THE WEEK|July 19, 2020

Donald Trump is badly bruised by the protests and the pandemic, but trust him to fight hard and dirty to stay on as president

SEVENTY-TWO YEARS ago, when America went to the polls to elect its president, Republican nominee Thomas Dewey was the odds-on favourite. Back then, opinion polls were a novelty, and all of them had given Dewey a double-digit lead over Democratic candidate Harry S. Truman, who had succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt as president after his unexpected death while in office. Dewey’s advantage appeared so obvious and overwhelming that even before all the votes were counted, the Chicago Tribune published an early edition with a banner headline, “Dewey defeats Truman”. But when the counting was over, Truman won with 303 electoral votes against Dewey's 189.

At this point in his reelection campaign, President Donald Trump hopes he can emulate Truman. The Covid-19 pandemic and the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign have eroded Trump’s approval ratings. Most opinion polls now give the Democratic candidate Joe Biden a double-digit edge. He is ahead in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, the key to Trump's unexpected triumph in 2016. The president is also trailing in Florida and Arizona, and he could even lose Texas, which the Democrats won last in 1976. His political rally on June 21 at Tulsa, Oklahoma, the first such campaign event after the pandemic struck, was a disaster. Despite claims that millions were waiting for a ticket, only about 6,000 people showed up.

Four months ago, Trump was leading a buoyant economy with unemployment rates at a half-century low. Now, his chances rest on the possibility of a quick economic recovery after strict lockdown measures are withdrawn. “A bumper third-quarter recovery will help Trump sell himself as the leader who can put the US economy back on track once again,” says Joshy M. Paul, international relations expert at the Delhi-based Centre for Air Power Studies. “Even now, Americans trust Trump more than Biden on economic issues.”

Moreover, there is still time for Trump to turn the Covid-19 crisis into an opportunity. He enjoys the advantages of the bully pulpit and is certain to take credit whenever Covid numbers start coming down. He could even ask the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to fast track regulatory approval for a vaccine. A dramatic launch of a vaccine could be the critical boost the president is looking at.


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July 19, 2020