Why this is now Trump’s election to win… or lose

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The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has shaken the world to its core. Ultimately, this crisis will force countries to re-evaluate health, social and economic policy. Some countries, however, are closer to facing this reckoning than others. America is the country, at least among the G7, furthest from this reckoning. Despite Trump’s confident rhetoric, supporting calls for loosening lockdown restrictions in certain states by tweeting statements like ‘LIBERATE MINNESOTA’, the US death toll continues to rise with 4,591 having died on Thursday.

In the face of this ever deteriorating situation, which many blame on Trump’s consistent failings and blasé attitude during this crisis, previously promising churches would be full on Easter, Trump’s approval ratings have, despite an initial rally around the flag, dropped to 43%. His disapproval ratings, on the other hand, have soared to 51%. Nonetheless, the election, which Trump was largely favoured to win in January, remains firmly in his hands.

Quite reasonably, the election has fallen out of most people’s minds. As a result, Biden’s campaign, which had gathered a significant head of steam following his dominant victories in South Carolina, Michigan and on Super Tuesday, has all but ground to a halt. The Democrats are doing their best to reinvigorate his campaign but their attempts seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Obama’s rather heart-warming official endorsement of Biden this week to his twenty-seven million Instagram followers gained almost no traction in the media; similarly, Bernie Sanders announcing his concession of the race to be Democrat nominee and subsequent endorsement of Biden, an endorsement which has, at times, appeared far from certain and could prove key in getting young voters to the polling stations come November, has remained largely undiscussed.

The implication of Biden’s current anonymity is clear: the result of the 2020 election remains in Trump’s hands. The only media story to rival coronavirus has been Trump; however, whilst many of the stories regarding Trump concern his handling of coronavirus, many focus on the man himself rather than his policies. Further, Trump’s press conferences, far from taking the form of Andrew Cuomo’s reassuring, fact-filled addresses, are so volatile that it seems as if he still believes he is in the boardroom he resigned from to become President. Indeed, Jon Sopel, the BBC’s North America Editor, described Trump’s press conference on Monday as the ‘most dizzying, jaw-dropping’ press conference he had ever attended, and he was at Bill Clinton’s Lewinsky press conference in 1998.

Unlike Biden, who currently has no real media platform for his 2020 election campaign, Trump currently has perhaps the biggest platform of his four-year tenure and he is using every inch of it. Sure, this may annoy the liberals who have always hated Trump, but, as per usual, he is appealing to his core voter base and disregarding these liberals through his baseless rants against ‘Fake News CNN’, and unfounded optimism. Shouting loudly about constitutional rights, isolating New York in response to a personal grudge, and speaking about the health of the economy as much as the health of the nation are only fulfilling the wishes of many of the sixty-three million who voted for Trump. Trump does not need everyone to vote for him – Reagan won with just 27% of the electorate; he just needs to maintain his key voter base, which he is currently doing very successfully.

The key issue for Trump will be whether he can handle the economic fallout which will inevitably occur in the next few months. Trump won on a platform that promised to improve the economic well-being of those in America who had been left behind by globalisation. Few of these people felt better off following his trade war with China; if Trump again fails to produce jobs for this group who carried him to victory in 2016, they will, in all likelihood, depart him. Conversely, if Trump is able to stave off this economic collapse, something which will require more than a $1,200 cash handout, he can be confident his voter base will remain loyal and the White House his.

Trump is currently walking a very treacherous path. At the end of this path, there are the keys to the White House and another four years as President during which he can shape America in his image. However, on either side of this narrow path is a long and ignominious fall to economic depression, blame for thousands of deaths and electoral defeat. The Democrats and Joe Biden can have no impact on whether Trump reaches the end of this path but, if he falls, they will be waiting behind. In short, all hinges on Trump.