A Weird Re-election Pitch

Usually candidates don't talk about how bad things are across the country while appealing to be re-elected.

“Final Presidential Debate 2” by Adam Schultz / Biden for President is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

 ”Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”-Candidate Ronald Reagan in his final debate with incumbent President Jimmy Carter.

To answer that question, let’s go to the current incumbent President, Donald J. Trump in his final debate with his challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden:

People are losing their jobs, they’re committing suicide. There’s depression, alcohol, drugs at a level that nobody’s ever seen before. There’s abuse, tremendous abuse. 

[…]

I will say this, if you go and look at what’s happened to New York, ut’s a ghost town. It’s a ghost town. And when you talk about plexiglas — these are restaurants that are dying. These are businesses with no money. Putting the plexiglas is unbelievably expensive, and it’s not the answer. I mean, you’re going to sit there in a cubicle wrapped around with plastic? These are businesses that are dying, Joe, you can’t do that to people, which again, take a look at New York and what’s happened to my wonderful city. For so many years, I loved it. It was vibrant. It’s dying. Everyone’s leaving New York.

[…]

Take a look at what’s happening with your friend in Michigan, where her husband’s the only one allowed to do anything. It’s been like a prison. Now it was just ruled unconstitutional. Take a look at North Carolina. They’re having spikes and they’ve been closed, and they’re getting killed financially. 

He paints a grim picture.*

And it is only fair to ask: who is the president of this country of which he speaks where it would appear massive parts of it are falling apart?

What has he done about these things? What is his plan for helping people deal with the pandemic? Where is his plan to help small businesses and restaurants? Where is the strategy to deal with the virus?** Where is the coordination of efforts across the country? Where is even the rhetoric of unity?

Note, too, that just “opening up” (and I would note, we aren’t “shut down” at the moment) is not a strategy, it is magical thinking that we can just go back to normal.

He does not, and never has, understood the office he holds and he is, quite clearly, one of the most self-centered persons to hold the office (and yes, that is saying something). He got great treatment and recovered. His son is fine. What else is there to know, right?

To be clear: I do not think that the presidency is magical and can solve all problems. But I do think that a competent president would have found a way to coordinate a national response. I think a competent president would have done more than heap vituperation on the heads of governors and mayors from the opposite party. I think that a competent president would have known when to be a partisan and when to be the president of the whole country. I think a competent president would have done more than simply whine about China and the bad hand he had been dealt.

It is an utterly bizarre (or, perhaps, just incompetent) approach to re-election to say “look how horrible things are!” and pretend like it is your opponent’s fault. Indeed, worse: “look how horrible things are, so please re-elect me!”

There are so many bucks not stopping there.

His re-election pitch is literally: I take no responsibility as the leader of the country to find a way to deal with this crisis. I only take credit for good things.

If the DJIA is up, it is because of him. If unemployment is down, it is because of him (never mind long-term trends). But if things go bad, it is the “the plague” and China who are to blame.

BTW, has anyone noticed that neither he nor his supporters talk about GDP growth anymore? And I am not even referring to the Q1 and Q2 numbers for 2020. I am talking about the fact that GDP growth under Trump is not any different than under Obama post-Great Recession. We certainly never hit the promised mark of 4% (or even 5% 0r 6%) growth, let alone consistently.

Source: Statista

The unemployment rate and the Dow are not the only, or even the main, metrics of the overall health of the economy.

The reality is he inherited a healthy economy from Obama, with the trend lines all headed in the right direction. And yes, the tax cut helped the stock markets. But, really, what else did he do? He was one of the luckiest occupants of the White House up and until when he wasn’t. And the true test of any leader is how they deal with a crisis, not how they deal with good times.

And yes, I realize that his approach is to blame all the bad things on Democrats in office and, more broadly, on urban areas that tend to vote Democratic. And this may play with his base, but it also ignores the fact that there are a lot of Republicans who live in those blue cities and those blue states (and there are urban areas in red states). Trump, like too many of his followers, has taken a simple-minded approach to the red/blue distinction insofar that they seem to think a blue state is 100% Democrat and therefore can be written off and red states are 100% Republican, so safely in his column.

This is, by the way, the same appeal Trump makes about “law and order” and racial disharmony (and other issues). He sees himself as having no responsibility to actually seek to address national problems. The problems are all because of “Democrat cities” which I guess aren’t part of “America” in the phrase “Make America Great Again” (let alone “Keep America Great”).

