With the legacy of 2016 in his pocket, Trump will attempt to get re-elected in 2020 and to regain control of the House, allowing him to continue his ‘America First’ policy and complete electoral promises made four years ago, including the notorious wall with Mexico. Will he prove journalists and polls wrong once again, or will his luck run out?
Trump's Current US Election Odds
Trump was the favourite to win since the 2020 US election odds were first posted. That was in line with the old-fashioned theory that a sitting president with a growing economy gets re-elected - how quickly things can change.
Covid-19 and the George Floyd demonstrations or riots - depending on one’s point of view - have quickly changed the election dynamic . Donald Trump’s odds for re-election have drifted to 2.13 (at the time of writing), pushing him to second-favourite behind Biden. He is clearly facing his biggest challenge since he took office.
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In the other corner of the political ring, waiting for Biden, will be none other than the 45th president, Donald J. Trump. The Trump of 2020 is very different from the Trump of 2016, although in many aspects he remains the same.
He is still loud, provocative, aggressive and all the things that attracted attention back in 2016. However, he has a big advantage now. After almost four years in power during which no major crisis or war has started from his own actions, he can now present himself as a much more serious candidate for the presidency dismissing older arguments against him. He has proved some people wrong when it comes to nuking North Korea, for example, or being unhealthy because of his age or weight.
At this point, it is important to agree on a couple of points as the last four years of US politics have been unusual at best. The increased division of US society has made honest criticism of Trump’s presidency difficult. No matter if one agrees or disagrees with the Trump administration, when it comes to immigration or foreign relations, so far his policies have been very different from what some people warned. He hasn’t nuked anyone, or done anything that no other president has. The biggest difference has been his rhetoric.
That’s something he will use to his advantage, while at the same time he will attack his political opponents even harder than four years ago. As the president, he will be able to shift attention where he wants to easier than before.
Economic Policies & Performance
Probably the strongest point of the sitting president is the pre-Covid-19 economy. Many of his political opponents argue that it was President Obama’s policies that brought this result. The reality is there is probably some truth in both. It would be unfair to suggest that the Obama administration had nothing to do with it, especially considering the situation it had to deal with back in 2008. Nevertheless, even though the US economy started to grow during the latter administration, one of the reasons that many voters didn’t vote for Hillary in 2016 was that, despite the drop of unemployment and the increase in economic growth, their daily lives were not improved from this. Trump understood that, so he tried to present himself as the protector of the middle class which was paying most of the taxes for Obama’s policies and that played a big part in him winning.
Until January 2020, given the economy was still growing steadily, mostly thanks to his tax cuts, it would be safe to suggest that Trump would be re-elected - and the US Election odds at Cloudbet reflected this, with Trump a consistent, if relatively slim, favourite. American voters rarely change their president unless the economy is very bad or he commits a great blunder. Covid-19 changed that. How Trump dealt with the virus will be crucial for the election. Focusing on its impact on the economy two things matter.
At the moment, Trump is still bragging about the economy he created, and that it won’t be long until the negative effects of the quarantine are dealt with. If there is solid evidence prior to November’s election that the US economy has started recovering, that will be key. Trump won’t stop mentioning it during the debates and he will also use it to attack Obama once again and compare “his recovery” to “Obama’s”. If there aren’t such signs until then, then it becomes more complicated.
While many blame Trump for the deterioration of the economy, he blames China and the ‘Do-nothing Democrats’. At first this seemed a desperate effort to keep the blame away, but as more information about the way the WHO and the CCP handled the Covid crisis emerged, anti-Chinese sentiment has been voiced worldwide. So what originally seemed Trump's doom may eventually prove his lifejacket.
There is a common social concept of “Rally ‘round the flag” and the US is familiar with it. A perfect example is Saddam Hussein in the 1990s. Following the first Gulf War, the US and other Western countries imposed strict sanctions on Iraq hoping that a deterioration of living standards would push Iraqis to overthrow their dictator. The exact opposite happened. The sanctions didn’t really touch Saddam and his inner circle, who continued to live an extravagant lifestyle while the people were starving. Instead of them rising to take power, the regime managed to direct public outrage towards Western countries as it was them imposing the sanctions in the first place. Popular support for Saddam increased, allowing him simultaneously to take out potential enemies growing its strength. Even if the American’s won’t come close to the poverty levels that existed in Iraq, similarities exist. It wouldn’t be surprising if public outrage is directed towards the original source of the crisis - China. And who has been attacking China all this time?
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Trump On Foreign Policy
In the field of foreign relations, Trump has pursued a policy of renegotiation or withdrawal from the past; malign the US deals and replace them with new deals perceived as better for American interests - from a Republican standpoint. The US withdrew from the Paris agreement on climate change, withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and there are thoughts to withdraw from the strategic arms limitation treaty with Russia. Nafta was replaced by the USMCA trade deal and a new deal with Japan was signed.
