Trump's Last Stand

Trump's Last Stand

Day by day it seems more likely that America will wake up in November to the headline, "Joe Biden wins 2020 presidential election by a major landslide".

The Democrats believe it. America's meltdown amid a devastating coronavirus death toll and the cultural crisis brought on by Black Lives Matter seems to have facilitated a climate in which Biden can flourish. Not since Bill Clinton in the 1990s has the electoral map looked so promising. Trump is trailing Biden nationally in key battleground states, and even in traditionally conservative bastions such as Missouri and Texas. Pew Research puts Trump as much as 10 points behind his rival. 54 percent of registered voters say if the election were held today, they would support Biden or lean towards voting for him, rather than Trump.

The problem is, many Republicans now believe it too. According to Pew Research, the share of the American public saying they are satisfied with the way things are going in the country has plunged from 31 percent in April, during the early phase of the coronavirus outbreak, to just 12 percent. It is notable that only 19 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning respondents now say they are satisfied. Previously, Republican satisfaction had been above 50 percent for almost the entirety of Trump's presidency. Senior Republicans believe that Trump does not understand his base. Some Trump voters now actively dislike him and his antics - enough of them to make a difference. They wanted the second act of his presidency to be more serious, focusing on the Supreme Court and conservative values. Instead, they got all the turbulance that has come to be associated with Trump, and a Supreme Court that has just over-turned Louisiana's hard-line restrictions on abortion. Trump's own psyche is increasingly seen as 'fragile' by his inner circle. Although the election is still some months away, everything seems to be against him.

The president's remaining supporters point out that Trump has been the underdog before. In 2016, Trump lagged behind Hillary Clinton by as much as 10 points in national polls but ultimately defeated her on Election Day. Trump himself is trying to project confidence on his chances of re-election, counting on the support of the "silent majority", in spite of the bleak polls. There may well be new Trump voters to be found among the large number of Americans who do not vote. It is also possible that respondents are keeping their shy support for Trump quiet when speaking to pollsters. Perhaps most importantly, Joe Biden is hardly a political powerhouse of competence and integrity. Many Americans see him as a corrupt, slimey, slightly creepy, and confused old man. They just so happen to prefer the quieter former vice president to the raging, Twitter-symbiote Republican.

In more normal times, presidents seeking a second term typically highlight their accomplishments of the past four years. Trump was banking on America's continuing economic expansion and record-low unemployment, but all of that seems to have been eroded by the coronavirus pandemic and social unrest. His strategy of drawing attention to the obstacles thrown at him by Democrats and the "fake news media" appears to be wearing thin, even among his own supporters.

It is possible that Trump will fight an election in the trenches, holding nothing back, and perhaps even contest the result, but ultimately suffer a massive loss. But even the most ardent Trump critic should know that when it comes to the incumbent president, one should expect the unexpected. There is an outcome far messier than a dirty lost election. Some of the wiser Democrats and nervous Republicans are preparing for this chaotic situation. In the firm belief that he can't win in November, President Trump resigns.

Many Trump-haters would rejoice. "We've won", they'd say, "we've done it". The nasty orange man has finally gone away. A triumph for all that's good in the world. Perhaps their years of anger and frustration were worth it to see Trump vacate prematurely. Schadenfreude. All those protests had worked. Power to the people. Surely Biden has it in the bag now? Don't be so sure.

Donald Trump dropping out of the race may be the only way to turn the tables and transform the state of the election in favour of the Republicans. The momentum of Trump-hate that's powering the Democrat campaign, because it sure as hell isn't the sheer might of Joe Biden, would evaporate overnight. There would be no centre, no core, for the Democrats to campaign around. Millions who might have turned out at the ballot box to get rid of Trump no longer need to, and may just stay at home. All of the heat is instantly taken out of the election. And in that vacuum, the Republicans could rise.

For this reason, some of Trump's most serious supporters are among those keenest for him to drop out of the presidential race. These aren't begruding traditional conservatives that have always disliked Trump but liked what he stands for, these are the Bannonesque ideologues who see the power of full-blown anti-immigration, anti-China, populist Trumpism. If Trump has to go to secure his politics and outlook, so be it.

But they'll have to act quickly and fight hard. Perhaps with Vice President Mike Pence or some other more respected conservative character, they stand a chance. Curiously, there's rumours of prominent Fox News journalist Tucker Carlson being the man, supposedly allying with Donald Trump Jr. in secret. Carlson has attacked Trump in recent months from the populist right, demanding a more aggressive, zero-tolerance approach to Black Lives Matter protests and riots across America. He would certainly make a compelling candidate for many Republicans.

This is more than mere "what if" political speculation, and increasingly seems to be the nuclear option for the Republican Party. It's clearly possible, perhaps even likely. If Trump knows that he can't win, and that resigning would throw the entire nation into a new, unpredictable political disarray, one that could secure his legacy, I certainly wouldn't bet against him doing it.