Opinion | White House

It's not over: These 5 steps could lead to a Trump victory

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Democrats are celebrating President Trump's sinking approval numbers, giddy that he trails Joe Biden and talking optimistically about winning not only the White House but also the Senate.

Is it over? 

No. Trump is down but not out. He has climbed out of an approval ditch before, and he can do it again.   

Here's how that might happen:

  • A backlash forms against the growing violence and intolerance of the left, and Democratic leaders remain mum.
  • The coronavirus continues to become less dangerous, undermining the media's constant alarmism.
  • The stutter-step re-opening of the economy accelerates, providing surging growth and jobs in the months leading up to the election.
  • Biden begins to campaign in earnest and fails to excite his party.
  • Trump becomes more disciplined and focused on re-election.

The least likely of these is, of course, the last. More on that shortly, but first....

Some 153 prominent writers, journalists and other mostly liberal intellectuals recently penned "A Letter on Justice and Open Debate" denouncing group think and the suppression of dissent. Such a statement is overdue, but welcome. The left's "cancel culture" has gone too far, and even some who are sympathetic to its message are up in arms.

It's the beginning of a welcome pushback; if Biden and other Democratic officials refuse to condemn the destruction of public monuments, rewriting of history and squashing of opposing opinion, sentiment will shift against them. 

Sentiment may also move on the coronavirus. The media have published daily charts emphasizing the rising number of coronavirus cases, assiduously ignoring that the number of deaths has dropped precipitously. Last Sunday, the toll was 213, the lowest since March 24.   

The seven-day average of deaths is now under 600, down from 2,124 in April, declining because we have become more adept at treating COVID-19, and because a large number of those recently infected are young people who have been partying or protesting, and they rarely die.

It is worth noting that nearly 45 percent of U.S. deaths to date have occurred in nursing homes. We now know that older, sicker people are the most vulnerable to the disease. Nursing homes are much more vigilant than just a few months ago when New York Governor Cuomo mandated that such facilities take in stricken patients, many of whom died.

If the death rate stays suppressed, states will continue to reopen, which will boost the economy.

Economists at ISI Evercore report that despite recent slightly softer readings from restaurants and retail establishments, their survey that tracks GDP growth most accurately - their trucker survey - surged in the most recent week. ISI is predicting 20 percent GDP growth in the third and fourth quarters, above consensus estimates; recent reports indicate they may be right.

Nearly every recent indicator of economic activity has surpassed expectations. The June jobs number, the Conference Board consumer sentiment indicator, various reads on housing, the Institute for Supply Management's PMI reports  - all have beaten forecasts.

These positive indicators, combined with expectations of more fiscal and continued monetary help, are driving the stock market higher. Investors assume that Congress will pass another emergency stimulus package, in part to offset the loss of the supplemental unemployment insurance due to expire at the end of July

This is a wild card, since Republicans may balk at another round of spending, and especially at extending the extra $600 weekly unemployment checks, arguing that the extra pay has made it tough for employers to hire staff. At the same time, Democrats may not want to help Trump's reelection bid.

However, both parties have to show average Americans that they feel their pain; some compromise will likely ensue.  

The dramatic 42 percent rise in the S&P 500 off the March 23 low has shocked commentators and dismayed Democrats; they know the positive "wealth effect" of higher share prices will continue to drive optimism, and spending.

As the re-opening of the country continues, Joe Biden will have less excuse to hide out in his basement. He will have to more regularly mix with the public and with the press, which often leads him into trouble.

At his last (rare) press encounter, he proclaimed he was regularly tested for cognitive decline, a declaration that raised red flags. People typically are not tested for mental deterioration unless their doctor sees a problem. Biden's camp has not responded to questions about his response.

Biden's invisibility is benefiting him now. But once voters hear more from him, they will wonder if he is the best man for this time. Many will question, for instance, whether Biden's promise of higher taxes is the right approach as we emerge from a recession.  

While attending to the moderates in the country who may decide the election, Biden will have to appease progressives in his party who may determine turnout. Progressive activist Nomiki Konst warned Biden about reaching towards the middle, telling an interviewer recently, "His excitement is extremely low and that should always be alarming for candidates. It's the Hillary Clinton strategy all over again."   

Biden's disappearing act is putting the spotlight on Trump, which does not always work to the president's benefit. Supporters are exasperated that the president continues to engage in petty battles that demean him and his cause; his Mount Rushmore speech gave his campaign a lift that quickly evaporated thanks to his foolish and self-defeating diatribe against NASCAR's Bubba Wallace.

This is the kind of self-inflicted wound that Trump is famous for, much to the chagrin of his backers. In the 2016 election, he embarrassed himself by picking a fight with a Muslim gold-star family; today it is Bubba Wallace.

President Trump has a path to victory; an ounce of self-control will deliver a pound of success. It is, as ever, up to Trump.

Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company. Follow her on Twitter @lizpeek.

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