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USA: Trump still good for trouble-making

  • November 13th, 2020
  • Posted by EU Australia

Options for Donald Trump after losing the US Presidency include moving to form a continuing extremist political movement, based on personality, even dynastic with his politically-driven children in leading roles.


           In question is whether he could make the Republican Party be that movement. It is already no longer the Grand Old Party (GOP), a conservative formation that used to be committed to preserving whatever is valuable, including nature, and protecting tradition and broad human rights. Almost in  preparation for Trump its TEA Party faction, “taxed enough already”, had driven out many actual conservatives and promoted a radical neo-liberal agenda: low government revenue, poor services , fire-sales of public property, growing inequalities, rape of the environment in the name of economic growth. Yet it is still an ensconced party of government, not yet a screwball movement. Without the presidency, other leaders, like some of its Senators, might get up the bottle, and numbers to exclude Donald Trump.


Another question is whether Trump will be at liberty to run wild doing business and politics as he likes, expressly because certain law enforcement agencies are interested in prosecuting him. In the lead, the New York Attorney General, Leticia James, has a list of prospective charges over taxation matters and malpractice in business. Even if the exiting President could organise an extension of legal immunities he enjoys while head of state, those would apply specifically to federal laws, not so much state ones like the matters in New York.

During his campaign rallies Trump brought up the possibility he might not win, saying cryptically he might have to go and live overseas. It raises the image of Air Force One ferrying a fugitive out of the country, with his gaudy entourage, maybe loaded up with chandeliers and carpets from the White House, on the man’s last day in office.


  • The first key ingredient for a continuing major involvement in politics for Donald Trump is the dynamic and impactful show business personality. All political formations need a leader and at the extremes, especially with fascism, they call for a larger-than-life character, if sane, demonstrating abnormal energies, unmoveable will, strong animal intelligence, perversive creativity and comedic genius.  Sometimes with Trump the “cult-of-personality” phenomenon gets out of hand, as with the Mussolini postures, all strutting, set jaw, clapping himself, random saluting – but he can then be engaging. We have seen in the last month at his rallies, he extends, somewhat implausibly, almost to projecting an impression of modesty and warmth under the pressure of encroaching defeat. It supports that adage from a fellow New Yorker, Groucho Marx: “Sincerity is the key to success. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
  • The second key ingredient is the huge popular following. More than 70-million Americans voted for Trump, including many conservative people who would always back a Republican, but others wanting to follow the showman and his pitch. It is a familiar cultural and political phenomenon. They liked the tough attitude against migrants and foreigners, through to the separation of children from their parents; the tax cuts for millionaires were alright; removal of environmental protections also seemed good; medical care is not a right. Some liked the policies not the man; many others liked both, getting a kick and a giggle out of the bullying, incitement to violence, vindictiveness and insults. Large numbers on the fringe, including those with guns, gave every sign of enjoying the haywire state of affairs at the White House over the last four years.

These, even if “non-political” people to start with, appear to have become politicised and mobilised, under the spell of the leader and his media, getting the lines off-pat if interviewed in the streets: “they stole the election”, “liberal elites”, “make America great”. Should he continue with it, such enthusiastic militants if they make up as much as 20% of Trump’s voters, are potentially useful for any rough-stuff in the streets, shouting down the “enemy” — a formidable political army.


Keeping in perspective, the tally of 70-million bulked out what was otherwise a compromised electoral performance, as after all, while Trump got out a large vote, the Democrats got out a much bigger one – building to a lead of five million. He did lose. Most usually a President seeking a second term gets it, and wins both the popular vote, and the electoral college where the votes are assembled state-by-state. First-termer Trump did not get either, in Australian terms a dud, a “oncer”. Even in his surprise victory, in 2016, he did not win the popular vote against Hilary Clinton, only squeaked in through the college.

There are close parallels with John Kennedy’s slim victory in 1960, against a semi-incumbent opponent, the sitting Vice President Richard Nixon. He did it by narrowly winning the key state of Pennsylvania, as crucial as it would be in 2020, to get the college; he did get the popular vote, although by less than 120 000 votes – 0.17%. Nixon promptly conceded.

Kennedy, incidentally, was the first Catholic elected to the presidency. Joe Biden is the second. Before Kennedy there had only been one other candidate from that faith, Al Smith, the unsuccessful Democrat in 1928, who suffered from sectarian prejudice, rife against the Catholic minority in his time.


Some Christian inspiration found its way into Biden’s victory speech on 7 November, in Delaware; messages for the followers, the faithful and the country: from the Bible, Ecclesiastes 3, 1-8, “a time for every purpose under heaven …”, and the Catholic hymn, “On Eagle’s Wings”.

And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings,
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Make you to shine like the sun,
And hold you in the palm of His Hand.

That was from the man of government and his message.

