Can Trump do the impossible?

By: AFP      Published: 02:12 AM, 16 Aug, 2020
Can Trump do the impossible?
–File photo

Maybe it was the beautiful sunset, or the crowd of tough-looking men cheering his name, or even some reassurance from secret polling, but Donald Trump did not sound like a president who risks humiliation in less than 80 days.

Standing on the steps of his luxury golf clubhouse in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump addressed supporters from the New York Police Department union, as it announced its endorsement.

And with the practiced enthusiasm of a real estate magnate who spent a lifetime selling shiny dreams, he offered them electoral fantasy.

He told them he was not only going to defy polls and defeat Democrat Joe Biden on November 3 -- he was going to perform the miracle of winning New York.

The Empire State hasn't gone Republican since Ronald Reagan in 1984. Trump, despite being a native New Yorker, lost there by a 22-point margin to Hillary Clinton in 2016. "I think we have one hell of a shot," Trump told the cheering crowd.

The reality is that polls show Biden currently ahead in swing states like Pennsylvania, where elections are often decided, and even threatening to take Republican strongholds like Texas.

Trump is not only one of the most consistently unpopular presidents in US history -- his average approval ratings have never broken 50 percent -- but he is presiding simultaneously over three crises.

Even one would challenge any president, but a pandemic, an economic nosedive and nationwide racial tensions all at once?

Trump trusts Trump 

Still, the weekend in Bedminster -- where Trump lives in regal style, surrounded by armies of employees -- is a perfect antidote to Washington. The high fences around the White House cannot prevent congressional Democrats and what Trump sees as a hostile media from spoiling his day.

Here, in the gentle New Jersey hills, where high-rolling customers in pastel golf attire sip drinks on the club terrace, Trump's natural optimism can run free. The Republican often says that he trusts his own instincts more than the data or experts -- and that phenomenal self-belief is tangible as he surveys the fraught electoral landscape.

Trump continues to insist that private polling shows him doing far better than public polls indicate. And dismissing reports that even some Republicans are wavering, Trump says support for his re-election is gathering steam. "The people that didn't like Trump, the 'never Trumpers,' they're starting to like Trump a lot," he said.

Could he be right? 

Democrats smell blood. In addition to predicting a Biden presidency, they talk increasingly about not only maintaining control of the House of Representatives but capturing the Senate and embarking on deep social and economic reforms.

After all, with less than 80 days to go till Election Day, there seems little chance that Trump can solve all his three main crises. But what if he doesn't need to?

In the master salesman's latest pitch, the coronavirus pandemic is essentially over and must be relegated to the past, while the world's largest economy is roaring back. The two messages are hammered home daily in Trump's live television briefings.

And when it comes to the tension over high-profile incidents of police brutality against black Americans, Trump is similarly flipping the narrative on its head.

The real victims, Trump confidently says, are the police themselves -- a thin blue line between God-fearing Americans and Democratic anarchists and gangs. "If they win this election, every city in America will be under siege," he said at the golf club.

Liberals describe the campaign as blatantly racist fear-mongering. Trump says he's talking to a "silent majority."

After being stripped by the coronavirus shutdown of his ability to run on an economic success campaign and being assailed over his managing of the health crisis, Trump reckons he may have hit upon a new winning formula. As the number-crunchers at polling website fivethirtyeight.com say, the chances of Trump beating Biden are only 29 percent, while those of Biden beating Trump are 71 percent.

But guess what the numbers were ahead of the 2016 election? Trump had a 29 percent chance of beating Clinton. Clinton had a 71 percent chance of beating Trump.