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Larry Donnelly: As we near the final phase, it seems Trump needs a miracle

Larry Donnelly looks at the numbers, the fact that Joe Biden is not Hillary Clinton and concludes that Donald Trump faces an uphill battle to return to the White House.

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

WITH JUST OVER two weeks until Election Day, 3 November, the picture is bleak for President Donald Trump. Frankly, that is an understatement. 

Forget for a couple of minutes about individual polls in key states and relatively meaningless national polls. 

Let’s instead evaluate the numbers on RealClearPolitics.com, which aggregates data in a sophisticated manner to account for outliers.

Watch the numbers

At the time of writing, Joe Biden is up by 7.2 percentage points in Michigan. He is ahead by 7 percentage points in Pennsylvania. And he is on top by 6.3 percentage points in Wisconsin. 

Trump triumphed in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by less than 80,000 votes combined in 2016.  Almost no one anticipated those upsets, and that’s how he got to where he is.

If Biden keeps these not insubstantial leads and the Scranton native prevails in each, he will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States in January.

But there is more to it. That cursory take presumes that Trump will duplicate his performance in all of the states that he won last time around. Notably, Biden is hot on his heels in a handful of those, too. 

RealClearPolitics gives the Democrat an approximately three percentage point advantage in North Carolina and Florida and has him a smidgen in front in Iowa, Ohio and Georgia.

Because aspects of his party’s platform run so far afoul of the mainstream in the latter three battlegrounds, I doubt that Joe Biden will win any of them. Yet if he were to win Florida, Donald Trump’s route to a second term becomes infinitely harder to navigate.

Biden faces an uphill fight in Florida. The administration’s handling of Covid-19, however, has rendered victory a genuine possibility. The “sunshine state” is jam-packed with retirees. 

They went for Trump over Hillary Clinton by a remarkable 17 percentage points.  Opinion surveys of that cohort currently show the incumbent in a dead heat with his challenger. 

Deeper dives attribute that precipitous decline in support largely to the widespread perception among older Americans that Trump betrayed their trust by denying the magnitude of the pandemic when he knew how grave a danger it posed – especially to them.

Time to call it?

Trump is in serious trouble. Nonetheless, several arguments have been advanced to counter this ostensibly unassailable narrative about the trajectory of the campaign.

First, Trump backers suggest that states Clinton won could shift to the GOP column.  Minnesota is often mentioned. Their dreams of turning it red, perhaps bolstered by the rioting and looting in the wake of the tragic, unnecessary death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, have dissipated.

RealClearPolitics has Trump down by 6.6 per cent and the millions that the president planned to spend on advertising in its primary media markets have been pulled.

Even tiny, though potentially pivotal, New Hampshire, where Clinton garnered its four Electoral College votes by a razor-thin 3,000 vote majority – thanks to the concerted outreach on the ground of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and his allies to transplants from eastern Massachusetts living in the southern part of the state – was thought to be in play. It isn’t. Polls consistently show Biden ahead by double digits.

Second, there are rumoured “silent” or “shy” or “hidden” Trump voters who the polls are not catching. There certainly are some people in the US who will cast ballots for Trump, yet are reluctant to admit it publicly for a host of reasons that usually are linked to their career ambitions or social circles. 

How numerous they are is the central question?  Given the margins in the polls and the reality that pollsters utilise rigorous, scientific and nuanced methodologies, the allegation that the data could be so wildly inaccurate is akin to a conspiracy theory.

Third is the notion that Joe Biden will have a moment, a meltdown of epic proportions which will engender sincere and legitimate misgivings as to his capacity to be the commander-in-chief. Thus, many will decide to stick with the “devil they know.” 

If Biden manages to escape the upcoming debate without making a major blunder, Republicans’ hopes on this score are probably dashed. The quite different way this campaign has been conducted because of the coronavirus has actually worked in Biden’s favour. He is not expected to be omnipresent.

In a similar vein, some wonder if newly unearthed emails to Hunter Biden from a Ukrainian businessman thanking him for supposedly arranging meetings with his father, then the vice president, could dramatically alter the contours of the contest.  I wouldn’t bet on it.   

Has the voter had enough?

The last line commonly floated by those who continue to think Trump could win actually emanates from his fervent opponents. In short, Trump will steal the election – by effectively impeding voting by mail, or suppressing participation of people of colour, or through the Supreme Court. 

It may be misplaced, but I still have faith in America’s robust institutions and believe fears in this regard are overwrought.  I honestly cannot envisage such a scenario.

Two factors militate against all of this. First is that Joe Biden is not Hillary Clinton.  Many did not vote to elect Donald Trump; they voted to prevent the former first lady from returning to the White House. 

For myriad, complicated and rather unfair reasons, Clinton was widely despised. Biden, on the other hand, is broadly respected by Americans of all stripes. There will be few personal votes against him.

Second is a sentiment I suspect is ascendant among those who neither attend Trump rallies nor feel he is a putative dictator who represents an existential threat to our country. They may or may not have taken a chance on him four years ago.

My instinct is that enough of them have had enough of Donald Trump at this stage: enough of the toxic Tweets, enough of the aggressive, undignified and not remotely presidential behaviour on prominent display in the first debate and enough of the flouting and minimising of an unprecedented public health crisis that has devastated millions of families.

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I am reticent to predict the outcome with any confidence in a dreadful 2020 when the bizarre has become the norm.  That said, in my view, these two latter considerations make Joe Biden holding on more likely than Donald Trump mounting a successful comeback.

I won’t say stick a fork in his presidency.  That would be foolhardy. But as the race enters the final stretch, every reliable indicator signals the same conclusion: Without a huge stroke of luck, a political miracle so to speak, Trump is done.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with TheJournal.ie.

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Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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