Historians will be analyzing the 2016 election for years to come. It was, for lack of a better explanation, a perfect storm. You can blame James Comey, imperfectly calibrated polling, the media, a historically maligned candidate, a loyal Republican party, sexism in politics, the Electoral College, Democratic complacency, or a myriad of other factors. Take your pick! At this point, I have to believe all of those reasons played a factor in the historic upset that gave Donald Trump the presidency.
One reason that doesn’t get enough attention when comparing 2016 Trump to now is his messaging. Four years ago, Trump’s message was simple.
“Drain the Swamp!”
Of all his sloganeering, this phrase is the one that I believe was most effective, because it summed up his campaign in a nutshell. He was from outside of politics running against someone who has a decades-long career in politics. The wounds of the financial crisis were still fresh in people’s minds and the inherent mistrust of government across the spectrum buoyed this message even more.
Donald Trump, the CEO of a billion-dollar business and a supposed authority on how to manage one, can fix the problems of government and get it working again for you, the people. People know him from The Apprentice, a show all about him firing people, and the massive buildings with his name on it.
The choice became Hillary, who was a symbol of The Swamp, versus Trump, an outsider who isn’t afraid to clean house. Throw in decades of frustration with perceived corruption in government, and you have yourself not so much a winning argument but one that can get you across the finish line.
The landscape has changed drastically in four years.
To quote George Washington in Hamilton, “Winning is easy, governing is harder.” Trump has never had any real interest in governing. When anyone in his circle is asked about their record, all they do is deflect. Vice President Mike Pence did that for almost an hour during his debate with Kamala Harris. I don’t think he answered a single question.
When asked about their plans for COVID-19 or healthcare or really anything they want to get done in a potential second term, Trump usually just deflects or meanders off talking about how he won in 2016. Trump doesn’t seem to realize or is incapable of realizing that he now has a record. The whole outsider schtick doesn’t work anymore, especially during a time when people are looking to a government that he is in charge of to help them out of a major crisis.
People need help. People are dying, and all Trump and his administration seem able to do is gaslight the electorate into oblivion. I want to caveat that it is still very possible for Trump to eke out a victory here, but his strategy doesn’t appear to be a winning one. It’s a problem with the Republican party as a whole as well. They rail against a government that they themselves are leading. It’s like if someone was drowning and asking for help, and instead of helping him, Trump found some rope, tied his hands together, and claimed he couldn’t help because his hands were tied.
It blew my mind when Trump and even some figures in the media started to attack Biden for his response to COVID-19 as if Biden was the current sitting president and Republicans don’t control a majority in the Senate. Chris Wallace during the first debate pressed Biden on whether he called Portland’s Mayor to encourage her to send in The National Guard. Mind-blowing! Joe Biden is a private citizen and that’s peak gaslighting if I ever saw it.
Trump and all of the Republicans have public records. That’s all the information we need to determine who should be elected this November. The fact that Trump or anyone else in his administration can’t seem to speak to or even acknowledge their record on important kitchen-table issues doesn’t bode well for how effective they would be at governing for another term.