Will the GOP Donald Trump survive

Why Trump lost

The winner of the US presidential election on November 3 is Joseph R. Biden. In view of the deep division in the United States, not only the President-elect, but also his Democratic Party face enormous challenges. The political scientists Peter Beinart and Albena Azmanova, the economist Marshall Auerback and the journalist Elaine Godfrey describe the causes and consequences of the historical election result. - D. Red.

The reasons why Donald Trump was not re-elected go back to the early summer of 2016, when he entered into a fateful deal with his own party. In June of that year, Paul Ryan, the spokesman for the House of Representatives - who had ostentatiously denied Trump even after he became the de facto Republican candidate - finally backed down. At least it seemed that way back then. "Speaker Ryan's pathetic surrender provides the official confirmation," said a Democratic spokesman: "The Grand Old Party is now Trump's party."

But that wasn't entirely true. Ryan hadn't hoisted the white flag - he had made a bet. "I'm going to vote for @realDonaldTrump," the Wisconsin man tweeted because "I'm confident he'll help put the Republican agenda into law in the House of Representatives." Ryan insisted that if he swallowed Trump's racist authoritarianism, it would realize his economic vision. For Ryan and his ideological allies who have devoted their careers to dismantling America's social safety net, the bet has paid off. And it cost Trump a second term, or at least a major part of the fact that he was not re-elected.

Four years ago, election campaigner Trump did not tell Americans that he had embraced Ryan's agenda of taking from the poor and giving to the rich. On the contrary, the candidate vowed not to curtail programs like Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. He promised to raise the minimum wage. He swore with the one Wall Street loved carried interest deduction (to put an end to the tax advantages of private equity companies such as Blackrock). On election night 2016, he announced in his victory speech that he would “renew our roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools and hospitals”. Probably because of such promises, the opinion polls showed, the Americans considered Trump 2016 ideologically more moderate than any other Republican presidential candidate since 1972.

The recipe for success: authoritarian nationalism plus economic populism

What Trump promised was authoritarian nationalism plus economic populism. This recipe has proven astonishingly successful in other countries. In 2019, the xenophobic and homophobic PiS (Law and Justice) party achieved a resounding victory in Poland, primarily due to its hugely popular money transfers to families, which, according to the World Bank, dramatically reduced child poverty. [1] In Hungary, Viktor Orbán has created hundreds of thousands of jobs in the state sector with a job creation program in the style of Roosevelt's New Deal. And in Brazil, another Trump ally, Jair Bolsonaro, was able to increase his poll numbers enormously - especially among poor Brazilians - by using government aid to cushion the economic consequences that the pandemic had on them. Obviously, repression and propaganda are also part of the means of rule of these autocrats, but even observers who recognize their authoritarianism admit that their economic policies enjoy considerable support.

In contrast, Trump - regardless of all campaign promises - pursued a sharply anti-populist agenda in his economic policy. In January 2017, the month he was inaugurated, a Gallup poll found that Americans saw Trump's announcement to renew the country's infrastructure as his main election promise. But a former Trump administration employee confided to the Washington Post that the White House never seriously intended to put infrastructure rehabilitation high on its agenda because, as the man said, "Paul Ryan and these guys had," “Waited thirty years for this unique opportunity to cut taxes. They wouldn't let them slip away. "

In fact, Ryan and Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader in the Senate, slipped a tax cut bill through Congress that went into effect with Trump's signature in 2017. As the political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson found in their recently published book “Let Them Eat Tweets”, it was one of the most unpopular of the relevant legislative proposals of the past 25 years. When the White House finally tabled a bill on infrastructure, Republicans locked themselves out of Congress - both because of the cost and the prospect of increasing the budget deficit. So the project was put on hold.

The other major thrust that Republicans made in Congress during Trump's first year in office was to try to Obamacareto abolish the law on public health insurance - a project that, according to Hacker and Pierson, was really the most unpopular of all legislative initiatives of the past quarter century. According to an opinion poll, the GOP was only approved by 17 percent of Americans. But even in this case, Trump took part.