But the reason why Trump is currently in the position that he is in going into the final week before the election: the country isn’t better off than it was four years ago.


*BTW, in regards to suicide, there is evidence that the claim is wrong, via WaPo: Suicide rates during the pandemic remained unchanged. Here’s what we can learn from that.: “No matter how we looked, we kept finding the same thing. Suicide rates did not budge during the stay-at-home advisory period (March 23 until a phased reopening began in late May) in Massachusetts, which had on of the longest such periods of any state in the nation….Many well-informed and well-meaning people fell for the cognitive trap that if something rings true, it must be true — and thus assumed that suicide deaths were destined to rise during shutdowns.”

**Granted, downplaying it and hoping for a vaccine is a strategy, just not a very good one.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Donald Trump, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. DrDaveT says:

    And yes, the tax cut helped the stock markets

    But did it help the economy? Trump wouldn’t understand that question…

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  2. KM says:

    His re-election pitch is literally: I take no responsibility as the leader of the country to find a way to deal with this crisis. I only take credit for good things.

    Of course it is – that’s how someone with a personality disorder like narcissism or BPD thinks and speaks. It’s never their fault. They cannot fail, only be failed. All Good Things come from God but disasters are your own sins bringing destruction on your head.

    More to the point, it’s also how an abuser speaks to someone they know is beaten down. “It’s not my fault you ruined your life by being associated with me. But look, you got flowers and pretty dresses when you’re with me- doesn’t that make up for the times you made me hit you?” Anyone who’s been in around an abusive relationship can hear the parallels. That he’s not even doing what little he was doing before to normalize it shows how bad it is for him. He’s selfish and cruel and terrible for you….. but you might choose to leave him and that’s not OK. You thought it was fine before, what’s the problem now? He doesn’t understand why people are unhappy because *he’s* doing just fine. Who cares about you and why should he have to pretend to care? He hasn’t for years – why start now?

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  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    Trump is a one song band, he only knows how to run against something and his themes are limited to the same ones he used in 2016 and outlined in inaugural.

    In many ways Trump reminds me of malevolent Jessie Ventura. Jessie ran for MN governor thinking, how hard could it be, and being unencumbered by interest groups discussed his administrations proposed polices that in reality cut between the major party candidates. All went well for a couple of years, the economy was good, there were huge budget surpluses, allowing him to fund a couple pet priorities, fill the rainy day fund and write 3 figure checks to every resident.

    Then the economy crashed and the job got hard. Jessie had the good sense to not run for reelection, unlike Trump. Of course no one was looking to investigate any crimes or sue him when he left office.

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  4. gVOR08 says:

    And yes, the tax cut helped the stock markets. But, really, what else did he (Trump) do?

    I would argue that McConnell and Ryan did the tax cut. Trump hasn’t done jack except tariffs and trade war. It’s a testament to the underlying strength of the economy that it took him this long to screw it up.

    As I may have said once or twice before, conservatives don’t think in terms of cause and effect, they think in terms of morality. In this case it means they think all our problems are caused by bad people, the Chinese, the deep state, Democrats, “AOC plus three”, immigrants, Muslims, what have you. Trump opposes all those bad people, so it only makes sense to reelect him.

    Trump is campaigning to his base and his base only. If the GOPs have data that says this can work it would be scary. But I suspect it’s just that they’ve dug the hole too deep to do anything else.

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  5. gVOR08 says:

    Sometimes it seems the edit function appears after another comment posts. So this is an experiment. If there are still two obvious typos in my earlier comment, it failed.

    ETA – it worked, and I got the edit function on this comment too.

  6. Facebones says:

    The problems are all because of “Democrat cities” which I guess aren’t part of “America” in the phrase “Make America Great Again” (let alone “Keep America Great”).

    This is key. I think George W Bush was a terrible president who got us into a pointless and costly war in Iraq. However, when 9-11 happened, he didn’t shrug and say “New York and Pennsylvania didn’t vote for me, so they’re on their own.” He rallied the country, making a point not to scapegoat Muslims in general.

    I didn’t vote for Mitt Romney. However, if he were president right now, I am confident that he wouldn’t have said “New York didn’t vote for me, they can suffer. Now I’m going to hijack all the PPE they had to order because I didn’t use national stockpiles.”

