Trumpism is unlikely to become a movement

President Trump gained a number of loyal followers during his time in the Oval Office, but there are reasons why his popularity may wane, writes Paul Begley.

EVEN IN BITTER election contests, there is an understanding among most departing leaders that the new leader needs space and clean air and defeated leaders can usually summon sufficient grace to concede leadership, mindful that doing it well or badly affects their legacy.

Australia’s Tony Abbott spoke to that idea in September 2015 when Malcolm Turnbull replaced him as Prime Minister following an acrimonious challenge. Abbott promised there would be “no wrecking, no undermining and no sniping”. He didn’t measure up to that standard, but he knew it was the right thing to say and he memorably said it.

Despite the angst emanating from President Donald Trump’s family and his campaign about supposed 2020 Election fraud, it’s clear by now to most observers in America and around the world that Joe Biden has been legitimately elected.

As the reality dawns that Donald Trump’s term as President has come to an end, there is talk already about who among the Trump team might run in 2024: Don Junior, Ivanka, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, Donald himself are mentioned. There is also talk of Trumpism transforming into a movement or a television franchise.

The 72 million voters who cast a ballot for the incumbent attest to the reality that the 2020 loser is also the winner of a significant number of votes, despite being around six million votes short of President-elect Joe Biden’s record tally. The question is what proportion of the loser’s voter base would transform into what might become a destabilising Trump movement.

Movements usually require a coherent and inspirational manifesto that resonates with those who participate in them. Bernie Sanders has led a movement that does not require ballot-box legitimacy but brings together those who share the movement’s stand on healthcare, the economy, energy policy, building infrastructure and the like. It also counts among its fellow travellers inspirational leaders such as Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who espouses the documented idea of a Green New Deal and Andrew Yang who espouses the idea of a universal basic income.

A Trump movement, if one were to emerge, would have no manifesto or at least not one that is written down. Its intellectual foundation would potentially be discoverable in the uncollected tweets, media doorstops and rally speeches of its leader. Each tweet and doorstop is short, even the long ones, the Twitter limit being 280 characters. Doorstops on the White House lawn are fleeting dog whistles and thought bubbles tossed to reporters on the run and possibly stepped back the next hour, the next day or during the week that follows. His rally speeches are long, most extending to an hour or more and wandering off onto many side roads, if indeed there was a central road from which they departed.

Were a Trump movement to gain traction, it would rely for content and inspiration on the repetitive themes of victimhood and resentment that pervade the leader’s repeated public utterances and that resonate with his support base. The themes touch on the machinations of the conspiracy-laden deep state, the Russia and impeachment witch hunts, the COVID-19 hoax, the Obamagate outrage and an assortment of other batty conspiracy theories.

Biden beats Trump to claim presidency: Cometh the people

Dissemination of these themes requires regular access to free daily media, which will be harder to get when the leader of the movement no longer occupies the White House. Without the trappings of office and the financial backing that taxpayer dollars have given him, it’s questionable whether Trump and his supporters will have the heart, the stamina or the financial wherewithal to persist in a relatively under-resourced movement beyond making menacing sounds about Second Amendment rights.

Feeding off resentment about the Election loss to Joe Biden will likely have a use-by date. It’s also likely that Trump’s energy will be drained by fighting off personal battles in the courts on a wide array of indictable offences including insurance fraud, criminal tax evasion and obstruction of justice, all without the protection of a servile attorney-general and the office of the presidency. Worst of all, he would have to fall back on his personal fortune, to the extent that his wealth is what he claims it to be.

Apart from any momentum Trumpism might generate on its own steam, its leaders will need to accept that they are operating in an environment with Biden leading an experienced administration that will have its hands on the levers of power and the knowledge of how to use them. The Biden-Harris administration will likely enjoy an Electoral College mandate north of 300, in line with that claimed by Trump in 2016.

The majority leader in the Senate may well still be the Republican Mitch McConnell, but McConnell is driven by his own obsessions and is not a true Trump loyalist. In addition, his majority may be thinner and leave him open to rebellious votes from the likes of Republican Senators Mitt Romney, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who will no longer live in fear of a Twitter-storm from the Oval Office if they step out of line. Biden will have a Democrat House and his own mandate, plus many years of experience in crossing the aisle and with a will to do it.

Paul Begley lives in Melbourne, Australia.

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Lexington – Trump and Trumpism | United States

IT HAS BECOME a cliché of liberal editorialising to demand that voters repudiate Donald Trump’s populist platform as well as the president himself. Wherever the final vote tallies land, it will be hard to argue that they have.

At the time of writing, Mr Trump looked on course to lose his re-election bid with the second-highest number of votes ever recorded. He seemed to have achieved that feat mainly by turning out the most characteristic parts of his coalition in force. White working-class men, in particular, cemented the Republicans’ hold on some of the territory he took for them in 2016. Mahoning County in Ohio—which is dominated by hardscrabble Youngstown, whose construction sites your columnist visited on the trail—went Republican for the first time since 1972.

The president’s populist rhetoric—his hounding of elites and foreigners, his race-baiting—also proved to be much less of a turn-off generally than the Democrats had hoped. Bumper support from Cuban-Americans in Florida and Mexican-Americans in southern Texas saw Mr Trump more than double his winning margin in the first state and kill off Democratic dreams of winning the second. Exit polls suggest he increased his share of support from every group except white men. If that is right, Democrats won the election chiefly through their improved turnout effort, not by wooing voters from Mr Trump.

