Donald Trump’s name is always full of emotions. No one pronounces it harmlessly and cleanly, but with a sentimental charge. In New York, for example, he is mentioned with irritation and deep contempt. Every time someone says ‘Trump’, he is conjuring the evils of civilization: vulgarity, corruption, egotism, lies. In many rural and white regions, on the contrary, that same word, ‘Trump’, carries an accent of admiration. He is like the friend one is proud of the team captain.
Of all the emotions aroused by the President of the United States, one of the most powerful is insecurity. His 2016 victory was so unexpected that his name generates primitive, irrational fear. It is like the wolf that stalks the shepherds. A dark force that cannot be underestimated. Because it was done once and the wolf ended up devouring the sheep.
If the Democratic Party were Rome, Trump would be Hannibal. A distant threat in principle, a general without gallons and without a fleet to take him to Washington. A barbarian. The Romans do not give it much importance. What are you going to do, walk across the Alps? But Hannibal crosses them, wins the obedience of the tribes, defeats the ‘establishment’ and ends at the gates of the capital. With Hannibal on the walls, the Romans behave like the Democrats of 2017. They are prey to self – deception and hysteria, and they look for all kinds of reasons to justify their humiliation before the barbarian.
But also Hannibal’s time came. Right now, just over three months from the presidential election, Donald Trump is cornered. We don’t know what will happen in November, but if the elections were held today, all the polls predict a resounding defeat for the president, both nationally and in key states. The nine benchmark polls give Joe Biden the winner with an average of 8.6 points of advantage. Even the Fox channel survey, not suspected of wanting to harm Trump, reflects more support for Biden and more confidence in him to manage the economy or the coronavirus crisis.
This is when insecurities are born, irrational fear, because didn’t all the surveys give Hillary Clinton the winner in 2016? Wouldn’t we be facing a similar situation? True. Until we put the magnifying glass on the details. There are four factors to consider, which can potentially be decisive.
Four factors for Trump’s defeat
The first is that Donald Trump is where he is, in part, for a large dose of good luck. The 2016 surveys were not a complete fiasco: in fact, they were quite accurate, except for very narrow margins in a handful of key states. The states that, coincidentally and by the thickness of a hair, gave Trump the necessary delegates to be president. Specifically, the Republican got 77,744 more votes in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. 0.05% of the ballots that day. Clinton won nearly three million more votes, but not in the right places.
In other words, Trump won against the odds, that populism scored a historic goal, that many wounds and national realities were evident, and that that day will remain in the annals of the United States. But without that little push from the gods of chance, the oval office today would not have heavy golden drapes.
Here comes the interesting thing: even if, this time, the polls missed the same margin as four years ago and Trump took those votes, Joe Biden would still win the elections. His 8.6-point average lead is twice as big as Clinton’s at this point. Quinnipiac University (Connecticut) gets to give Biden a 15-point slack. The superiority is so vast that even Arizona and Texas, Republican strongholds for four decades, could turn blue. Not to mention the key states, like Pennsylvania, Michigan or Florida, the big prize of the elections. Biden would pocket it with five to 10 points margin.
Even more interesting: these numbers are not, or not only, a consequence of the exceptional moment the pandemic has created. Biden, despite his setbacks and a bumpy start to the primaries, has always been ahead of Trump in polls. The turbulence of the last few months has only widened this difference a little more. The same is true of the following items.
The second factor is that Joe Biden does not have some of the weaknesses that cost Hillary Clinton power. Above all, the low enthusiasm of the white working class. Contrary to the cliché of a grumpy white worker, attached to the Bible and weapons, a part of this population segment voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, tilting politically adjusted territories like Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana, Colorado, Virginia or Carolina in their favor from North. In 2016, however, many of them either stayed home or voted for Donald Trump.
Let’s look at the comparison: Four years ago, Donald Trump took the majority of the vote of the whites without a university diploma with almost 40 points of difference. Now, his lead over Joe Biden in this group, according to voting intention polls, has dropped to just 16 points. His secret weapon, therefore, could be neutralized.