Most of all, however, Trump's indulgence towards the GOP in Congress hurt the president this fall. When the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives approved a $ 2.2 trillion program to stimulate the economy in October, Trump's Treasury Secretary proposed the adoption of a $ 1.8 trillion program that would include paying out up to $ 2.2 trillion $ 1,200 to economically affected pandemics as well as an increase in unemployment benefits and grants for troubled industries. When Trump said he was in favor of increasing the budgeted amount, a deal between the White House and Congressional Democrats appeared to be within reach. But then McConnell intervened: he announced that the Senate would not allow anything like that, not even an aid package of the amount proposed by the Treasury Secretary, to pass. Trump then abandoned negotiations, even though a poll by the New York Times showed that over 70 percent of the population - and a clear majority of Republicans - would approve of a new economic recovery program now valued at two trillion. A poll by the Pew Research Center found that such a program was particularly popular among economically disadvantaged Republican voters.

Why did Trump kiss in front of his party?

But why did Trump kiss in front of his party, which he supposedly dominates? For the same reason that he gave in to foreign rulers: because he lacks the knowledge and self-discipline that he would have needed to devise a successful negotiating strategy. Indeed, it would have taken a tremendous effort and great tactical skill to overcome the GOP's deep-seated hostility in Congress towards the social safety net.

As Pippa Norris, political scientist at Harvard University, explained in detail, based on data from the Global Party Survey, the American Republican Party is far more hostile to welfare state expenditure than culturally conservative, even far-right parties in other countries. Authoritarian populists in Poland or Hungary, for example, do not have to deal with people like the Koch brothers, who have spent huge sums of money to make the US Republicans politically mature for plutocracy.

Even a republican president completely dedicated to business populism would have found it difficult to equip his government with like-minded people, because there are hardly any conservative think tanks or lobby organizations that advocate higher taxes or better funded healthcare. Trump didn't even try to find such people. Some of his key domestic policy advisors - from Vice President Mike Pence to White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to Health Secretary Tom Price - were former Republican allies of Ryan.

Ryan's bet lasted over four years and it paid off for him. The bottom-up redistribution was even more aggressive under Trump than under Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. But Trump pays dearly for it; the political consequences weigh heavily. When he came into office, more Americans considered him ideologically “moderate” than “very conservative”. In contrast, last October the proportion of those who viewed Trump as "very conservative" exceeded those who classified him as "moderate" by more than 15 percent. It may be that this turnaround is due in part to Trump's brutal and narrow-minded zealous rhetoric. But four years ago the man was just as narrow-minded and expressed himself no less brutally. His attacks on Mexican Americans and Muslims were even sharper in 2016 than in 2020.

This shift in perception of Trump is likely due, in large part, to his adopting an economic agenda that most poor and wage-earning Americans detest. In 2016, Trump lost around ten percent of the votes of those voters who earn less than $ 50,000 a year compared to the 2012 election. [2] This time he lost 15 percent from this segment. In 2016, four percent of those earning between 50,000 and 100,000 dollars preferred Trump, this time the plus turned into a minus of 13 percent.

Among the better-off Americans - with incomes over 100,000 dollars - Trump did much better in 2020 than in 2016. At the same time, however, his support in blue-collar America crumbled. Overall, the turnaround from 2016 may be partly due to Trump's rival candidate, but largely due to himself. Except perhaps on trade issues, Trump did not turn out to be the economic populist he promised to be in 2016.

The return to normal?

For years, commentators have puzzled over when the Republican Party will return to normal. By “normal” they generally understand good behavior, renunciation of unabashed racism and open contempt for rule of law. You mean a Republican Party, as people like Paul Ryan describe it. But this party has been pursuing for decades - decency or not - political goals that threaten the well-being and even the economic survival of many Americans. Four years ago, Trump won the presidency not least because he vowed to put an end to it. Instead, even during the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, it has exacerbated this kind of class struggle from above. Donald Trump didn't screw up his re-election because he had changed the Republican Party too much. Rather, he lost because he changed her too little.

First German publication of a text that first appeared on the website of the magazine "The New York Review of Books". The translation is by Karl D. Bredthauer.

[1] However, the party's popularity has declined since then: many Poles are revolting against their attempts to drastically tighten abortion legislation. See the article by Joanna Maria Stolarek in this issue.