To Trump the movement politician, where governance is not the game, where the game is the game; religion is just a place where you can get votes, from the Evangelical right-wing, and the Bible is a prop. The mid-campaign posturing with the Bible in his hand, on the day of tear gas outside the White House, had to provoke a question: would this individual ever have read any of it, or know any of its message?

Whatever moves Trump might make, whatever the Trump machine comes up with in 2021, whatever the margin of their electoral defeat in terms of numbers, he has yet kept alive the allure of being a vote winner, because of the angle that he rolled back polls that had him beaten. Biden’s margins in the actual election were down to about half, or even less, than polls had given him.


Were the polls all wrong? Monitoring of the publicly available polls on voter intention showed up some reliable patterns. They established early that the contest would be about Trump-held states turning into Democrat ones, not the other way around. They showed consistently, early and accurately that Trump would hold out in the states of Ohio and Texas, two marginal electorates. They identified the shape of tight contests where there would be movement, and which would prove to be crucial, in Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania. The polls showed firmly that the Northern states of Michigan and Wisconsin would be regained by the Democrats, although as in that case, they were generally cutting it fine, giving exaggerated numbers compared to what happened. The overall picture they gave came true, much tighter than expected; as is being said, it ended up a comfortable win for Biden just not a landslide.

Late in the campaign period more polls started to get listed by aggregators such as 270 to Win, 538 or Real Clear Politics, and most newer ones appeared to give more strength to the Republicans. Organisations such as Rasmussen, Trafalgar and IBD/TIPP showed up more “right wing” findings. Some with Republican affiliations might have been doing a spot of “push polling” with their questions and sampling; but also their voter-intention questions may have been carried within general surveys wanting certain data for conservative clients, that design factor somehow affecting the information obtained. In the end they did us a favour by showing up volatility in the polls in the late stages. In signalling a late move back to Trump they helped to keep the average of polls within a credible range.

From notes made monitoring the polls, this is the expectation they gave dated 27.9.20, for closely contested states, one month out from the Presidential election: Correctly predicting Biden would win, in Arizona, Minnesota, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. Correctly predicting Trump would win, in Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas. Wrongly predicting Trump would win in Georgia.



The New York Times pollster, Nate Cohn, interviewed by Isaac Chotiner in the New Yorker, concluded the gap between the poll predictions and actual results was too big and demanded hard analysis. He has identified a lift in the Hispanic vote for Trump, possibly “catching up” with the blue collar vote Trump received in 2016, when immigration was more of an issue for him, likely to have turned Hispanic voters away. The so-called white, rural Mid-western vote held for Trump by more than had been expected — little attrition during his four years in power.

Cohn noted that the polls had been right for the 2018 mid-term elections, and surmised the intervention of coronavirus after that probably threw things askew. Uncertain how, but possibly on the lines that, Democrats took the threat of disease seriously and stayed home more, against Republicans who kept going out – including to vote. Against that line is the high voter turnout, many more people energised by politics in a time of crisis, especially with the Trump personality in play – many new voters, many more unknown quantities.

Maybe don’t expect too much, this leading pollster says, as all things are relative:

“One of the things about the polls being wrong, Isaac, is that then you’re never sure when they ever were right or wrong. Now, to be clear, that uncertainty always exists. When people get the polls right in an election, they assume that they’re right all the time, until they’re next wrong. But you never know that’s true.”

Once that is digested, he issues a reminder, that brilliant information can be got, and used in political campaigns, that does not actually ask people how they will vote:

“Everyone has different purposes for political surveys. There are some people who use surveys primarily to predict election results, and there are some people who use them primarily to understand the attitudes of the country.”

What to do, if really needing to know who will win? Cohn puts in a commercial for the NYT “needle”, a semi- automated graphic that points to voter intention in certain states. He describes it as sophisticated, built up through hard work, saying that it worked in 2020, and can be relied on.


One more factor in the future of Trump and his movement, working against them, is that the President designate shows some capacity to manage them at a level of subtlety, guile and political expertise. Donald Trump got frustrated during the election campaign just ended, by Joe Biden not actually campaigning, staying “in his basement”; he complained in their second debate, that Biden was a “politician”. On the night, as the early votes piled up against him, Biden made a strategically, even ingeniously well-timed appearance to declare he would be hitting the front later-on. Based on astute insider information, to an outsider it seemed slightly delusional, but achieved a kind of initiative. It got in ahead of a likely move by Trump to declare that he had won, and that counting should stop. When he came up with this claim later, it had been deflated already by Biden, and did not carry the intended psychological momentum.

Politics and successful government a lot of the time demand feats of rat-like cunning. Biden did not quite “beat him like a drum” as he promised for Trump, but as a practised, experienced, old politician he put in better manoeuvres, and did beat him. With that ability in his armoury, and holding the presidency, he gets some edge over a movement bent on mayhem – much of the time for mayhem’s sake.


Also published in Independent Australia , 12.1120.