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Trump won’t have a second term but ScoMo will

Malcolm Mackerras
23 March 2020

Since Donald Trump won the November 2016 US presidential election I have had three articles published on the Switzer website predicting his Presidency would last for one term only. The first was published on 16 November 2016 and titled “Brexit and The Donald: both big mistakes?” The second was published on 14 November 2018 and titled “Will Donald ride again?” and the third was published on 31 January 2019 and titled “Brexit and The Donald: both big mistakes, Take 2.

However, in only one of those articles did I predict who his successor would be. The second paragraph of “Will Donald ride again? reads: “Donald Trump will be recorded by historians as a one-term President, with Mike Pence recorded as a one-term Vice-President. Their successors will be Joe Biden for President and Beto O’Rourke for Vice-President, both being from the Democratic Party.”

I seek leave now to vary one name only. Biden has promised his running mate will be a woman. Consequently, the name I offer is Karmala Harris, the junior senator for California, elected to the Senate in November 2016. She has another virtue. She is a woman of colour, with an Indian mother and a Jamaican father.

I have always insisted that there are laws of electoral history. In our case, my reading of those laws suggests Scott Morrison will win the next Australian federal election. For details see my article “Will Scott Morrison win the next election?”, posted on 13 December 2019.

In the American case, the equivalent to my laws is a model proposed some 20 years ago by Professor Alan Lichtman. He calls his laws “Keys to the Presidency” and there’s a dozen of them.

For my purposes, I exclude the second and fourth keys. They cancel out. The second key reads: “There is no serious contest for the incumbent-party nomination.” The fourth reads: “There is no significant third-party or independent campaign.” I say they cancel out because there has, in my judgment, been no serious contest for the Democratic Party’s nomination.

I now go through the other 10, beginning with the first. It reads: “After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives than it did after the previous midterm elections.” When George W. Bush was in the same position (in 2004) that statement was true. In respect of Trump it is false.

The third key reads: “The incumbent-party candidate is the sitting President.” That was true of Bush senior in 1992, of Bush junior in in 2004 and is true of Trump today. The fifth key reads: “The economy is not in recession during the election campaign.” That was true in 2004 but, I confidently predict, it will be false in 2020.

The sixth key reads: “Real per-capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms.” When the final numbers are published I confidently predict that statement will be false.

The seventh key reads: “The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy.” In my opinion that statement is false in respect of Trump. It was true in respect of George W. Bush. The eighth key is: “There is no sustained social unrest during the term.” That statement is true of Trump.

The ninth key is: “The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.” In my opinion that statement is false in respect of the Trump presidency. The tenth key is: “The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs.” True.

The eleventh key is: “The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs”. False. The twelfth key is: “The incumbent-party candidate is charismatic or a national hero.” False.

So, in respect of the Trump Presidency I have the third, eighth and tenth keys as “true” and the first, fifth, sixth, seventh, ninth eleventh and twelfth as “false”. Trump loses 7-3.

However, if my predictions are wrong in respect of the fifth and sixth keys the score would be 5-5, making Trump in with a chance. I would be surprised if I were proved wrong about those keys. I shall be proved right if, and when, the election on Tuesday 3 November is given the historical title, “the coronavirus election.” Had Trump handled coronavirus sensibly he would have been in with a real chance.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au)

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