One thought I’ve not been able to shake in the days leading up to the result of America’s bitter election: what if the pandemic hadn’t happened? Where would we be now?
I think Donald Trump might have clearly won. Even if the US economy wasn’t exactly singing as 2020 dawned, it was doing well enough. Unemployment was extraordinarily low. The Dow was motoring. A lot of people felt good about their prospects.
Trump, of course, has claimed the credit. We can debate whether it was deserved but I think there would have been enough American voters answering “yes it was” to see him home.
Remember, incumbency is a powerful advantage in US politics. It’s been 28 years since a sitting president (George HW Bush for the record) was dumped by the electorate after just a single term.
Imagine those whose personal circumstances were OK, and remained so through Trump’s presidency. They mightn’t have been terribly impressed with his conduct (independent voters generally weren’t). But Trump’s political outrages are most bothersome to people who care about politics. Most people care more about their jobs, and their families.
So our notional middle American might still have been prepared to back him on the basis of “better the devil you know”.
The coronavirus inevitably changed the calculus, especially for those (justifiably) fearful of the virus (those people broke Democrat). It became impossible for Trump to play down a disease he had caught. In a more recent blow, a number of his close aides, including chief-of-staff Mark Meadows, tested positive for Covid-19 on Friday, after attending an election party.
The election is was damnably close. A squeaker. Joe Biden got the ball into the end zone in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter to win the game by a couple of points, while Trump covered the spread bookies use to handicap NFL games.
I remember reading a lot during the campaign, when a big win was expected, about the Republican Party having to engage in a bout of soul searching. About how its narrow coalition centered on white Americans would otherwise kill off its prospects for a generation as demographic shifts made the nation more diverse.
I doubt that happens now.
Not many African American voters back the Republicans, but their numbers increased by enough to help keep the election close. Florida’s Cuban Americans reliably support the party, but it took the backing of other members of the diverse group recorded as Hispanic Americans to win that state for Trump. Ditto Texas.
The message from that: A minority of those groups is enough if it’s a big enough minority.
The party of Trump can remain the party of Trump with maybe a tweak here and there.
Registered Republicans are, anyway, like sports fans who cheer regardless of whether their teams trade for sex pests or domestic abusers, so long as they can reliably put the opponent’s quarterback on the floor.
Beyond appointing conservative judges, restricting women’s rights over their own bodies, and cutting tax for the rich, the Republican Party doesn’t have much to offer in the way of policy. And there isn’t much debate over policy within it.
Its members don’t much care. For them, it’s my Trumpy right or wrong. They’ll hang on every tweet their hero belches forth in the days and weeks ahead. They won’t tolerate the party changing.
Despite the speculation, after Trump lost the 2020 election, I don’t think he will run again in 2024, although I imagine he could if he wanted to. But one of his children? Well, that’s where it gets interesting.
There’s already speculation about future contenders, with people like Arkansas senator Tom Cotton, Texas senator Ted Cruz, even vice president Mike Pence thinking about strategies ahead of the next primary season. Tucker Carlson, Fox News’ race-baiting cable news attack dog, has also been talked up.
To get the nomination, it seems likely that they’ll need to get the endorsement of the man who will remain the party’s true leader even if he lacks elected office. That leader may be inclined to look closer to home.
His businesses are run dynastically. Why should the Trump Organization’s political subsidiary be any different? American politics also have a decidedly dynastic flavour: the Kennedys, the Clintons, and especially the Bushes, who provide a model for getting multiple generations into the Oval Office (much as they’d disavow any comparison with the Trumps).
“If they want to run,” is a phrase often heard in connection with the Trump children’s notional presidential ambitions. That might read better as: “If their Dad wants them to run.”
The most important primary may be the Trump family primary between Don Jr and Ivanka.
The former would seem to be the early leader. He’s beloved by the Republican base and seems to understand and love it better than his father. He’s telegenic, shameless, and a polished media performer. He looks the most likely right now.
But early favourites have a habit of falling.
Ivanka, the presidential advisor, has been portrayed as cool, calm, competent and moderate, which might help with the party’s demographic issues. Scratch beneath the surface and another picture emerges.
Her relationship with the truth is just as elastic as her father’s, as she proved when claiming Hillary Clinton’s website had “no policy pertaining to any of these issues; childcare, eldercare or maternity leave”, in a Fox News interview in the run-up to the 2016 election (it did).
She also infamously cut short an interview with Cosmopolitan on the maternity/child care issues, and snaked about the “negativity” of the questions. Clearly a chip off the old block in terms of media relations then.
I also recall watching a Trump Organization video profile of her in which she declared that she was the Trump scion most like her father.
Of course, four years is a very long time, especially in politics. The family also has issues, not least multiple potential legal entanglements.
But if it can see off or delay them, buckle up. The pandemic helped to keep the election close, but it won’t scupper Trump’s kids from running in years to come.
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