Four More Years After All?

Dr. Malcolm Cross

President Trump normally gets a bad press.  In 2016 no major newspaper endorsed his presidential candidacy, and it’s been downhill since then.  This past week has been especially bad for him, with reports of public opinion polls saying his approval ratings are “below water,” and widespread condemnation of his trip to St. John’s Episcopal Church.  Yet despite all the bad news, there are several reasons to believe that Trump’s re-election chances may be on the rise.

First, good economic news:  Nothing helps a president win re-election more than a strong economy, and before the pandemic-induced economic collapse, President Trump was wisely preparing to campaign for re-election on his record of economic stewardship.  Of course, the economic collapse has dimmed Trump’s re-election chances.  But earlier last week there were reports of both a resurgent stock market and a falling unemployment rate.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average has increased by 9000 points since its low in March, and is now at about 27,000.  Also, the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the return of 2.5 million to work and initially reported a drop in the unemployment rate from14.7% in April to 13.3% in May, although it has since recalculated its figures to indicate a decline in unemployment from 19.7% in April to 16.3% in May.  These figures do not say that the economy is back to pre-pandemic levels—for 2020, America’s highest DJIA was about 29,500 and its lowest unemployment rate was 3.5%–but at least the trends are heading in the right direction.  A report in The New Republic, a liberal opinion journal opposing Trump’s re-election, claims that one of President Obama’s top economic advisors is predicting a third-quarter surge in the economy, just in time to help Trump even more.

Second, although President Trump’s responses to the crises besetting America have been widely panned, he may yet profit politically from the race riots following the killing of George Floyd by the police, especially if the events of a previous presidential election year are any indication.  The year 1968 saw the country torn apart by riots and protests over the assassinations of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, as well as over the ongoing Vietnam War.  The public was shocked at the televised riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  The chief beneficiary of the turmoil was Richard Nixon, who successfully presented himself as the law and order candidate.  Should President Trump successfully do so too in the wake of the current riots, he may yet be able to exploit the current turmoil to his benefit and that of the GOP.

It should be noted that some critics disagree.  They state that Nixon just barely won the popular vote over Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey.  Besides, they argue, 1968’s turmoil was during the presidential administration of Democrat Lyndon Johnson, and Trump would be harder put to exploit turmoil on his own watch.  But much of Nixon’s failure to do better in the popular vote was because potential supporters were siphoned off by third party candidate Alabama Governor George Wallace who, like Nixon, was also running a law-and-order campaign; together the two polled about 57% of the vote.  Moreover, the Republicans no doubt will exploit the fact that the cities where the riots have been worst, such as Minneapolis, have been under Democratic governance for decades.

Third, there’s the radicalization of the Democratic Party.  No doubt its platform will support Medicare-for-All, the Green New Deal, college student loan forgiveness, and other budget busters.  Public opinion polls consistently show these ideas to be popular—until they’re costed out and shown to require steep tax increases for implementation, at which point public support begins to drop like a rock.  The GOP could do far worse than run a hard-hitting but factually accurate series of advertisements highlighting the costs of implementing a Democratic agenda.

And finally, there’s the money.  Last month the New York Times reported that at the end of April the Biden campaign had banked about 68 million dollars, far less than the Trump campaign’s 255 million dollars cash on hand.  More recent news reports indicate that the Biden campaign’s fundraising has been surging since the Floyd killing, and the next round of campaign finance reports will no doubt show he’s closing the money gap.  None the less, the Trump campaign will be in far better shape financially to compete with Biden than it was against Hillary Clinton, who in 2016 raised about 1.4 billion dollars to Trump’s 960 million dollars.

None of these factors guarantees a Trump victory in November.  His chances at re-election remain worse than they were before the pandemic.  But if current political and economic trends continue, the chances for four more years of President Trump in the White House will grow.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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