How Trump could win: (1) with political strategy

The Electoral Map as some pollsters see it. Source: Naked Capitalism

I don’t expect Donald Trump to be re-elected.  I expect him to self-destruct.  But that’s what I expected in 2016.  The election campaign isn’t over until it’s over and, even then, it may not be over.

The thing to remember about Trump’s strategy, and the strategy of Republicans in general, is that it is not to win over voters from the opposing party.  It is to hold onto core supporters and to try to reduce the Democratic vote by fair means and foul.

This is done by two means.  One is by manipulating the election process.  This includes gerrymandering, eliminating likely Democrats from voter registration lists, making voting difficult in predominantly Democratic districts and, possibly, tampering with electronic voting machines.

The great investigative reporter, Greg Palast, has been working on this issue for years, and he summed up his findings in his new book, HOW TRUMP STOLE 2020: The Hunt for America’s Vanished VotersI’ll review his book in a follow-up post.

The other is by persuading core Democratic constituencies that it isn’t worthwhile to vote.  This was the strategy of Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2016 campaign manager.  He used social media to target African-Americans, women and college students and convince them that it wasn’t worthwhile to vote for Hillary Clinton.

In 2016, Trump received a slightly smaller percentage of votes than Mitt Romney in 2012.  What brought him within reach of victory was a long-term decline in the Democratic vote, which began after the 2008 election.  The big question is whether this decline can be reversed.

Harper’s magazine earlier this year sent a reporter to Kenosha, Wisconsin, a formerly prosperous manufacturing town with strong labor unions, that has been emptied of its industry.

The reporter expected to find people full of despair and anger.  Instead he found that most had come to accept industrial decline as a fact of life, and were trying to make the best of things as they were.

Some were indignant about workers in local Amazon workhouses being put at risk of coronavirus infection.  Nobody outside knew what the health risks were because Amazon simply refused to allow the county government to make inspections.

Most of them took it for granted that both political parties and the national government were under control of elites who cared nothing for people like them.  The administrations of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Donald Trump himself had killed any audacity of hope.

Joe Biden is not someone to reawaken hope.  The two main themes of his political history are support for the financial industry and support for the police.  He told his big-money financial backers that nothing is going to change and he’s not going to propose any legislation that will harm their interests.

He supported NAFTA and other pro-corporate trade treaties.  He is even more of a war hawk than Donald Trump; he has accused Trump of appeasing China.

All these things are politically significant because they dampen enthusiasm for Biden, and as possible points for targeted social media by the Trump campaign, the same as in 2016.

But Biden has one big advantage.  He is not Donald Trump.  In 2020, this is no small thing.

Trump’s worst political liability is his handling of the coronavirus crisis.  It is hard to imagine anything more stupid or more vicious that opposing efforts to control a lethal contagious disease.  No normal politician could survive having made such a bad decision.

Source: xkcd: Coronavirus Polling

It’s possible that as time goes on, more Americans will become impatient with mask-wearing, social distancing and shut-downs.  It’s also possible that Donald Trump can reverse direction and reinvent himself as a general in a War on COVID-19.

Maybe there will be some promising vaccine or treatment that he can take credit for, and rush through to approval without the normal safety checks.  The potentially disastrous consequences of such a decision would not become apparent until after the election.

I don’t think Trump can escape his record so easily.  But maybe he can divert the public’s attention to other issues.  One of them is the Black Lives Matter protests.

Trump obviously thinks the clashes between protesters and police work to his advantage, and his intervention seems designed to keep them going until election day.

On the surface, this seems counterproductive.  A majority of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, say they support the George Floyd protests.  But what is it they support?

Most Americans, including most white Americans, see a need to stop police abuse of poor, black people.  But how many agree. toppling and defacement of statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson?  How many think the USA is a morally bankrupt nation that has never stood for anything except conquest and slavery?  How many are willing to ignore vandalism and looting of small businesses?

Joe Biden is going to be asked these questions and, no matter how he answers, it is going to cost him votes.  He in fact supports increased funding for the police.  This displeases leaders of Black Lives Matter.  At the same time, the Trump campaign is to blame him for the disorders, no matter what he says.  For Biden, this is a no-win issue.

What else could happen that would affect the election?  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper are building up to some kind of military showdown with China.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this came to a head in October.

 It might cause the nation to rally around the President.  It certainly would distract from the other crises facing the nation.

I don’t think there is any political strategy that, by itself, will keep Donald Trump in the White House.  But political strategy may bring him close enough to victory that voter suppression and election rigging will do the test.

Remember, he does not have to win a majority of the votes of all Americans.  He only has to come close enough to a majority in specific states that the outcome of the election can be disputed.  Then the decision goes to the Supreme Court, as in 2001, or to the House of Representatives, as in 1876, and he wins.

I’ll write more about voter suppression and election rigging in a follow-up post.


The Art of Losing: Can Democrats win back postindustrial America? by James Pogue for Harper’s Magazine.

Democratic Complaceny Is Back by Nathan J. Robinson for Current Affairs.

How Trump Could Win Reelection by Peter Nicholas for The Atlantic.


Tags: , ,

2 Responses to “How Trump could win: (1) with political strategy”

  1. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    A military showdown with China would only be good if were just a “show” and if it eventually causes Xi Jinping to fall from power and be replaced with someone less aggressive. I think bloodshed would not serve Trump well.

    China cannot afford a true Cold War with the US. Their rising affluence comes from selling to the west. There is nothing that China provides that cannot be sourced elsewhere, just at a higher price. They need to keep their economy growing or things will fall apart.

    Actually some things are already falling apart. They’ve had to cancel or postpone a number of their high ticket military items. They have huge tracts of empty residential and commercial property that is just falling apart.

    And definitely not a hot war. It would have to stay conventional. Couldn’t hope to continue as an organized society if even a small number of nukes started flying.

    Even in a conventional fight it would be expensive and it would be bloody for all concerned. They could kiss the Spratleys and the Parasols goodbye. Very easy to shut down their access to the outside world. But the costs of modern war are so great, I don’t think it is possible for even a clear “winner” to truly come out ahead.


  2. philebersole Says:

    Fred, I think there is a great danger of under-estimating the Chinese government’s ability to fight in their home waters.

    China has developed new war technologies specifically aimed at attacking U.S. aircraft carriers. The U.S. Navy meanwhile is unable to keep its ships from bumping into each other.

    Here is some background reading.

    I am not so bold as to predict the outcome of a U.S.-China military confrontation in the China seas. But it’s entirely possible that the Chinese would sink a U.S. aircraft carrier. What then?

    Does Mark Esper accept defeat and pull back, or does he escalate to the next level? Does the U.S. threaten nuclear war? What If the Chinese don’t back down under threat?

    A great deal of U.S. foreign policy is based on putting pressure on Russia and China such that Russians and Chinese will turn against Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. If such a policy were to succeed, the successors to Putin and Xi would be even more hostile to the U.S. than their predecessors.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: