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Biden, Bolsonaro and Trump compared

Malcolm Mackerras
16 November 2022

There have been plenty of elections around the world these last three months, but the two cases of special world interest were for the President of Brazil in the runoff of Sunday 30 October and the midterm congressional elections in the USA on Tuesday 8 November.

In Brazil the votes were cast as follows: 60,345,999 for Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on the left and 58,206,354 for incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro on the right. The percentages were 50.9 % for Lula and 49.1% for Bolsonaro. The effect of the result is that the world can now rely on Brazil to protect the Amazon rainforests and Lula’s promise to raise the Brazilian minimum wage will be honoured.

The western media have generally described Bolsonaro as “the neo-fascist Trump of the southern hemisphere” but I see him rather differently. Whereas Bolsonaro conceded defeat and accepted the result gracefully Trump wrecked his reputation by promoting a coup and engaged in attempted vote-rigging in a desperate bid to stay in power.

The difference is stark. Bolsonaro lost narrowly, his vote being 2,139,645 smaller than Lula’s. Trump lost badly. In November 2020 the US votes were cast as follows: 81,282,965 for Joe Biden and 74,223,509 for Donald Trump. The percentages were 52.3% for Biden and 47.7% for Trump. That being the case Biden’s “plurality” (the term Americans use) was 7,059,456, more than three times Lula’s margin.

At this point I refer to two recent articles I had published in Switzer Daily on President Joe Biden. The first was published on 2 August 2021 and titled “Biden’s presidency going well” in which I made a number of assertions seen at the time as controversial, one of which was that Donald Trump “was the fifth worst president” out of 44 past US presidents. Another assertion was that such an historical opinion “would only be reversed in the (extremely unlikely) event that Trump were elected to a second term in 2024. I can assure readers that won’t happen.” My latest opinion: the event is still extremely unlikely, and I maintain my assurance.

Then on Thursday 29 September 2022 I had the article “Biden’s presidency still going well” published in Switzer Daily. The words of introduction (a summary by the editor) were: “Overall, the mid-term elections should be quite a good result for Biden and one man he could thank is Trump himself.” That article was an update on the previous one and included this statement: “I predict Donald Trump will not be the Republican candidate in 2024, but if he is he will lose to the Democratic candidate, whoever that may be.”

Later in the article I wrote: “The basis for all the above is that I understand the way the mid-term elections are shaping up.” After a detailed discussion of factors likely to influence the popular vote, I made the conventional prediction that the House of Representatives would have a majority of Republicans and “that would mean Nancy Pelosi . . .would lose her prestigious position of Speaker to Kevin McCarthy, 57 years of age, from rural California. He would become the de facto leader of the Republican Party.”

Having studied the details of Senate contests closely I predicted 51 Democrats and 49 Republicans and named the states explicitly. That naming included this statement on Pennsylvania: “The Republican candidate is 62-year-old Mehmet Oz, a doctor of Turkish extraction who shot to national fame thanks to regular appearances on the Oprah Winfrey show. A Trump devotee and election denier I predict he will lose to the Democratic candidate John Fetterman, the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania.”

I am now in a position to be super bold. I predict the House of Representatives will have 221 Republicans and 214 Democrats. More importantly, I predict that Senator Raphael Warnock will retain his Georgia seat for the Democrats at the Tuesday 6 December run-off election. If that is so, then I shall claim to have read the House of Representatives correctly and the Senate excellently. I am confident that I can record having predicted all 35 Senate seats correctly.

The interesting thing about the above is not that I made pretty good predictions. It is the fact that the article in question was published very late in September, some six weeks before polling day. The predictions I made were mine in name only, inasmuch as I take full responsibility for them, but they were the result of my checking out with five American academic and journalistic friends. They were, in other words, the wholly conventional predictions of the day. Those friends advised me not to write until late in the campaign. “Things can change. Campaigns matter” was the line, but I chose to reject it.

When the history of all this is written no one will say that “the Australian political pundit Malcolm Mackerras made the best predictions.” This is what they will say: “the best predictions were those made six weeks before polling day – provided that the pundit in question refused any invitation to make later predictions closer to polling day. Such pundit failed to realize that analysis of opinion polls can sometimes be very wrong.” In the meantime, I see no reason to change my views on Trump and every reason to repeat them. The man has been a disaster for his party and for American democracy. In every respect he has shown himself to be inferior to both Biden and Bolsonaro. And my further comment is this: Biden’s presidency is still going well, the US is a great country, and American democracy is thriving.   

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