If any other president in recent history was facing both wide scale riots and an economic depression before his reelection, the smart money would be on the side of the challenger, regardless of his quality. For the longest time, conventional wisdom has said re-election campaigns are a referendum on the times as much as the performance of the sitting president and his party. Despite the gloom and doom, Trump’s re-election chances remain a coin toss at this point in time.
Part of it is the fact that Joe Biden is a relic from a bygone age, a relic suffering from severe cognitive decline. If not for the shenanigans of the party, Bernie Sanders would be the nominee of the party right now. At best, the party would be looking at a deadlocked convention, from which they could select an alternative to a fossilized communist and a dementia sufferer. Trump versus a tattered museum piece is about the best match-up Trump can get in November.
Even so, this election is probably the first in this new cycle that was ushered in by the 2016 election. Maybe the 2016 election could be called the first post-post-Cold War election, but no one knew it at the time. This time, everyone seems to know that the rules are different and the forces shaping the election are different. Trump the Mule, the guy who breaks things and disrupts the natural order has changed the normal re-election pattern as well. This will be a different election.
That’s why the skeptical on-looker should be cautious about judging Trump’s behavior by the conventional metrics. For example, he has been tweeting during the black riots about how great he has been to the black people. This tweet was relentlessly mocked, but Trump will no doubt stick with it. Critics scoff that he is just a delusional civic nationalist groveling to blacks. From now until the election, he will talk about how he has been the best thing for black people since emancipation.
The thing that people on this side of the great divide often miss is that sentiment carries a lot of weight among white voters. This side is often too spergy to appreciate the value of gesture, but in the age of gesture politics, the sentiment counts for a lot. Trump’s apparent concern for blacks counts for a lot with his base. Those older white voters really do care about race relations. These riots, at one level anger them, but at another level they sadden them. They hate seeing it.
Take a look at those scenes of whites kneeling and bowing. The crowd always skews older, with lots of gray ponytails in the scene. Granted, these are aging libs looking for some final redemption before they die. That said, it is just an exaggerated sentiment common with older white people. They spent their whole lives trying to make race relations better. Even the right-wingers think it is really important for blacks to feel included in American life. It’s a big part of who they are.
That’s why Trump plays to that sentiment. His ham-fisted appeal to blacks is not really aimed at blacks, but at older whites who decide our elections. He’s never going to win over the gray ponytail crowd, but he will appeal to the weekday golf crowd. They see his earnest appeal to blacks and think well of Trump, despite the black youth rioting in the streets in every city. Talk to the sort of older white who has been vexed by Trump’s tweeting in the past and they are eating this up.
It’s also the nature of his appeal. He is not blathering about dignity and respect or any of the crap you hear from activists. He’s talking economics, things like jobs and crime, the sorts of tangible things that resonate with older white people. The Zoomers can mock the materialism of the Baby Boomers, but politics is about reality. Trump is appealing to the most important part of the electorate where they are, not where the Zoomers would like them to be. It will most likely work.
Not too put too fine a point on it, but look at what just happened in Iowa, a state in the heart of the Cuck Belt. Steve King was defeated in the GOP primary by some loser who will happily flood the state with Africans. If King was the nominee, he would win the general election for sure, but GOP voters could not tolerate someone labeled a racist by the inner party. The sin of racism is so powerful to the old whites that make up the GOP primary electorate, no one can survive a hint of it.
There’s also the black vote. Trump is relentlessly mocked for courting the black vote, but he may not be as dumb as he seems on this issue. The closest comparison in history to Trump at the moment is Richard Nixon. After the riots in 1968, Nixon won 14% of the black vote. This was the guy who ran the Southern Strategy, which was allegedly a crypto-racist appeal to former Klansmen. Clearly, blacks were motivated by something other than the superficial appeal to race.
The truth is, black voters, a distinct subset of black people, are a very conservative voting bloc. The thing is, they are conservative in the traditional sense of the word, not the neoconservative sense. That is, they don’t give a crap about economics as much as they care about their people. They look around at the riots and see this as a threat to their people and their communities. Blacks as a whole may have outlandishly high crime rates, but black voters incline toward law and order.
Trump will never win a big share of the black vote. Critics who think he thinks he can win the black vote are more delusional than they accuse Trump of being. What Trump is up to is appealing to that core black vote. If the choice is between an old white guy siding with the rioters and old white guy promising jobs, they will be much less motivated to come out in big numbers. That’s why Trump is working so hard to frame the choice for blacks in exactly this fashion.
The thing about the 2020 election is it will be a purely in the moment election, in that it will turn on how people feel at the moment. Trump the chaos agent won in 2016 because he had the knack of keeping people on edge. Some who never voted, responded by voting for the first time. Some who always voted one party stayed home or switched to a third party in a moment of anger. Trump is a guy who likes chaos and seeks to create it in all of his endeavors.
In the moment, people act on instinct. That’s what Trump is betting on for his re-election this fall. If things are in total flux, his opponents are unable to get footing. More important, the voters are unable to settle into comfortable patterns. Riots, plague and economic devastation is maximum chaos. Voters may instinctively go with what appears to be the safe choice, but is just the familiar choice. More important, they will not be thinking about it, but rather acting on instinct.
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