25 October 2018
A Visitor Calls
The Mid-Terms Loom
by J R Thomas
Mr Trump had a visitor last week. Of course he often has visitors, and many of them are exceptionally powerful and fascinating people. But few perhaps are as interesting, or maybe offbeat is the word we are searching for, as Mr Kanye West (who has expressed a wish to be known as “Ye”). He spent ten minutes with Mr Trump and the ladies and gentleman of the press in the Oval Office before Donald took him off for a private lunch in the presidential dining room. Mr Trump was said to be impressed, though he got very little chance to say anything, such was Ye’s fulsome praise of the President and all his works. “It” (the Make America Great Again Trump campaign baseball cap he was wearing) “made me feel like Superman” he said, giving The Donald a hug, saying that the liberals were the racists in America now.
As you might imagine, this remarkable meeting has not received high praise from most of the press, with several learned commentators pondering on Ye’s mental state. In the UK the Guardian, in a slightly perplexed tone, wondered what Ye and T (sorry, Mr Trump, this stuff is catching) were up to but at least did point out that Mr West was there at the Presidents invitation to discuss prison reform. It also mentioned that the President had, after a campaign by West’s wife Kim Kardashian, pardoned a wrongly imprisoned woman from Tennessee, imprisoned for life for a first time drugs offence on some highly questionable evidence.
A few days later the Guardian seems to have been pondering further on these odd happenings and strange times and published an article which (and this must be a first in that august organ) discussed how Mr Trump was, at a policy level, doing rather well, and crossing many traditional political lines. In particular how he had captured a number of traditional key Democrat supporting groups – in particular the economically weaking working class in the rust belt states, and poor white votes in the deep south. But now, pointed out the G, there was evidence that the black vote across the Union – which voted heavily for Hillary in 2016 – was abandoning the Democrats, and to some extent may be moving across the spectrum to favour Donald.
This is coming out of the very extensive polling carried out for the forthcoming mid-terms, which must be some of the most difficult election results to predict ever. There are lots of reasons why the forecasters are curled up in corners groaning rather than playing with their computers and swingometers but the principle problem for psephologists is the discontinuity between the President and the party of which he is nominally leader. Very nominally in President Trump’s case – he seems no fonder of the GOP than he is of the Democrats. In return, many liberal east and west coast Republicans are openly contemptuous of the President and his style. But so far they have generally not voted against him; some may have stayed home on polling day, but not many have gone so far as to vote for the other lot.
Will this hold for the mid-terms? Elections for Senators and Congressmen are much more local than for the presidential contest, of course, so strong (or weak) local candidates can make a lot of difference. So can the aftermath of particularly hard fought primaries when some party members have been known to switch parties in the “real” election just to spite the winning nominee of their own party. That could mean that some GOP voters might pull the voting machine lever for an acceptable Democrat candidate against a Trumpian Republican, to try to put the brakes on a President who they dislike.
Except. Except indeed. The Guardian is not the only commentator starting to ponder the underlying dynamics of Trumpian America. If you are a poor American, you might or might not like the idea of an over confident vulgar billionaire in the White House, but on a practical level you may be starting to think that this is a President delivering on his election promises. The tax burden is down, employment is up, illegal immigration is falling, his foreign policy seems a success and the USA, from an American perspective, looks stronger in the big bad world. Tariffs are keeping out foreign imports and safeguarding jobs at home. (Yeah, sure in the longer term tariffs may erode growth and raise prices and build inefficiencies into the production system, but in the longer term we are all dead, right?) This President has, so far, done the job, in spite of all the abuse and sniping.
The truth is that the Democrats, like the Remainers in the UK (throw-away provocative remark to advertise next week’s article), really have not learned anything from recent events. They continue to float above the concerns and worries of ordinary folk, leaving themselves open to not unreasonable accusations that they are middle class rich liberals, professional politicians who have lost their connection with ordinary working voters. Even that leftie hero, Bernie Saunders, is accused of elitism – too much support from students and West Coast academics. (One exception is President Obama’s vice-President Joe Biden, who definitely “gets it” – the problem there is that the Democrats don’t get him.)
Far from finding candidates and campaigns that might start to reconnect low income voters with their party, the Democrats continue to look obsessed with fashionable and esoteric causes. The attacks on Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh, accused of abuse in his youth, claims which might or might not have been of merit, certainly became used for political purposes to an extent which came close to unacceptably politicising the Supreme Court selection process, and were seen as unfair to the nominee. The bizarre behaviour of Senator Elizabeth Warren, a very possible challenger for the Democrat presidential nomination in 2020 (well, she was a very possible challenger) has made her look ridiculous and the current occupant of the Oval Office funny and smart. Not quite what Senator Warren intended. (The President goaded Mrs Warren, who claimed Cherokee blood and whose academic career may have been helped by that self-identification, by nicknaming her Pocahontas, to such an extent that she took a DNA blood test to prove her ancestory. Alas, this showed her to have less Native American ancestry than most Americans – and brought a furious reaction from the Cherokee nation, criticising her for trying adopt their identity at all). Even Mr Trump’s attack on the Medicare system, which really should be one of the strongest Democrat causes, managed to utterly wrong foot the Democrats. Mr Trump said that Mr Obama’s reforms to Medicare was destroying hospitals and depriving old people of the health care which they had paid for all their lives. The Democrats said this was all lies but, as The Donald said, where are their costed proposals for reform? Where indeed? Where are their proposals for anything?
Mr Trump and Mr Corbyn do not have many things in common; but they do have one. They have each captured the political agenda and their opponents are forced to run along behind, shouting (it’s a popular cry at the moment) “Me Too!”. Whether that will give the Republicans the midterms, or Mr Corbyn the victory he can sniff in the wind, nobody knows – but the first question will be answered in two weeks.