And this, to recap, was after an election campaign that had featured the president at his worst. In the midst of a deadly pandemic, he derided public-health experts and ridiculed his opponent for following their advice. He gave nodding support to a conspiracy theory which holds that Democrats are devil-worshipping paedophiles. He called Kamala Harris—Joe Biden’s black, female, running-mate—a “monster”. It is not hard to see why Mr Trump’s opponents consider the results too close. Yet their hopes of a full-on repudiation, encouraged by a dose of hubris as well as by rotten polls, now appear unrealistic.

Contemporary nationalist populists—such as Andrzej Duda in Poland or Viktor Orban in Hungary—and American presidents alike tend to win re-election. By that measure, merely dislodging Mr Trump would represent an achievement. And Mr Biden’s campaign message, it should be noted, was almost entirely devoted to the vital importance of doing exactly that. If the result was not a crushing rejection of Mr Trump, it seems nevertheless to have been a rejection.

For those who worry about the endurance of Mr Trump’s strain of populism, it should also be noted that it is not altogether clear what it is. After his victory in 2016, Trumpism looked like a rallying-call to the economically distressed. Mr Trump fought this campaign on his claim to have built “the greatest economy in the history of our country”. A mixture of isolationism, cronyism, nativist rhetoric, somewhat performative authoritarianism, corporate tax cuts and personality cult, Trumpism is what the president says it is. No one finds this more frustrating than the small minority of Republicans—including Senators Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio—who have attempted to turn the party into an actual vehicle for the working-class concerns Mr Trump raised. Arguably he has thereby emerged as the main obstacle to the conservative movement he inspired.

His influence may prove to be most enduring if those frustrated adherents take over in his wake. Mr Rubio and the rest appreciate that the pre-Trump party had become detached from its main supporters. And the president has normalised protectionism and other policies that they like. But there is no reason to assume a populist successor to Mr Trump would persist with his race-baiting and thuggery—or, at least, get away with it so easily if he did. Another oddity of the president is how voters who would normally balk at such bad behaviour have given him a pass. Mr Trump, a loud-mouthed celebrity for 40 years, is in that sense a political one-off.

This should be somewhat reassuring to his critics in both parties. Mr Trump has transformed the right—but his influence may be less enduring than these results suggest. In a polarised environment, they probably represent less of an endorsement of him even on the right than it seems. His low approval rating suggests he has again been backed by Republicans who dislike him, but cannot bear to vote for the alternative. The logic of such hyper-partisanship is that, once he is out of office, many Republicans will shift their allegiance to a new leader, and be influenced by him in turn.

Yet there is still plenty in the election verdict to worry Trumpism’s opponents. Above all, the president’s success in broadening his coalition points to their own weaknesses. Democrats will probably take from this that they should have offered Hispanics a better economic message and done more campaigning among them. They say this after most elections. Yet after a campaign almost entirely governed by negative partisanship on both sides, Democrats should think harder about how they may have actively repelled their flagging non-white base.

Populist polarisation

Cuban-Americans are hostile to socialism, a label the Democratic left proudly wears. Mexican-Americans care less about Mr Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric than Democrats—in the face of much evidence to the contrary—persist in believing. A doggedly upwardly mobile community, Hispanics do not generally consider themselves to be the downtrodden minority the left refers to them as. The Democrats will not be a reliable alternative to right-wing populism unless they correct such errors and widen their appeal.

In the current polarised environment, anything less than full control of the government is a recipe for deadlock and disaffection. It was the enabling condition for Mr Trump. That America appears to be headed for another bout of divided government is therefore hard to celebrate.

This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the headline “Trump and Trumpism”

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Biden Can Win Texas — We Can End Trumpism on November 3

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) said on Tuesday’s broadcast out MSNBC’s “The ReidOut,” that Democratic presidential nominee former Vice President Joe Biden can win Texas decisively enough for the results to be in on election night.

Anchor Joy Reid asked, “Can Hegar and Biden close that gap, which you came real close to doing when you ran for Senate? Can that gap be closed in the short amount of time that we have left?”

O’Rourke said, “It can, and in part, because Texas is, so voter suppressed. It has become very hard to count Democratic voters. So in 2018, most polls on the eve of the election had me down by eight or nine points to Ted Cruz. I ended up losing by 2.5. Most polls had Hillary Clinton losing by double digits in Texas. She lost by nine points. There is typically an outperformance of the polls by Democrats of three to four points. So I would say those races are much, much closer. MJ Hegar can beat John Cornyn, and Joe Biden can win this state.”

He added, “In fact, on the eve of early voting, on the 12th of October, we’re going to have a million-voter phone bank. Our volunteers are going to call a million voters to get them to commit to voting on the first day of early voting. The Texas Democratic Party, the candidates, everyone’s doing their part. I think we can do this, Joy. I think we can end this on the third. You know, Pennsylvania will take days or maybe even weeks to count those ballots. Texas, we’ll know on the third. If we win Texas, it is over mathematically. It is over psychologically. We can turn the page on Trump and Trumpism and begin the next chapter for this country.”

Follow Pam Key on Twitter @pamkeyNEN

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