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Fatal problem Trump cannot overcome

It is probably no exaggeration to say that the upcoming US election is the most important vote in the best part of a century.Not since the end of World War II has America been so broken and divided. It is a nation crippled by disease and dysfunction. Its piecemeal and inequitable health system has been…

It is probably no exaggeration to say that the upcoming US election is the most important vote in the best part of a century.

Not since the end of World War II has America been so broken and divided. It is a nation crippled by disease and dysfunction. Its piecemeal and inequitable health system has been overwhelmed, its once roaring economy has been driven into the ground and even its police forces may not survive the rage of the Black Lives Matter movement.

And all of this is happening not at a time when the USA is the world’s unassailable superpower but at a time when a larger and largely unfathomable power lies in wait across the Pacific Ocean.

It is therefore sobering that the race to lead this beleaguered great nation out of the quagmire is between two doddery old men whose mental faculties are under serious and justifiable doubt: One who is swamped by reams of hysterical praise just for successfully reading an autocue and another who couldn’t stick to a script if his life depended on it.

Joe Biden had two two-term presidents endorse him this week, not to mention a cavalcade of his rivals for the Democratic nomination and a Republican Secretary of State. Indeed, the list of noteworthy notables lining up behind him is unprecedented – it even has its own Wikipedia page.

Say what you like about Donald Trump, he has clearly been a great unifier of the political establishment. The only problem is that he has unified it against him.

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But whether that is actually a problem for the man himself remains to be seen. It has always been clear that the who’s who of Washington despise him but for Trump and his supporters the feeling is more than mutual. Having high-powered people line up against him only plays into his bizarre persona that despite being a billionaire property mogul born into money he is in fact a man of the people.

Trump relished his underdog status in 2016 and it propelled him to victory against all the expectations of a complacent press and political class, and almost certainly to the great surprise of Trump himself. Why the Democratic Party would want to box him into that corner again is a question only they can answer.

However there are some signs that they have learned from the unforgivable mistakes of four years ago. While Hollywood Hillary was cavorting with Beyonce and lampooning “the basket of deplorables” at swanky New York fundraisers – the speech that almost certainly cost her the job – Biden has been mercifully confined to his home. No other presidential candidate could ever have benefited so much from self-isolation.

The irony is that it’s from there his team have been able to project his aura of the common touch. Biden’s greatest strengths aren’t Bill Clinton or Barack Obama – they’re the New York security guard and the Detroit auto worker.

In short, they are people the Democrats forgot and the ones who Biden – despite his infamous memory loss – never struggles to remember.

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This is without doubt the best thing about Biden and the quality that will carry him to the White House. While much has been made about his far more dynamic and articulate running mate Kamala Harris, one wonders just how much she actually resonates with the working Americans the Democrats need to take back from Trump.

US polls are obviously many and varied but a major one by CNN just after Biden announced Harris as his Vice President in waiting found his lead actually narrowed to just four points – 50 to 46 per cent – at the top end of the margin of error.

We all know how wrong and ropy the polls were in 2016 but let’s not forget that back then – as with Brexit and the 2019 Australian election – they were wrong in favour of the left, not the right. And CNN is hardly a pro-Trump propaganda unit.

So what is happening? Partly, I suspect, it is the disconnect between the Democrats’ vocal activist wing and its traditional working-class voters.

It is a matter of public record that Biden felt compelled to announce he would select a female running mate and was almost immediately subsequently pressured to make it a black female running mate. This was seen as critical to offset the optics of yet another old white guy running for president on a progressive ticket.

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That is all well and good for the commentariat but it is far from clear how it will resonate with the electorate. Fairly or not, I would guess that there is a substantial bloc of middle American voters who believe that such box-ticking exercises are more about the advancement of ambitious politicians than the advancement of their own working lives.

Again it is impossible not to draw parallels with the disastrous “I’m With Her” campaign of Hillary Clinton, which demanded that voters fulfil her dreams without offering much of an explanation as to how she would fulfil theirs.

Perhaps Harris will attract voters based on race or racial struggle or perhaps she has some popular pull in the swing states that has so far gone undetected. She was without question a great debater and strong fundraiser but failed to win a single delegate to the Democratic Convention.

And she clearly has very passionate supporters within the party but passionate votes count no more than tepid ones on polling day.

Meanwhile Donald Trump’s campaign has all the focus and fervour of a dancing Santa. No longer the outsider, he cannot claim to be draining the swamp he now presides over or upturning the apple cart he now rides on. It’s hard to run an anti-Establishment crusade when you are the establishment.

But the most interesting person in the race isn’t Trump or Biden or Harris. It’s the middle American voter who broke the USA’s greatest racial barrier when they voted for Obama in 2008 and again in 2012 only to be dismissed as racist when they turned to Trump in 2016.

The candidate who wins over that voter won’t need any other endorsement at all.

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