How could a mean-spirited, gross exaggerator appear to be so politically invincible? After three years of low- to mid-30s approval ratings, Trump suddenly seems headed to re-election this November.
Start with the economy. Unemployment is at historic or near-historic lows--including minority unemployment. Wages have started to rise. The stock market is booming. There is a long overdue challenge to the predatory Chinese regime.
But is it really the economy? The Trump turnaround may have more to do with his opponents' response. How are the Democratic candidates with a professed hatred of Trump responding to his self-proclaimed success?
Answer: They are not responding to it. They are ignoring what James Carville themed in the successful Bill Clinton upset in 1992: It's the Economy, Stupid.
Instead, one candidate says a 9-year-old transgender child she met on the campaign trail has approval veto over the next secretary of Education. Another proposes eliminating fracking for oil and natural gas; fracking has led to a job boom in electorally critical Pennsylvania. A third, the cantankerous career politician who is not even a Democrat, asks to be trusted on a complete overhaul of our national health-care system--when the party cannot even count votes in a tiny state like Iowa!
Not one candidate is talking about good economic times under Democratic administrations. Amazingly, not a single one of these social re-engineers has pointed out that in the last three years of the Obama administration there was greater job growth than in these three wildly heralded Trump years!
But given Trump's personal liabilities, there must be something deeper than jobs. So while the Democrats flail about pathetically, and the wimpish Republicans allow Trump to turn them into a cult of personality, let's look beyond economic numbers. How to explain the hold this narcissist likely to "grab 'em by the p****" has on his faithful?
One answer is authenticity. The favorability rating of politicians is below that of used-car salesmen. Bernie Sanders' numbers do not hold up to scrutiny. But does anyone doubt he truly believes what he says? Does any other candidate stand out as authentically believing what he or she is saying ... or are they just politically correct and ambition-driven?
Donald Trump may never have had an authentic feeling in his life. But has any president in generations delivered so faithfully on his campaign promises? Contrast Trump with George H.W. Bush's campaign promise. He pledged "no new taxes," but then made a deal with the Democrats involving raising taxes. It may have doomed his re-election despite an astounding 90 percent approval rating after the Gulf War.
Another factor is attention span. In the 2016 campaign, a study monitored brain activity while participants watched 40 minutes of political ads by Trump and Clinton. It revealed that Hillary could only hold attention for so long. But Trump held both attention and emotional arousal high throughout the viewing session. Through practiced cadence, clear language, and showmanship, Trump seems to have a unique ability to keep the brain engaged.
Helping Trump here is America's addiction to entertainment. Many are kept on the edge of their seats wondering what Trump is going to do or say next. Some Trump supporters will forgive anything he says as long as they are kept entertained.
Beyond this visceral level, more thoughtful critical-thinking factors come into play. One example: Many well-educated, well-meaning voters see a conflicting choice to be made and pick the practical--the booming stock market and Democratic ineptitude--over their moral judgment of Trump.
The Democrats would do well to very soon put aside their hatred of Trump and their grandiose plans for social re-engineering--and instead focus on "the economy, stupid."
Bucking all traditional political thinking, the Trump re-election train is roaring down the tracks.
Joe O'Brien of Little Rock is an international management consultant.
Editorial on 02/13/2020
Print Headline: Re-election train