In the UK, Liberal Democrats still complain (not that anyone is listening), that they were treated unfairly by the electorate for their u-turn over tuition fees. Politicians lie all the time and others have done much worse, they say.
This is to misunderstand why they were punished so severely: it’s not that the Lib Dems lied to the electorate more than anyone else – just that the electorate expected more of them.
Being “not like other politicans” was core to the Lib Dem brand, as opposed to the Conservatives, for example, whose brand is “ruthless”, “efficient”, “whatever it takes”. When the Tories broke their promises, therefore, it didn’t damage this perception of them – it enhanced it.
In the US, the left can’t contain its fury that Trump isn’t punished more for his casual relationship with the truth. In 2016, many believed that the Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump talked about groping women in the crudest terms, would do for his campaign. It didn’t.
In some cases, this will have been because his supporters chose to disbelieve the MSM reports, but I suspect this was a tiny minority. In other cases, it was because how Trump behaved towards women had little to do with his appeal. It was already discounted. The people who cared were already voting for someone else. But for most it was because how Trump treated women had nothing to do with their reasons for voting for him. It simply didn’t impact his brand.
So will Trump’s tax returns be the seismic moment of the 2020 campaign? I very much doubt it. For some, this will be because they agree with Trump’s view that avoiding paying taxes is smart – there is no such thing as civic duty. And if some of Trump’s supporters pay more tax than him, then it is only evidence that he is smarter than them and it’s good he’s the one that’s running for office.
But for the majority, it is because being civically minded is not Trump’s pitch. Doing the right thing isn’t his pitch. Being civil isn’t his pitch. It is being prepared to do anything to get ahead. Trump is a bad guy, but he is our bad guy and he is prepared to fight dirty to see off America’s enemies, real and imagined.
The post-debate polls showed slim majorities for Biden as the winner, but more significantly the majority of viewers were utterly turned off by both participants: a plague on both your houses. Trump behaved as Trump behaves: he bullied, shouted, lied – everything we have come to expect from him and everything his supporters want from him. Their bad guy.
They will be motivated to get to the polls not just by what Trump said and how he said it, but even by the post-match analysis suggesting Biden ‘won’ (sic.) – it’s just the MSM at it again, doing our bad guy down.
And while Trump supporters may be energised, the rest of us will just despair: Biden “not as bad as the other guy” is hardly the greatest rallying cry.
So the debate will drive down voter turn-out and that, as they say in the US is whole damn ballgame. Hardly more than half the electorate vote in US elections anyway: few elections are won by winning over switchers and – with no more than 3 per cent of the electorate still undecided this time – this election more than any other will be won by the team that turns up.
To this extent, Trump played his debate hand well, if not perfectly. He is authentic, he will not be cowed or bent to the elite’s or the MSM’s ideas of how candidates are supposed to behave. He will be strong. He tells it how it is. And, God help us, it could still be enough to get more of his minority of supporters to the ballot box than the diffident #settleforbiden majority.
There is still a long way to go.