Opinion: after an inept and divisive campaign, the US president may well be rejected by voters tomorrow

There is nothing Donald Trump fears more than being labelled a "loser". But after an inept campaign built on the foundation of a wilfully divisive presidency, that is precisely what awaits him. His original plan, to ride to re-election on a tale of economic triumph, collided with Covid-19. The disease also put paid to the planned narrative of renewed American greatness, which is not so easy to reconcile with a record death toll and massive infection levels. The great blame shifter who long eluded the consequences of his actions deserves an ignominious fate.

Covid-19 is not his only failing, but it is surely the most significant for his campaign. It would be hard to imagine a scenario that played to so many of Trump’s weaknesses: the lack of experience in managing crises, indifference to suffering, picking fights with state governors and health officials, the relentless impulse to politicise situations, the recourse to magical thinking coupled with a dismissal of the scale of the pandemic, and his own personal carelessness in the White House and resulting infection.

Having declared himself a wartime leader early on, Trump quickly gave up the fight. The urge to restart the economy was essentially self-serving, as was the pretended care for reopening schools (he needed parents back at work to sustain economic recovery). His imperial presidency has fittingly concluded by gaining a crown: the coronavirus itself.

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From RTÉ 2fm's Dave Fanning show, professor of the American Revolutionary Era at Princeton University, Sean Wilentz on why Donald Trump is the worst president in the history of the US

There are those who continue to follow Trump’s lead, including a number of red state governors. But the country seems to have come to the view that competence matters. There has to be some attempt to engage with scientific advice and public health officials - and some capacity to empathise with the plight of others.

For the first time in his presidency, Trump has lost control of the talking points and failed to exploit the public mood. His response to protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in late May represents a case in point. He fashioned himself as the "law and order president", presumably wishing for a national conflagration on the scale of 1968, but his stirring up of racist attitudes and manufactured Antifa accusations have only worked with a minority of voters. The decision to showcase Patricia and Mark McCloskey at the Republican National Convention – the St. Louis couple who brandished weapons at peaceful protesters outside their mansion – was a grotesque attempt to promote a siege mentality among suburbanites (the McCloskeys have since been indicted on weapons charges and tampering with evidence).

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From RTÉ News, 13 charged in plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and start civil war

The electorate has had to square Trump’s law enforcement posturing with a president who avoided paying tax for years on end, surrounded himself with numerous advisors who have since been convicted and handed out pardons to a host of reprehensible figures. He is also a president who endorsed the behaviour of armed Michigan protesters, while telling white nationalist Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by".

At the same time, Trump’s attempts to drag down his opponent, Joe Biden, have proved largely ineffective, in contrast with the successful memes and mockery devised against Hillary Clinton four years ago. References to "sleepy Joe" and insinuations about Biden’s age-related mental acuity have not paid off. Routine verbal abuse of Biden for mask wearing and adhering to social-distance guidelines backfired when Trump repeated it in the first debate just days before contracting to the disease.

For his part, Biden has shown sound political instincts of the kind that Hillary Clinton lacked. His language has had more resonance, including his responses to a hectoring Trump during the first debate ("Shut up, man" and "Keep yapping").

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From RTÉ News' States Of Mind podcast, legendary journalist Bob Woodward on why he thinks Donald Trump's leadership is shocking, tragic and embarrassing.

Trump successfully cultivated double standards in 2016 (such as accusing Clinton of corruption even as he refused to disclose his tax returns), but the same ploy has not worked this time around. Despite his and his family’s self-dealing, Trump pressed ahead with efforts to tarnish Biden with his son Hunter's activities in Ukraine, but the main outcome was Trump's impeachment. The recent attempt to shift the focus to China, with (false) assertions that Biden accepted money from China resulting from his son’s business ventures, hit the buffers with the revelation that Trump has kept a bank account in that country and paid more taxes there than in the US in recent years.

While none of this matters to his base, Trump has proved unwilling or unable to appeal beyond it. His obsession with basking in unquestioning adoration makes him turn again and again to braying fans, although the patented rallies had to be reluctantly curtailed.

He had the opportunity to carve out a very different presidency, one freed of a number of ideological constraints. Plans for a national infrastructure redevelopment had promise but dissolved into nothing. His achievements consist mainly of a massive tax give away to the rich and corporations, and ramming through vast numbers of judicial appointments, crowned by three positions on the Supreme Court, really the work of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. His promises on repealing Obamacare and building a border wall with Mexico (let alone getting them to pay for it) proved meaningless.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, RTÉ's Washington Correspondent, Brian O'Donovan rounds up the last weekend of campaigning in the race for the White House 

In the absence of a record of substance to run on and deprived of the economic "trump card", the president has abandoned the effort to articulate plans for a second term and expects to be rewarded simply for being who he is. Confronted by the prospect of defeat, he can only insist, without evidence, that it will constitute the most corrupt election in US history if he loses. He can only hope that voter suppression and intimidation, joined by legal maneuvering with the aid of a conservative-dominated Supreme Court, will do the trick.

At his inauguration in January 2017, Trump pledged what he called "an oath of allegiance to all Americans". Referring to the disenfranchised in his address, he said "we are one nation – and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny." Hollower words were never spoken. The same speech contained a famous line about "American carnage", but it turns out he was engaged in prophesy. The real carnage has been the Trump presidency itself. On November 3rd, the country has the opportunity to repudiate it.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