US Election 2020: “You’re fired”, probably…

30 October

DRD Partner, Duncan Fulton, takes a look at the presidential candidates in the week running up to the 2020 US election.

Republican Grand Dame Peggy Noonan, Ronald Reagan’s revered speechwriter, suggested earlier this week that many Americans are fed up with being trapped in the “24 hour reality TV show of the Trump Presidency and want to change the channel”. But as we approach next week’s dramatic season finale, in spite of all the polling indicating a significant Biden win, this show might yet have one final twist.

A squatter in the White House?

There is real fear in the US – stoked by the President himself – that he won’t go quietly should the American people decline to give him a second season. Snapshot might put a bob or two on Trump simply declaring victory in defiance of the numbers, and embarking on a legal battle that will put Bush v Gore and ‘hanging chads’ to shame.

The Republican strategy, which may seem odd in a general election – has been to mobilise Trump’s dedicated core while looking to suppress the wider vote in battleground states by whatever means possible. Four years ago, he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton and if his consistently sub 50% approval ratings and national polling of mid 40s is anything to go by – he can’t win by attracting new supporters. Stymying the opposition is all that remains.

Suppressing the vote

Ominously for the President, though, the signs are of a massive – potentially record – turnout. The Democrats will hope that the huge early turnout is driven by new voters, not just their baked-in supporters voting early. So, no matter how creative the Republican efforts to talk up potential voter fraud, or successful the many ongoing legal challenges to voter registration and identification in key states, the math doesn’t look good for Trump.

The ground has also been well prepared to challenge the legitimacy of a Biden win. In a rambling and interrupted campaign that has lacked the simplicity and urgent focus of his last, few clear messages seem to have emerged from the trail. That the Dems are trying to steal the election is one of them.

For all of the President’s heroic personal efforts to defeat Covid, this has been the pandemic’s election. The dreadful reality of the magnitude of coronavirus and the ineptitude of his handling of it is trumping the magnitude of Trump’s lies about the state of the nation’s physical, economic and societal health. The indicators suggest that many people are giving up on the alternate Trump reality.

The Hobson’s choice President?

But what about the alternative? While he may be well ahead both in the national polls and in the battleground states – there doesn’t seem to be any great enthusiasm for Biden. He was the Hobson’s choice Democratic nomination, and looks more likely than not to become the Hobson’s choice President.

The reported Dem surge in Texas is unlikely to represent a fundamental US political realignment – rather the desire to return to something that looks like a normal, competent government.

A return to competence?

A President Biden may not prove to be the most vigorous of leaders – Trump’s mockery of “sleepy Joe” is not entirely without substance – but his team is stacked with some seasoned Clinton and Obama era administrators to deliver his economic, healthcare and environmental programmes.

Trade deal off the table?

But it’s foreign policy that will be of most immediate concern to observers in the UK. Trump, of course, has been a vocal supporter of Brexit and a cheerleader for Boris. In Trump’s binary world, a US-UK Trade Deal is a reward to be conferred on a populist ally. Pulling one together by April seems unlikely to be a political priority for a new Biden administration.

The argument goes that a Biden win will be better for Britain (with the US returning to internationalism, measured diplomacy and support of the rules based system) but bad for Boris (no quick trade deal, anti-Brexit). That the UK outside the EU is now considerably less useful to the US than when the UK was a reliable source of intelligence and influence in Europe. As such, Germany and France become the new centre of gravity.

The not-so-special-relationship

All that may be true. But for all the public Obama/Cameron bonhomie, the last Democrat administration was ruthlessly pragmatic. The Tricolour would be hoist on Pennsylvania Avenue the moment the Union Flag came down. The White House flatters all those of whom it can make use.  So, in Snapshot’s view, the ‘special-relationship’ is likely to endure – it’s just that the relationship hasn’t been all that special for years.

“You’re fired”

With so many politicos, pundits and pollsters having got the last one so badly wrong, there is some understandable reluctance to call the election for Biden as handsomely as the data suggests it will be. Which, in turn, is perhaps making the race feel closer than it is. A Trump win from here would be scarcely credible.

Next week, Snapshot fully expects the American public to say “You’re fired” to Trump, but whether or not he listens is another matter entirely.