the four congresswomen? They joined in the attack against Hilary Clinton as a purported criminal, personally targeted Professor Christine Blasey Ford, who accused then-Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of assault, and belittled Diane Feinstein. However, the generic attack against the four members of The Squad seems to combine misogyny, racism and ideological distortion in a generic mold aimed at making all women of colour vulnerable as pronouns are used as placers for names. Send “her” back rather than Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn). The result: even a pregnant black Georgia state lawmaker was yelled at and told to “go back where I came from.”
Vice-President Mike Pence was not happy about Donald Trump’s choice of phrase and suggested Trump might intervene in a rally if it was used again.“Might,” not “would.” That is not Trump’s pattern. While he initially disavows, then denies endorsing the slogan, expresses disagreement with it and strives to separate himself from the phrase, he soon embraces and then makes it a centrepiece of his rallies.
Democrats should respond. “Send him back” to his golden tower or to a dungeon, whatever the law decides.