Trump's legacy will be profound: his impact as an unconventional politician, the way he turned the Republican Party upside down, the extreme polarization it’s brought to American society. Biden's hardest work is ahead
PARIS — When all the votes are counted, Joe Biden may be president, but Donald Trump will not exactly be defeated. The incumbent has managed to mobilize at least 68 million U.S. voters, five million more than his 2016 victory. This is a fact: far from being an electoral accident or an interlude in the White House, Trumpism, for the new occupant of the Oval Office in January, will have left a lasting mark on American politics.
Biden will have to deal with this transformative force, which has already required him to redirect the focus of the Democratic election campaign towards blue-collar workers and their economic concerns. He will need to deal with a Senate that may still have a Republican majority, with considerable ability to be a roadblock, and a House of Representatives where the Democratic majority has narrowed. Above all, he will be faced with a Republican Party that has been profoundly restructured under the influence of Donald Trump; one which has become an instrument of the extreme polarization that characterizes American society today.
Trump is stronger than in 2016.
The strength of this dynamic will depend, in part, on Trump's behavior once he's forced to leave the White House following what promises to be a turbulent transition. The influence and charisma of this unconventional politician as well as the effect he has over his base are important factors in his popularity, even if he has relied heavily on his presidency to get him there. It is hard to imagine that Trump, even at 74 years old, would ever decide to retire quietly to his estate in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, and fade from the scene.
But even without Donald Trump in power, his popularity in swing states, coupled with the support of Republican senators who have abandoned the traditional moderate line of the "Grand Old Party" to adopt Trumpism, reflects a fundamental shift.
Bye bye? — Photo: Olivier Contreras/CNP/ZUMA
Trumpism has proven to somehow be even stronger than in 2016, when it existed mainly in predominantly white rural towns. Exit polls confirm the continuation of this polarization that characterizes Trump's electorate: overwhelmingly white (86%, compared to 62% of Joe Biden's voters), not very urban, much more concerned about the economic crisis than the health crisis caused by the pandemic, and extremely hostile to the rhetoric of left-wing activists about police violence.
Trump won half of the U.S. electorate by tapping into nationalistic rhetoric, deep-seated tensions and blatant lies.
In 1999, while he was already toying with the idea of running for president, Trump noted that none of the candidates at the time spoke for "the working men and women of the center" of the country. He has since made this demographic the core of his electoral base, which hasn't faltered in the past four years; and which he has even managed to extend, winning over a significant portion of Hispanic voters. The Democratic Party has clearly not learned all the lessons of this strategy, which resulted in Hillary Clinton's defeat in 2016.
However, Trump won half of the U.S. electorate by tapping into nationalistic rhetoric, deep-seated tensions, contempt for institutions, and blatant lies. This is what Trumpism is about: an approach that resonates well beyond America's borders.