To paraphrase Shakespeare, the whirligig of time brings in…more whirligigs. Four years ago, few people thought that Donald Trump had a real prospect of becoming president of the United States. There were suggestions that Mr Trump himself did not take his chances too seriously. He might have seen the campaign as a way of boosting his ego as well as obtaining free advertising for his hotels and other business ventures; he did not spend much of his own money.
Then, stuff happened — in particular, Hillary Clinton. Mrs Clinton is able. She is experienced. There is only one problem. She is dislikable. Moreover, she and her family give sleaze a bad name. She also creates the impression that she is not at ease in large parts of her own country. Back in 2016, she referred to swathes of the Republican electorate as ‘the deplorables’: a lapse into candor which cost her dearly. In that election, Donald Trump should have been beatable — he was desperately vulnerable on character issues. Indeed, Joe Biden would have won. In much of middle America, people would have been at ease with him: precisely the people who were turned off by Hillary. As it was, they stayed turned off, and The Donald won.
Four years later, one might have thought that lessons would have been learned. It is probably too late for Mr Biden. Visibly and audibly, he has lost pace as he moves into his late seventies. Yet there must be a Democrat who would be at home among the regular crowd at Fred’s diner in Pittsburgh. Instead, most of them give the impression that West of Manhattan and East of Hollywood, they would only be comfortable at 30,000 feet, right in the front of the plane — or better still in a private jet (don’t tell Greta) flying over the deplorables below.
Much of the Democratic leadership has not only lost contact with the deplorables, but with their party’s traditional moral core. From the New Deal and Franklin Roosevelt onwards, the Democrats presented themselves the party of middle America. ‘Compassionate at Home, strong oversea / Good enough for Roosevelt, good enough for me.’ That regularly-repeated ditty summed up the breadth of the Democrats’ appeal, firmly rooted in common sense and patriotism.
Then Vietnam drove the party to the left, and Ronald Reagan took advantage. Since the Sixties, the party has been beset by special interest groups, by conflicts over race and gender, by noisy militants who do regard middle Americans as deplorable: by the politics of lavatories. Over lunch in Fred’s diner — his meatloaf is the best in town — Joe Sixpack and Hank Hard-hat are talking politics. Although they are cautiously impressed by Mr Trump’s economic policies, they are still worried about their own jobs, and their children’s prospects. Long gone are the days when American manufacturing was the best in the world and paid the highest wages. Good qualifications are one answer to those problems. But they wonder how they will be able to afford to help their kids through even the cheapest college.
Their mood is not improved when they read about spoiled rich brats in Harvard or Yale demanding multi-gender bathrooms in the name of LVGBH or whatever, and insisting that gender is a lifestyle choice. Joe and Hank believe in one man, one gender. They are sure that Donald Trump agrees. But the prominent Democrats?
Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin: those three hard-hat states delivered the White House last time. Barring an economic downturn — unlikely — the same could well happen this year. That is why Donald Trump’s re-election is widely regarded as a certainty.
Yet there is one wild card. Michael Bloomberg is a moderate. He does love his country. He was a successful and respected mayor of New York. He is also immensely rich and is prepared to spend at least a billion on his campaign. He has joined the race late. He is not going to triumph in the primaries. But that could also be true of the other candidates. If no candidate has a majority when the Democrats arrive in Milwaukee for their convention in mid-July, the whirligigs could get to work. If the first ballot were inconclusive, primary delegates would be able to switch their allegiance, and the super delegates would be able to vote. There are 775 of them, drawn from the ranks of senior activists.
They might be attracted to Mr Bloomberg as a possible winner. Equally, a lot of moderate Republicans who would not vote for a left-wing Democrat might decide that a Bloomberg presidency would be safe, competent — and respectable. Michael Bloomberg is the only Democrat who worries Mr Trump. One can see why.
Yet there is a big difficulty. The more Mr Bloomberg appeals to moderates, the more he alarms the immoderates who are a vital part of the Democratic base. When he was mayor of New York, he introduced a ‘stop and frisk’ policy to reduce gun and knife crime. And so it did. But he was promptly accused of racial profiling. He clashed with the teachers’ unions. He promoted ‘charter schools’ to improve standards. Left-wing teachers hated this. He was also criticized for not doing enough to help the very poor. He did indeed give the impression of thinking that the very poor could do more to help themselves, by looking for work.
It is all very interesting. Mr Trump deserves to be favorite, and the Democrats are giving him a further boost by their cack-handed attempts at impeachment. But this race is far from over. Even so, it is tempting to make an early prediction. Donald Trump and the Democratic party have both done their best to lose this election. In that race, the Democrats are ahead, but then again their best horse, Michael Bloomberg, is still in the stables.