Fran O’Sullivan: Donald Trump picked up momentum – but still a nail-biter


Donald Trump thought “Sleepy Joe” Biden was the enemy. An easy pushover. Big mistake.

In fact, the real enemy all along was that “sneaky” coronavirus, Covid-19, which he thought could be defeated by presidential bombast instead of pursuing a forensic approach led by the nation’s top scientists and defence leaders to stamp the virus under control.

A belief in one’s own personal omnipotence can do that to a “Tweeter in Chief”.

Perhaps also exacerbated by those steroid drugs pumped into him at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre when he was down with his own dose of the coronavirus a few weeks ago.

This US presidential election has largely been a referendum on Trump’s handling of the pandemic, not simply the economy.

If the latter had been the only issue, my view is that Trump would have quickly romped back in.

In an extraordinary display of sustained momentum, Trump clawed ahead in some key battleground states that pundits (and indeed the Biden camp) felt would go to the Democratic contenderin spite of the impact of the viruswith the US reporting more than 500,000 new cases last week.

This election count was “not over yet” by the time this column was filed and it appeared that the final votes in some key states might still alter the “on the night” results.

This is the result of a deeply polarised nation.

In New Zealand, where many elites and many political observers dwell within a tweeting echo chamber where the international rules are set by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, and, liberal-minded US media dominate syndicated news feeds, there is little reflection on the fact that many Americans stare past Trump’s propensity to lie. His lack of public civility is sometimes seen as a plus against an overly mannered political establishment.

Kiwis tend to bask in the reflected glory of being from a country where Americans horrified by Trump’s excesses wish to escape to. But we don’t really hear enough about why so many Americans have voted for him in the past and so very many have done so again this year.

It may be because they are tired of Washington DC; are concerned at the policies that successive Administrations have driven without over regard for their interests.

In Trump —a businessman —there is some reflection that he has kept promises. He has started to roll back on China taking manufacturing jobs (even though US business was very happy indeed to outsource them at a cheaper rate to the “world’s factory” in the first place). Thoughthe steel tariffs have backfired in Pennsylvania and jobs are still being lost. He has changed tax codes. Prior to Covid US jobs were growing. He is an anti-globalist and pulled the US out of multilateral institutions.

There have beenisolationist mirrors from the past. In the thick of the 1918 Great Influenza epidemic, the Republicans swept back to take control of the Congress and blocked the ratification of the Versailles Treaty and US membership of the League of Nations which had then Democractic President Woodrow Wilson’s sponsorship.

In June1920, the Republican Party gathered to select its nominee to succeed Wilson who had suffered a stroke. They settled on Senator Warren Harding from Ohio. “There ain’t any first-raters this year,” declared Connecticut Senator Frank Brandegee. “We got a lot of second-raters, and Warren Harding is the best of the second-raters.”

He was seen as a safe choice who could deliver just the sort of political comfort Americans craved.

I don’t think it is unfair to characterise Biden as being from a similar mould. The more exciting choice would have been to opt for Senator Kamala Harris (Biden’s running mate), or former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, or Senator Amy Klobuchar.

But Biden spoke to the other side of that deeply bifurcated US. If Biden does finally secure the presidency he inherits a polarised nation.

Just being an anti-Trump will not be enough.

A Biden-led US would fit better with where NZ currently sits: Massive stimulus spending, including on green infrastructure which should benefit NZ’s steel producers if the tarrifs are dropped; but the higher US taxes will impact on NZcompanies operating there.

The US-China trade war ought to move to a more rational basis and the US may take a more sensible stance to the WTO.But the USwill still remain deeply protectionist.

It will not be a walk in the park for NZby any means.

But – again – this is so close a clear result may be some time yet.

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