    When hurricanes and floods strike red states, there is a federal response. It shouldn’t be “Alabama will get A+ treatment” because they voted for Trump.

    It’s just one more example of the way everyday life has been needlessly polarized in this country. There was no federal plan, just Trump and his cronies shamelessly covering their asses.

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  7. CSK says:

    @Facebones:
    Yup. This vindictiveness is one of the things his fan club loves most about Trump. They take profound satisfaction in seeing those evil blue cities and states suffer.

    4
  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    To be clear: I do not think that the presidency is magical and can solve all problems. But I do think that a competent president would have found a way to coordinate a national response. I think a competent president would have done more than heap vituperation on the heads of governors and mayors from the opposite party. I think that a competent president would have known when to be a partisan and when to be the president of the whole country. I think a competent president would have done more than simply whine about China and the bad hand he had been dealt.

    It’s funny. I read the above paragraph and thought, “If he had just been incompetent, I could be to some extent sympathetic. At least he would have tried. And who among us has not tried to do a job and failed because we were just plain and simply not up to the task?

    But here’s the thing: He never even tried. He thought being president meant he could tell people to fix things and “Voila!” They would be fixed. That he himself never actually had to do anything. Besides play golf. And sign a blank piece of paper every now and again. And do interviews with fawning journalists who would marvel at the magnificence that was uniquely his. And stand in front of adoring crowds who would worship the ground he walked upon and cheer his every word. Etc etc etc ad nauseum.

    So,

    It is an utterly bizarre (or, perhaps, just incompetent) approach to re-election to say “look how horrible things are!” and pretend like it is your opponent’s fault. Indeed, worse: “look how horrible things are, so please re-elect me!”

    It is not an incompetent, and I am not even sure it is a bizarre approach to reelction. It is certainly different, but only because previous to this moment we have never had somebody so utterly unsuited to the office elected to it, but I suppose it was inevitable. After all, what have we been teaching children for generation after generation now?

    “Anybody can be President, even you.”

    That chicken has come home to roost. I’m just sad I was alive to see it.

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  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08: As I may have said once or twice before, conservatives don’t think in terms of cause and effect, they think in terms of morality. In this case it means they think all our problems are caused by bad people, the Chinese, the deep state, Democrats, “AOC plus three”, immigrants, Muslims, what have you.

    Ummm…. ahem…. My inner pedant can not let this pass. Thanx for giving me a smile tho. 🙂

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    My kingdom for an edit function!

    @gVOR08: As I may have said once or twice before, conservatives don’t think in terms of cause and effect, they think in terms of morality. In this case it means they think all our problems are caused by bad people, the Chinese, the deep state, Democrats, “AOC plus three”, immigrants, Muslims, what have you.

    Ummm…. ahem…. My inner pedant can not let this pass. Thanx for giving me a smile tho. 🙂

    ETA a small but important misplacement of the first bold emphasis.

  11. @OzarkHillbilly: I take your point about not trying. I suppose at that point that it becomes semantic hairsplitting as to whether that can be defined as “incompetence.” In my experience, sometimes incompetence leads to inaction (or, more likely, the incompetent think that they are “doing something” when, in fact, they are not because they do not understand their job).

  12. de stijl says:

    A lot of American right-wing behavior has descended into aggression and intimidation and “othering”.

    Assertive white ethno-nationalism. That animates all who are not and a substantial portion of whites who want community not strife.

    Dickishness is not attractive.

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  13. de stijl says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Trymp is not just incompetent. He is willfully evil and chaotic.

    Incompetence allows us to sustain Trump. He is super shitty bad at extending his will.

    Although he fucked up DOS and most other cabinet departments badly with political appointments. It will take us years to pluck it root and branch. Professional experts are the core of departments.

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  14. de stijl says:

    An odd sort of local ad has cropped up where I live.

    R and RNCC ads blossomed recently where they are asserting that we should trust Rs on healthcare. A vote for Greenfield is a vote for Pelosi on healthcare.

    There is no Republican healthcare plan except invalidate the ACA.

    Excepting cadging enough judges together in the right jurisdictional combination to invalidate the ACA. That is the plan.

    The anti-health care party fine with impoverishing people with massive bills and denying coverage is the thing thing they are pitching as a wedge issue. It is insane.

    Rs are trying to outflank on health care and coverage. What?!

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  15. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Why wouldn’t he try it? It worked the first time, didn’t it?

    1