15 December 2022
There’s No Business Like Politics
by J.R. Thomas
We promised a look at the ever-fascinating manoeuvres of The Donald, and here we are. The good news for Trump haters is that there are increasing signs that the Trump era may be drawing to a close, and what a short era it has been, less than ten years. The good news for Trump lovers is that even if the great man, or as he would no doubt wish it, The Great Man, ends up not running again, politics in the USA has been affected to such an extent by his participation that they will never be quite the same again.
But first, a diversion. Last week was announced in the UK the death aged 90 of a very distinguished businessman and politician, David Young, Lord Young of Graffham as he became. David Young began life as a lawyer, but quickly switched to amass a fortune in the property industry. When he lost it all in 1973, in Trumpian fashion he started again, in more subtle fashion this time, combining banking with property. That ability to get up and do it all again is perhaps the only similarity David really had with Donald, other than a late entry to political life when his fortune was made. He never ran for office but met Margaret Thatcher through his involvement in the Centre for Policy Studies, Mrs T’s great think tank. After her victory in the 1979 general election he became a close advisor to the lady, and one of her most trusted, a relationship which endured to the end of her life. In 1984 he joined the cabinet – and the same day joined the Conservative Party for the first time. (He had been a Labour supporter in his youth.) Lord Young was a quiet man, with an original and creative brain, and a high sense of honour. He was not always popular – but that tended to be more about his meteoric and unelected rise to influence and power; those who initially resented him generally came to admire him for his probity, high intelligence, determination, and for his robust common sense. He was, in short, the very model of what an intelligent businessman can provide to political life.
Which is probably not something that will figure in the political obituaries of Donald Trump. So unpopular has the populist right become in American politics on social media that it is difficult to see Mr Trump in any dispassionate way, and his tendency to himself stir up the pot of hatred further has got now to the point at which his popularity among Republicans has moved well down from its peak – which was probably in the summer of 2020.
But we must now leave those potentially glorious days, pass through the disgraceful and scandalous march on the Capitol in January 2021, and find ourselves in Georgia last Tuesday, the 6th of December. Followers of US politics will know that in a few states if the candidate for office does not get more than 50% of the vote (probably because there are more than two candidates) then the top two scorers must battle it all out again. And lo, so it came to pass in the Georgia senatorial mid-terms. The two top dogs were Raphael Warnock, the sitting Democrat senator, and his strongly Trump backed challenger, Herschel Walker. Mr Warnock prevailed, it is true, by a narrow margin. That gives the Democrats a one seat majority in the Senate and makes Mr Biden’s life a little easier. But that Warnock should have won at all is surprising; Georgia tends to back Republican candidates and demographically it is moving more that way. Mr Walker is sort of a local boy, star player in the University of Georgia baseball team in his younger days. Really, it should have been a shoo-in for him. Why wasn’t it? In, let’s not forget, a time in which the GOP was favoured once again by the voters in many contests, enabling them to take control of the House of Representatives.
There seems to be a common factor in Mr Walker’s loss and in the loss of several other potentially Republican gains. The candidates were strongly backed by Mr Trump. The Republicans, and everybody else, has worked out that correlation. What used to be worth a few thousand votes to any GOP candidate for office seems now to have the opposite effect. Even Mr Trump seems to have made the connection. He has confirmed he will run for the presidency in 2024, but he made his declaration in a subdued way, subdued for Donald anyway. Talk of stolen elections has gone; the bombast and confidence is dialled back. (There are a couple of challenges going on by defeated Republican candidates alleging electoral malfeasance but these are in seats where victory was thin and indeed malfeasance may have occurred. Just because you are paranoid does not mean somebody is not after you.)
And it was black Tuesday indeed for Donald. The case in the New York courts over the complex tax affairs of the Trump Organisation was resoundingly lost, on almost every count. This does not affect Donald directly; he has already blamed his accountant for the mess, and the accountant has, presumably to save Donald the trouble, thrown himself under the bus. But nobody else is taking the blame for the former President being preliminary indicted, also last Tuesday, for his involvement in the sordid events of 6th January 2021. All this is damning of the man to those who might not especially admire Mr Trump but thought he did not do a bad job as President, and even to the most fervent of MAGA supporters, there is a slightly nasty smell drifting from Mar A Lago.
In fact, it seems to have even affected Mr T himself, who as we said is subdued and not putting himself about much. His enemies in the Republican Party are now showing their heads above the parapets, making populist noises but in a restrained and conservative way; the ogre is weakened, it is clear.
And in this we come back to Lord Young. He never ran for office, or wanted to; indeed it is said that one of his strengths as an advisor and even as a minister was that he did not owe anybody anything (literally; he never took a salary for the various governmental and party roles he filled). No sponsors or electors, just there on his merits. But he was not a naif; David Young, like any businessman, took on jobs where he thought he would succeed. One of the marks of successful businessmen (and women) is that they do not waste time on things that are unlikely to work out. Consider, analyse, and if it does not look good; move on.
This column has reminded readers a number of times that Mr Trump is a businessman, and in spite of various reversals and set-backs (and snide comment in social media) a pretty successful one. He does not waste time on dead ends. And if his 2024 run looks as though it will become a waste of time, we suspect Mr Trump will move on to something else. Back to The Apprentice? What an audience grabber that could be.