How Donald Trump Can Win Reelection

author
Dr. Louis Perron
blog post louis

If I were a U.S. citizen, I would most likely vote Democratic. In fact, I don’t know any European who wouldn’t. This being said, when I was at the Graduate School of Political Management in Washington D.C. some sixteen years ago, I would always join Republican teams for group assignments. It is a good exercise for the campaigner’s brain. In that sense, and just for the heck of it: how can Donald Trump win reelection?

Donald Trump got elected president with 46.1% of the vote. At the time of writing (early Sunday morning), Trump’s job approval rating stands at 46.4%. A whopping 58% of the electorate thinks the country is off the wrong track. In other words, Trump is clearly in dangerous terrain for an incumbent.

As I have argued in previous posts, an election involving an incumbent is foremost a referendum on the incumbent. Fast forward to the first Tuesday in November, I doubt that the discussion whether or not Trump acted too late fighting the coronavirus will matter to voters. The daily fights we currently witness during the press briefings between Trump and journalists about whether or not the month of February was lost seem pointless. Who cares at this point? What will matter in November is whether or not voters will think that things are now improving and who they will trust with the recovery. It’s the economy stupid, James Carville famously said 28 years ago. Until today, voters when asked in surveys trust Trump more on the economy than his opponent. That’s the glimmer of hope for Trump that I would be driving home every day. I would also do anything to keep Biden from defining himself as an economic manager (not that he is trying to do that particularly hard at the moment, but still).

Both George W. Bush in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2012 were running for reelection as vulnerable incumbents. Ironically, they won using a similar strategy, namely the ruthless counteroffensive. It is next to impossible to win a close election on the defense and challengers who are not yet well defined in the voters’ minds are particularly vulnerable to attacks. George W. Bush defined John Kerry as a liberal flip-flopper who could not be trusted on the war on terror. Barack Obama defined Mitt Romney as a cold capitalist. One might argue that Biden is known commodity to voters, but I actually doubt that. He might have high awareness, but low familiarity. My assumption is that in focus groups, swing voters could barely name specific things Biden did during his decades in Washington D.C.

Now, I am not predicting that Trump will win. But I am predicting that the next few months will probably be among the most brutal ones in Biden’s life.