How 2020 Changed The Game For Trump

Fernando Fernández/Staff Writer

If you were to have asked me a year or even four months ago who was projected to win the 2020 U.S. presidential election, my answer would have been pretty straightforward — incumbent President Donald J. Trump. 

Not only was the President benefiting from the perception of a booming economy with 69% of Americans satisfied or somewhat satisfied with America’s economic conditions at the time — he was also benefiting from the opposition party being in utter turmoil.

Back at the beginning of the year, the Democrats were pretty much failing at everything. Not only was their impeachment attempt an unmitigated political disaster with 49% of Americans approving of the President following his acquittal, but they were also on the cusp of heading to a contested convention. And, according to an infamous February New York Times report, it was there where party leaders would have almost certainly done everything within their power to wrestle the nomination away from Bernie Sanders — the undisputed Democratic front-runner at the time — creating a long-lasting intra-party schism in the process. 

To top it all off, President Trump still had the most powerful card of them all up his sleeve: the populism card — which, as I explained in a now year-old article, was still very effective then. 

It was a time of populist fervor and anti-institutional sentiment.  And with the Democratic Party eventually settling on Former Vice President Joe Biden — a boring, milquetoast, center-right, establishment-backed candidate with Romney, McCain, Kerry, and Hillary Clinton-level enthusiasm numbers — it certainly seemed as if President Trump was on the path to another electoral college victory. 

Then the pandemic happened. The protests began. And with these events, President Trump wasted perhaps the two greatest opportunities he had of locking his re-election. As a matter of fact, he succeeded in doing quite the opposite; he torpedoed it, for the time being.

When chaos ensues, people look for stability, for a return to normalcy, for competence and, most of all, leadership.

Now, of course, things can change — and I most certainly expect the race to tighten up as the months go by and we reach Election Day. However, as of today, it would be delusional to not consider President Trump the underdog in the upcoming general election. 

I will admit it took some time for me to fully realize that. After all, I had underestimated the President back in 2016, and the Biden campaign seemed to me like a repeat of Clinton’s failed bid for the Presidency. However, such was an example of recency bias. 

What I failed to realize until very recently, is that things have gotten so chaotic in this country that Biden’s campaign — which would have failed miserably under the prior circumstances — is the probable winner in today’s political climate, with President Trump’s being the probable loser. 

You see, when chaos ensues, people look for stability, for a return to normalcy, for competence and, most of all, leadership. 

President Trump had the chance to be the leader that this country was looking for. As a matter of fact, his approval rating had soared to an all-time high near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It truly seemed like he was starting to execute on his populist promises when he froze foreclosures and evictions, supported a temporary ban on stock buybacks and even floated an emergency universal basic income. 

It honestly seemed like the race was over if the president continued on said trajectory. 

However, as is typical with the President, that very rare showcase of stable and competent leadership did not last very long. Instead of continuing on the right trajectory, he resorted to his infamous COVID-19 daily press briefings — unhinged spectacles where he made the incredibly controversial (and I would argue, incredibly stupid), suggestion of injecting disinfectants as a potential deterrent for the virus. 

Said briefings, as noted by Republicans and White House allies, were disastrous for President Trump, evaporating any semblance of stable and competent leadership that he had created. That, coupled with the ever-increasing death toll as a result of his mismanagement of the crisis, is reflected in his recent approval ratings, which currently sit at a year-low

Then came the protests. Following the tragic murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, thousands of people took to the streets to protest police brutality, with the vast majority of the protests being peaceful in nature. 

Yet again, President Trump had an opportunity before him — an opportunity to both acknowledge the legitimate concerns of peaceful protesters, and to open a meaningful dialogue with them. Instead, he blew it — again. By inciting violence against the protestors and threatening to unleash the might of the U.S. military on them, he just added more fuel to the fire. 

In short, President Trump has only fomented more chaos, at a time when people are looking for stability. 

At a time when most Americans —  80%, to be exact — think that the country is out of control, Biden’s calm and steady approach to leadership may just be what they’re looking for during these trying times, as reflected by his 9.5% lead over President Trump. While the promise of a return to normal—a normal which may have been repudiated back in 2016—may have been bad politics before, it may just seal the deal this time around. 

If President Trump hopes to salvage his re-election chances, he will need to convince the American people that he is the leader to do just that. Because, this year, it isn’t about the flame-throwing populism anymore; it’s about getting back to normal, stupid. 

Featured image from FIU Flickr.


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