Trump took the vote of the whites without a university diploma with almost 40 points difference. Now his advantage over Biden is only 16
The third factor is that Joe Biden knows all of this and, unlike Hillary Clinton, has avoided falling into the burrow of identities. The candidate does not end his speeches naming, as Clinton did, 17 ethnic and gender groups, something that a resident of Wyoming, where 92% of the people are white, does not care. Instead, it has focused on grassroots: economic issues that affect all Americans, regardless of gender or skin color.
The Democrat, in fact, has allowed himself to swipe Trump with some of his nationalist recipes on the economic front. In early July, Biden went to Scranton, an industrial town in Pennsylvania where Trump’s speech took effect, to present his massive investment plan to create or return manufacturing jobs to American soil. One of the vectors of the project, ‘Buy American’, looks like a traced page of the Trumpian ‘America First’.
Fourth factor: Joe Biden simply doesn’t fall as bad as Hillary Clinton. It does not produce the same rejection. The Democratic candidate came to the elections with a thick backpack of scandals, some real and others were are fictitious. Her husband’s presidency had already swept her away in the mud in the 1990s, and the fact that she’s a woman may have sparked misogyny. Be that as it may, many voters did not swallow it.
Let’s see an example. At every election date, there are always ‘double haters’, as voters who hate both candidates are known. In 2016, there were 18% of voters of this type. And they ended up deciding for Trump, giving him the key boost in those three states mentioned. They hated him, yes, but less than the Democrat.
Now, these kinds of voters hate Biden less than Trump, according to multiple polls. An NBC News / ‘The Wall Street Journal’ poll shows that of the double haters, 60% would vote for Joe Biden and only 10% for Donald Trump. In May, Morning Consult reported similar proportions, 46% against 14% in favor of the Democrat. The reverse of what happened in 2016.
The president’s electoral base is very faithful but very meagre. It is usually around 40% of the electorate, hence the improbable carom of 2016. Even when it has grown to widen, in the best moments of his presidency, at 45%, he has continued to be below the typical margins to win an election. Barack Obama was re-elected with 51% approval, George Bush Jr. with 53%, Bill Clinton with 54% and Ronald Reagan with 58%. Below this cut, things get complicated. And Trump has never seen that threshold closely. Less now, with the pandemic out of control, a developing economic crisis and its approval at a minimum.
Let him dig his own grave
Before being defeated by Publio Cornelio Escipión in the battle of Zama, Aníbal got to have a rival at his height. A Roman general who allowed him to roam around Italy and who did not fall into the traps set by the Carthaginian. Fifth Fabio Máximo knew how to wait, that’s why they nicknamed him ‘Cunctator’, the ‘timer’. He left Hannibal, trapped in enemy territory, under the command of new and diverse troops, to wear himself out. The impatient Romans, however, relieved Cunctator to bet on a quick win, out in the open. Hannibal breathed a sigh of relief. And he massacred the Romans at Cannas.
We don’t know if Biden has read Titus Livius, or Napoleon, for not bothering your opponent when you see him dig his own grave. But the Democrat seems to avoid Trump’s baits. He does not go down into the mud, nor does he get into the tricky politics of identity. It does not speak of the demolished statues, nor of the culture of cancellation, and only a little of racism. He hardly appears and when he does, he does not answer the journalists’ questions. It does not make a fuss or make great headlines. He was vice president for eight years. People already know who he is. Biden merely lets Trump wear himself, hoping to reach out to pick the presidential fruit in November.
The Trump campaign is aware of the danger and has just restructured its leadership, taking the leadership of Brad Parscale and handing it over to Bill Stepien. Still, Donald Trump has dismissed these polls as “false” and has reserved the option, as he had done in 2016, of not recognizing the election result. An attitude unprecedented in the history of American democracy. Since the coronavirus will popularize voting by mail, the President has been saying for weeks that this way of voting is easily corruptible and would invalidate elections. Suspicions that are not properly corroborated. The president himself votes by mail.
Note: These words are written as of July 19, 2020, based on the situation and available surveys. They are not a prediction or a bet; They do not underestimate Trump, who has proven to be a formidable electoral warrior, much less deny the disorderly, passionate, and unpredictable nature of politics and history. Something that we already had clear for a few years. Even more so in 2020.