One of the oddities of politics is that a voter doesn’t necessarily have to like an election candidate, or even share their values, in order to cast a ballot in their favour.
Take U.S. President Donald Trump, for instance. If he were the mayor of a small town in Michigan, and also the town’s biggest real estate developer, his local voters probably wouldn’t particularly like the man.
They might be, for instance, tradespeople who worked for months on a Trump property only to be stiffed by Mr. Trump and forced to battle his legions of lawyers in order to collect 10 cents on the dollar.
They’d no doubt find it objectionable when he insisted that his properties be rented for town business, or named his children and friends to important municipal positions for which they weren’t qualified.
And their sense of decency would be outraged when he slandered fellow townspeople, calling them “mentally unstable," “losers" and other crude epithets.
Given the politician under discussion, the list of crimes against convention we could riff on is almost endless. The point is, though, that as terrible as Mr. Trump is, he is positioned to win re-election in 2020, and people in our mythical small town in Michigan could be among those who vote for him.
Over the weekend, The New York Times published the results of polling in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that showed Mr. Trump is well within range of winning those key battlegrounds.
If he takes those states in 2020, along with Florida, Arizona and North Carolina, he could stay in office, even if he loses the popular vote. That’s what happened in 2016, and it could happen again.
It doesn’t matter that Mr. Trump’s overall approval rating is unusually low, or that he trails Joe Biden, the leading Democrat nominee and the temperamental antithesis of The Donald, by nine points nationally. Thanks to the quirks of the American voting system, he still has a path to victory.
It’s fascinating and disturbing. Mr. Trump is not someone the average person would much care for if they had to deal with him directly. Even many of his supporters don’t believe he’s honest, and aren’t proud he’s in the White House.
But at the remove created by the office of the presidency, there are enough white, working-class Americans who are just fine with him the way he is, and are prepared to return him to office in a year from now.
This is while a real threat of impeachment builds in the House of Representatives, and in spite of the fact that the Republicans lost considerable ground to the Democrats in rust-belt states in the 2018 midterm elections. If Mr. Trump survives impeachment, his crude politics and gangster ethos are unlikely to be the issues that sway voters back to the Democratic side.
In fact, many of them like the way he behaves. They see his vivisection of the pieties of conventional politics as a welcome attack on what they consider to be a rigged system.
They don’t get hung up on the divisive and racist language he uses, and which so antagonizes the mainstream, because it’s not targeted at them. They want him to fight dirty because, as far as they’re concerned, they’ve been cheated out of their American dream.
It will be seen internationally as a step backward if Mr. Trump is re-elected – and it should be. The President’s many betrayals of his allies and trading partners, and his contempt for even the most rudimentary forms of diplomacy, make life uncomfortable for those who rely on the United States to be a beacon of strength and stability.
But the election a year from now is the Americans’ business. If enough voters in the right states choose to re-elect him, it will be because the Democratic candidate fails to convince them that he or she is on their side.
While the rest of the world might look on in confusion, it will not be enough for Mr. Trump’s challenger simply to be the better person, which they inevitably will be anyway.
What will matter is whether white, working-class voters in key states believe that a return to adult politics won’t also mean the return of their perceived disenfranchisement and economic isolation.
It won’t be an easy sell, unfortunately.