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Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention in 2016/Damon Winter/The New York Times

Five ways Trump wins

Reports of his defeat are greatly exaggerated

Jeffrey Denny

Many polls, pundits and prognosticators are declaring President Trump’s disastrous mishandling of the Covid pandemic — on top of three years of madness, mayhem, mishigas and misanthropy — has all but sealed his fate as a one-term president.

Not so fast. While I’m no expert political pontificator paid riches to battle, blurt and bloviate on Fox, CNN and MSNBC, I see five ways Trump might be able to crow as the polls close on November 3:

1. Message: Freedom.

Democrats and the professional media are outraged, horrified and confounded that Trump could act even crazier amid the Covid. He’s more than ignoring “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Presidential Leadership During a National Crisis” — he’s tossing it into a roaring White House fireplace, chortling with nasty glee while it burns, and dousing the embers with Clorox.

Non-Republican elites don’t seem to get why Trump keeps doubling down on Trump: It’s for “his people.”

These are the red-hat MAGAs we reproach as they gather at Trump rallies, anti-shutdown protests, and crowded southern beaches — rebels inspired by their rebel president who inspires their rebellion.

MAGAs are why Trump refuses to wear a face mask in public; cheers protesters as they spread the pandemic; jeers governors who are trying to do their jobs protecting their people; smears the media for doing its job questioning him; spreads deranged conspiracy theories; and haughtily golfs like Louis XIV (le Roi Soleil) as Covid deaths reach 100,000.

Every incomprehensible thing Trump does he does for his people. He knows they love it, let it go, or don’t realize the impact on our democracy, country or them. Like when they support Trump killing the Affordable Care Act even as it will hurt them first and worst — especially the Covid jobless who are losing employer coverage.

Trump understands that for his base, it’s all about freedom. Freedom to work and earn a living. Freedom of speech against the liberal word police. Freedom of assembly, defying government orders to stay home, distance or wear masks.

Trump stands for the freedom to openly carry military-grade arsenals in public. Freedom of religion to open the churches in spite of the pandemic, demand government control of pregnancy, and discriminate against LGBTQ+ fellow Americans. Also freedom from government healthcare, even if many desperately need and depend on it, or go uncovered, costing all of us. Trump even stands for the freedom to infect and sicken other people, some mortally.

Freedom is a simple, powerful message, one all Americans believe in. Joe Biden’s themes, whether “Restore The Soul of America,” “Our Best Days Still Lie Ahead,” or “No Malarkey!” may have tested well with political consultant focus groups. But they don’t beat simple “freedom” to stir American hearts and minds. Or, for that matter, Obama’s hope or “Change We Can Believe In.”

2. The economy trends better.

Sure, we’re in the Covid Depression now, with 15–20 percent jobless, businesses large and small shuttering, and millions worried about losing their homes.

But as we begin to recover, Trump will boast about rescuing America even more heroically than FDR did during the Great Depression.

Trump will say people are demanding his face on Mount Rushmore. Monuments will erupt with an Adonis Trump astride a snorting white steed (“Take that, Vladimir!”). His base will sing “all hail Trump.” What’s more:

3. The entire GOP will rally ‘round Trump.

Most Americans disapprove of Trump. George Conway’s Lincoln Project, reflecting many concerned Republicans, wants him defeated to save America, saying, “Patriotism and the survival of our nation in the face of the crimes, corruption and corrosive nature of Donald Trump are a higher calling than mere politics.”

Yet as Covid deaths mounted, 92 percent of Republicans thought Trump was doing a fine job handling the pandemic, per Gallup in mid-May (while only 46 percent of independents and 14 percent of Democrats did).

Republicans are just 30 percent of voters. But the marriage of convenience between elite Republicans and struggling MAGAs they leverage for lucrative tax breaks and regulatory rollbacks that hurt working-class whites (see dam break, Midland, Michigan) represent a powerful voting bloc.

Trump’s message will be: Who do you trust to return the economy to greatness? Me, who created the greatest economy America has ever seen? Or Old Sleepy Joe and the liberal socialist America-hating Democrats?

4. “Progressives” stay home.

The youth Bernie base, in spite of its impressive sound and fury demanding a better future involving free lunches, can’t seem to vote for it, as Senator Sanders himself confessed. Youth turnout averaged only 10–15 percent in the 2020 Democratic primaries.

Lefty pundits pat the heads of our tenderest generations, saying that the voting process is too hard for even America’s best and brightest collegiate — our future leaders — to figure out.

Meanwhile, doddering, regressive 65+ OK Boomers somehow hobble to the polls at over 60 percent turnout. (And when this turnout disparity is noted, youth patronizers claim “ageism” against the young. Throwing any -ism card trumps any argument.)

Don’t expect Bernie to turn out his progressive base to defeat Trump much more than he failed to do in 2016. This time around when Bernie endorsed Biden, his chief spokeswoman signaled her virtue was even greater than her former boss’s. “I supported Bernie Sanders because he backed ideas like #MedicareForAll, cancelling ALL student debt, & a wealth tax, Briahna Joy Gray tweeted. “Biden supports none of those.”

Progressives also kvetch that Biden is an old white man. After “repeatedly betraying” African Americans, as former Sanders campaign national co-chair Nina Turner put it, Biden takes them for granted, saying if you vote for Trump you “ain’t black.”

After his racist record opposing busing to desegregate schools, his mistreatment of Anita Hill, and the punitive Clinton crime bill he helped write, Biden still may not compensate by picking a black woman as his running mate. And what about his creeping? What about Tara Reade? “Democratic women are once again being asked to help save the country by voting for a deeply problematic man,” says one feminist author and columnist.

If the progressive discomfort with Biden doesn’t make the youth vote stay home in protest, then it’s a convenient excuse to avoid the hassle.

5. Covid suppresses the Democratic vote.

Certainly, getting to the polls will be harder this year. Vote-by-mail is up in the air. The left-leaning Fauci-respectful may avoid lining up. The right-leaning Fauci-rejecting may turn out in spades, many defiantly without masks.

Classic GOP voter-suppression efforts built on false claims of fraud will have the desired impact of keeping Democratic voters away from the polls. (This damn well better work — the GOP has invested millions to make this happen and demand a reasonable ROI.)

Trump clearly beats Biden in the voter “enthusiasm gap.” Except when the enthusiasm is against Trump. But campaigning on “I’m not him!” is a thin reed on which to win.

All to say, the passionate Trump voter may well beat the meh Biden voter to the polls, especially in the swing states. So whatever America thinks of Trump, don’t be surprised if his people are already planning to celebrate his second term.

Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.

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