President Donald Trump tweeted that nearly 1 million people reserved tickets to attend the rally scheduled for Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The rally sparked criticism from the media and public health experts, but Trump dismissed the concerns, saying that anti-racism protesters were not sticking to social distancing rules and were not following the recommendations of public health experts either, so the rally would take place. Columnist Maxim Yusin analyzes how the protests and the COVID-19 pandemic affect Trump’s chances of being reelected.
As early as at the beginning of this year, before the pandemic hit the United States and brought down the country’s economy, Donald Trump’s chances of reelection seemed promising. According to American bookmaker odds, which often predict election outcomes more accurately than opinion polls, Trump was far ahead of Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, someone who has made a few big political mistakes, and, according to some Americans, shows early signs of dementia.
However, in the last few weeks, the tide has turned for a few reasons. The COVID-19 pandemic, the economic decline, but mainly, mass demonstrations against racism and racial discrimination in dozens of U.S. cities caused Trump’s popularity to plummet. Now, Biden is leading in some key battleground states, according to the opinion polls and the bookmakers. The protests against racism have divided the American population and mobilized Trump’s opponents – the Democrats, the Republicans, the media, racial and sexual minority groups, as well as ultra-left anti-capitalists – and have been the determining factor in changing the political dynamic. Trump has become a symbol and a reflection of current U.S. problems for more people, and they feel they have to get rid of him as soon as possible. Their main goal here is to mobilize their supporters and constituents. To do that, people need a person to rally around, regardless of whether he was involved in a sexual assault scandal 30 years ago, or made other mistakes, or suffers from dementia. People are not going to vote for Biden, they are going to vote against Trump. So, now, Trump’s main competitor is not Biden. It is an anti-Trump candidate.
Does Trump have any chance of changing the current dynamic? One would think so. He has
4 1/2 months before the election, and a lot can change over such a long period, including the economic situation and public opinion. Trump’s main objective now is to turn current problems into opportunities, to ride the wave of public upheaval instead of letting it sweep his candidacy away.
Trump’s supporters—the silent, conservative Americans who brought him to power 3 1/2 years ago—did not go anywhere. According to the surveys (even the ones conducted by CNN and other liberal media sources), Trump retains his electoral base (at least 40% of the voters). Since the United States is becoming inevitably more polarized, Trump will have to make sure his supporters do not turn away.
It is too late for Trump to change. If he suddenly starts supporting the demonstrators, takes a knee, orders the defunding of police and removal of Confederate monuments, it will look insincere and comical. However, he can be the last bastion of conservative, traditionalist America. He can become the defender of the police, of business owners whose stores have been looted and burned, and of monuments to Christopher Columbus and maybe even George Washington. He can become the symbol of a return to normal life when the unrest dies down, and when others stop compromising the crowd, which only keeps asking for more. Obviously, we cannot be sure that Trump, with his mercurial and scandalous personality and his rather weak team, is up to the task. However, if he wants to stay in the White House for another four years, he does not have any other choice.