Trump’s Three Bets

On June 6th, Joe Biden officially won the Democratic nomination for President.  There’s a stark contrast between the style and policies of Biden and the Republican candidate, Donald Trump.  At the moment, Trump is the underdog; however, we all remember what happened in 2016.  Trump is planning another come-from-behind victory; he’s betting that his positions on three national problems will swing the election odds in his favor.

The current Real Clear Politics polling average shows Joe Biden with an eight-point lead over Donald Trump (https://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2020/president/us/general_election_trump_vs_biden-6247.html)   Most of the swing-state polls also show Biden with a lead; for example, in Pennsylvania, Biden has a 3 point edge over Trump.

The Trump campaign is betting that, over the next 140+ days, Donald’s contrarian positions on three national problems will favor his candidacy: 1. Nothing will come of the death of George Floyd and the associated protests. 2. The pandemic will fade away. 3. The U.S. economy will bounce back from recession — there will be a “V-shaped” recovery.

1. The death of George Floyd and the national protests for racial justice.  After the horrendous death of George Floyd, some hoped that Donald Trump might change his tone and step forward as a unifier: make an appeal for racial justice and an end to police brutality.  Trump has chosen not to do this.

On June 1st, Trump ordered the police and national guard to break up a peaceful demonstration outside the White House in Lafayette Park.  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/2020/06/08/timeline-trump-church-photo-op/? )  Since then Donald has adopted a hardline position: the protestors are terrorists, the police require unwavering support, and “systemic racism” is a myth.  He’s running as “the law and order President” and assumes that his base, and undecided voters, will buy this stance.

Trump’s inflexible attitude means that whatever racial-justice legislation passes the House, it will probably die in the Republican-controlled Senate because Trump, and his crony Mitch McConnell, won’t approve of any changes to the status quo.

By taking this position, Trump and the Republican Party are misreading public sentiment.  The death of George Floyd, the wave of videos of police brutality, and the enormous protests indicate the American psyche has reached a tipping point: white voters are ready to tackle systemic racism.  The New York Times reports (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/05/us/politics/polling-george-floyd-protests-racism.html):

“In a Monmouth poll released this week, 76 percent of Americans — including 71 percent of white people — called racism and discrimination ‘a big problem’ in the United States. That’s a 26-percentage-point spike since 2015. In the poll, 57 percent of Americans said demonstrators’ anger was fully justified, and another 21 percent called it somewhat justified.”

Prediction: Trump will lose his bet that the American voters don’t want significant changes to promote racial justice.

2. The COVID-19 pandemic.  Here in California, we’ve been operating under the coronavirus “shelter-in-place” order since March 17th.  When will things  be back to normal?  Some would say, “Not until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine.  Later this year or next.”

Donald Trump mismanaged the US handling of the coronavirus and, now, desperately wants the pandemic to go away.  Late in March, Donald tweeted: “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.”  Recently Trump suggested that “shelter-in-place” policies were more harmful than COVID-19.  On May 14, Trump remarked that Coronavirus testing is “overrated,” adding “When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing we would have very few cases.” (https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/497846-trump-says-testing-may-be-frankly-overrated )

Writing in the Medium ( https://medium.com/@ASlavitt/the-economy-will-not-open-up-without-a-credible-plan-to-address-the-public-health-crisis-28eac8d5a425), former Obama-era Medicare, Medicaid, and ACA head, Andy Slavitt observed: “[The U.S.] had a [pandemic] strategy. Trump gave it a few weeks and then decided ‘liberate!’ Basically, he’s a quitter.”  Donald Trump has turned his back on the pandemic and is now solely focused on opening the economy.

Nonetheless, the problem persists.  As of this writing, more than 2 million Americans have contracted COVID-19 — those that we know about — and more than 110 thousand have died.  The U.S. has reached a plateau and is adding 21,000 cases each day.  California has had an uptick in new cases and is adding 3000 cases per day — mostly in Los Angeles County.

In his most recent interview ( https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/09/health/fauci-vaccines-coronavirus.html), Dr. Anthony Fauci said the pandemic is far from over: “Where is it going to end? We’re still at the beginning of really understanding.”

Prediction: Trump will lose his bet that the COVID-19 pandemic will suddenly disappear.

3. The economy.  Although the United States is officially in a recession, the stock market apparently believes the financial anguish will be of short duration.  Donald Trump hopes this is the case. On June 5th, the national unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent.  Trump hailed this as “the greatest comeback in American history.”  Adding, “This leads us on to a long period of growth. We’ll go back to having the greatest economy anywhere in the world.”

Writing in the Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/06/08/trump-is-running-economy-without-plan-rebuild-it/? ), Catherine Rampell took issue with Trump’s enthusiastic outlook:

“All net U.S. job gains since 2011 have been wiped out [by this recession]. The unemployment rate remains higher than it was at any point during the Great Recession, and millions of people who have jobs still can’t secure enough hours. Once we adjust for such underemployment, people who want to work but have given up looking and a persistent worker misclassification issue that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has struggled to solve, it becomes clear that about a quarter of all Americans who wanted to work last month couldn’t find sufficient work”

The Public Policy Institute of California (https://www.ppic.org/wp-content/uploads/ppic-statewide-survey-californians-and-their-government-may-2020.pdf ) describes a more dire situation for California: “More than one-third of adults (35%) report that they or someone in their household have been laid off or lost their job due to the coronavirus outbreak, and half (51%) report someone in their house having work hours reduced or pay cut.” [Emphasis added]

On June 10th, Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, gave a sombre assessment of the economy (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/10/business/economy/federal-reserve-rates-unemployment.html?).  He said, “millions of people could remain out of work for an extended period as central bank officials estimated unemployment will be at 9.3 percent by the end of 2020.  ‘This is the biggest economic shock, in the U.S. and the world, really, in living memory.'”

Prediction: Trump will lose his bet that the US economy will quickly recover.

Summary:  The economy has been the centerpiece of Trump’s presidency, but now it is in the tank.  Donald can’t brag about his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, because he’s done a terrible job — shown no leadership.

As the summer drags on, Trump’s shortcomings will become more apparent and his poll numbers will fall.  As Donald gets desperate he’ll double down on his claim to be “the law and order President.”  Expect more racism and calls for violence.