Why we may be stuck with Trump

Yes, Biden will win the popular vote. Perhaps by an even bigger majority than Hilary Clinton. But in the crucial states I fear Trump may still prevail even if by smaller margins than he did in 2016.  His voters seem glued to him….writes Mihir Bose

In the spring of 2016 my wife and I were in a restaurant in Rome waiting to dine with my daughter who was working there then. At the next table was an American couple and with the Republican primaries having just started I asked them how they would vote when the elections came. I particularly wanted to know what they thought of Trump who had emerged as the most astonishing  candidate to ever seek office for one of the two major parties of America. It was like nothing seen before. The almost unanimous opinion of the pundits was he was a joke candidate a bit like the Monster Raving Looney party in this country. He had never run for office, had no experience in politics and the view was that he would soon be eliminated in the primaries and become an amusing footnote in American electoral politics.

The man at first hesitant said he would vote for Trump. I could not believe what I was hearing and asked him why. His answer was Trump was a businessman who knew how to run business and when he got to the White House he would appoint the right people and America would prosper. The answer struck me. That Americans could believe what mattered was not that he had no experience in politics but that the business of running the American nation needed his hand on the tiller.

The other thing that struck me about the conversation was that when I asked the man the question about Trump the man’s wife did not want him to answer, which suggested that while they wanted Trump they did not want the world to know that. That was for the secrecy of the ballot box. The classical definition of the shy Trump voter.

After that while everyone said Trump could not win the Republican nominee and then could not defeat Hilary Clinton I had this feeling that he might win. For all Clinton’s qualities she just did not come across as a candidate who you could warm to. Watching her campaigning I was reminded how in 2005 she had come to Singapore to support New York’s bid to stage the 2012 Olympics. She was the New York senator and clearly the ideal person to make the case for the city. London, Paris, Moscow and Madrid were also bidding. We in the British media wanting London to win the bid were keen to see how Clinton would help New York. We were told she would be available for interview but we had to wait two hours after her plane landed before she arrived at the press conference looking immaculate but making no real impression that she really cared for New York winning the bid. There was something very wooden in her performance. In contrast Tony Blair flew in to campaign for London and wowed everyone in Singapore. At that time Blair’s standing at home had dropped dramatically because of the Iraq war but in Singapore crowds gathered round him hailing him as a hero. The members of the International Olympic Committee were dazzled by him and one IOC member told me, “Your Prime Minister talked to me. He knew my name.” I could see how taken he was that the British Prime Minister cared so much for him. Clinton made no such impression. New York was eliminated early and London won beating Paris in the final round.

In 2016 Clinton did have hurdles to jump. Glass ceilings to break. America  may claim to be the world’s greatest democracy but change in America takes time. When in 1960 John Kennedy stood for election he had to make it clear that as a Catholic the Pope would have no control over him. At that stage America had never had a Catholic President.  The country that advertised  separation of church and state had stuck to white male Protestants. Decades previously other countries had elected women leaders, Indira Gandhi being one of the first, but neither major party in America had ever nominated a woman. But despite this huge opportunity to get a woman in the White House, many women still voted for Trump. They were not bothered that he had been caught on camera saying, “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” In the Presidential debate with Clinton he dismissed it as locker room talk and these women Trump voters accepted that explanation.

All this made me think Trump might win. This was further reinforced by talking to Americans in London who seemed to be sure of a Clinton victory. One young man who was a lifeguard at the pool in my gym told me even a monkey standing against Trump would win. Such arrogance is always dangerous. The other fact that made me think that Trump might win was because American elections are not decided by the popular vote. The electoral college system means a person who loses the popular vote can win as George Bush junior did against Al Gore in 2000. Although I did not want him to win I put some money on Trump.

His victory showed he had persuaded enough, largely white voters, that they had lost their country and that a New York property developer, who had inherited a lot of money and had been nothing like the business success he claimed to be, was their man. Even Christian evangelical voters who form a strong and influential lobby in America supported him despite the fact that he has had a number of wives and many affairs.

And this time I have also put some money on Trump. I know the coronavirus and the fact that Joe Biden is very different to Clinton makes a difference. Also, four years of Tump has galvanised the majority of American people who have always been against Trump. Remember Hilary Clinton won the popular vote by under 3 million. Yet in the crucial states, the so-called ‘blue firewall’ which would guarantee  her victory, she failed. In the electoral College Trump had a very comfortable margin of 304 to 227.

Yes, Biden will win the popular vote. Perhaps by an even bigger majority than Hilary Clinton. But in the crucial states I fear Trump may still prevail even if by smaller margins than he did in 2016.  His voters seem glued to him. I was particularly made aware of this last summer when travelling to Scotland on the train. I sat next to an American family visiting this country. They were farmers from Wisconsin. My friend in Wisconsin who is a very well-known academic cannot stand Trump and was sure he would be defeated. But for this family Trump could do no wrong and every time I mentioned something Trump had done which was outrageous they dismissed it as fake news.

On election night I would love to hear this dreadful President has been shown to be the fake he is. But I have a feeling he will back for another four years.