In a January 2017 Maine Voices column I outlined three reasons why I thought President Trump was likely to be a two-term President: 1) like former governor LePage here in Maine, Trump’s base would never leave him no matter how bizarre his behavior; 2) Trump’s highly stimulative economic policy program would win over a good chunk of 2016  third party/write-in voters, as well as independent Clinton voters; and 3) the media’s moral hysteria would set voters’ expectations exceedingly low. I closed the piece citing three risks to Trump winning a second term: misuse of Twitter, mismanagement of the US-China relationship, and the US business cycle. Over the last three and a half years this has been a useful lens through which to view the Trump presidency.

Trump’s base certainly hasn’t gone anywhere, and, if anything, anecdotal evidence suggests it has expanded. Many of my Republican friends who wrote-in votes for president in 2016 became hard-core Trump supporters not long after he took office (yes, color me confused); the fact their support has remained firm through thick and thin supports the notion Trump’s base has expanded.

In 2017 I said, “Trump is a gargantuan economic stimulus package.” This was proven correct even before the stimulus bonanza in response to COVID-19. The federal deficit averaged almost -4% of GDP from 2017 to 2019, and the number of pages in the Federal Register, a proxy for the economic weight of regulation, is down -24% from the all-time high set in 2016. Not surprisingly, with large fiscal deficits there was something for everyone over the last three years: large corporate tax cuts and military spending for the GOP, and a broad expansion of spending for the Democrats, for example.

For such a bipartisan approach to the economy, Trump’s 44% job approval rating is very poor – likely the direct result of his horrifying use of Twitter to engage in petty, irrelevant political scrums. The problem for the Democrats, however, is they somehow managed to “limbo” themselves beneath the bar set by Trump’s Twitter account. According to Gallup, as of March just 35% of Americans approved of Congressional Democrats. Even at his nadir Trump never fell below 37%. I believe this behavioral race to the bottom could push economically minded independents to Trump in November.

All the above suggests a tight race with a nod to Trump. However, I believe there is an excellent chance Trump walks away with this election as a result of the Democrats’ focus on identity politics. Take this quote from the front page of the August 28 New York Times by Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman: “It is not just Mr. Trump but Republican candidates up and down the ballot who are counting on the overwhelming support of white voters aggrieved by what they see as an unwanted transformation of American identity.”

Democrats believe that it was the “unwanted transformation of American identity” that drove Trump’s win in 2016. As Mark Twain once said, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.” What Democrats fail to grasp is that it was acute middle-class economic pain, brought on by the decades-long push for globalization by the political and financial elite, that drove Trump’s win. Not white identity. And it wasn’t just Trump – this economic pain drove “Brexit” in the UK and Bernie Sanders here in the US.

In an interview with an African American radio host back in May, Joe Biden said: “Well I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” Biden later tried to walk back the comment. But Mitt Romney didn’t slip in 2012 when he said 47% of Americans “believe they are victims” and “believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them,” nor did Hillary Clinton in 2016 when she said, “… you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?” Biden didn’t slip.

Anything can happen between here and November, but as in January 2017 I believe the weight of the evidence suggests President Trump wins.

— Special to the Press Herald

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