Furthermore, after a long period of very cold relations with North Korea, there was a rapprochement of the two sides, although actual results were few. A conditional peace agreement with the Taliban finalised the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, and efforts are made so US troops are removed from Syria.
In general, a strategy of putting America first has been pursued, which remains to be seen to what level damaged US relations with long standing allies and the international community. Naturally, no opportunity is missed to target China and the CCP for any wrongdoings.
International relations experts and allied leaders would disagree with certain of Trump's decisions. As a general principle, unilateral decisions can often backfire and damage your credibility in the long run. Nevertheless, from a political point of view Trump kept his promises to the American people. For example, withdrawing from the Paris agreement was a promise needed to get many of Virginia’s voters. People in Richmond that worry they might lose their jobs won’t be affected much by potential environmental concerns.
Summing up, prior to being elected president, the alarm was raised over the possibility of such a tempered and inexperienced person controlling the US nuclear arsenal and setting America’s place on the world stage. No matter if one agrees or not with Trump’s policies, the US didn’t engage in a new war, a more isolationist strategy has been pursued, and apart from the killing of Qasem Soleimani, Iran and China, Trump focused on domestic issues more. Given that this is according to his pre-elections promises, it’s hard to see how it can damage the 45th president in the upcoming election. Trump will try to over represent his administration's successes abroad, but most likely the focus will be on domestic issues, particularly the economy and, of course, Covid-19.
Impeachment & RussiaGate
Despite being initiated on December 18, 2019, the impeachment was hanging over the 45th’s head for a while and it is argued that he should expect another in case of re-election. It was part of the Democratic opposition to defame the president prior to the 2020 election, but it backfired in a bad way. Ironically, when the Republicans impeached Bill Clinton back in 1998, it also resulted in increased popularity for the president. Without going into details, the failed impeachment and the Russian collusion hoax can become great assets for Trump.
In brief, the RussiaGate scandal suggested that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian secret services to hack the 2016 election and damage the US democratic system. For years Democrats appeared certain that the Mueller Report would prove the collusion and be the end of Trump’s presidency. It turned out they were wrong and all the ‘evidence’ didn’t really exist.
That was a major blow to their credibility as for years they were positive of collusion while in reality there was no information proving that. It’s common for any candidate or member of his staff to meet with foreign officials. Similarly the fierceness with which journalists and Democrats have been attacking Trump even prior to being elected, combined with how he managed to deal with all these accusations and remain literally intact empowers him much more. On the other hand, the voters seem to just not care about these accusations.
As if that wasn’t enough, the ‘rushed’ impeachment made things worse. If you are not aware, the House of Representatives decided to impeach president Trump for abuse of power while trying to uncover dirt for Joe Biden, his soon-to-be opponent. According to the accusations Trump tried to strong-arm the Ukrainian president in ‘discovering’ incriminating evidence for the Democratic candidate or his son.
Reading the transcript of the two leaders phone call, it is a bit far-fetched to suggest that this was an abuse of power. Unfortunately, it’s very common in the world stage for a country like the US asking or strong-arming a country like Ukraine for a ‘favor’ It is not the first time in US history either. All in all, it was a weak effort to impeach a president which clearly back-fired hurting the credibility of the Democratic party.
It is argued why the Democrats decided to go for it knowing that the Republican-controlled Senate would most likely acquit Trump anyway. Possibly they were aiming to damage his credibility more than actually impeach him.
Without having solid data to support that, it has been suggested that the decision was taken following Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez bold statements. If that was the case indeed, it might help in gathering support from the so-called extreme left, but it will alienate average voters. That’s a general concern for the party of FDR and not a random incident.
One thing Americans are proud of is their political system. Using a very serious accusation, like abuse of power, without real proof can easily be considered an infamy caused to their political system just for short term political gains. In both cases, impeachment and RussiaGate, the certainty with which it was presented that the president was guilty combined with the final result, will be used repeatedly to counter any accusations coming from the opposition or the press.
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As with his counterpart, Trump has many flaws. However he had them back in 2016 too, but then there was no evidence he could be an effective president. Given the up-until-now high-performing economy and the promises kept by the current administration, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise were he to increase his share of the popular vote. That still won’t guarantee him the election though, as a higher voter turnout than in 2016 is predicted, so he will have to be very careful during the last few campaign months and rally his base like never before.
Despite the recent turbulence, there is no clear evidence that his popularity among voters is decreasing; on the contrary. Therefore, if one still believes that Trump is favourite to win, now is the time to place a bet while his US Election odds suggest the opposite. He will have to deal with more turbulence in the upcoming months, but it’s hard to imagine something worse than a combination of a global pandemic and mass demonstrations - so if you feel Trump can weather those storms, now might be the time to buy the dip.