The release of the second quarter economic data of the US has added to Donald Trump’s woes
With the US 2020 election only a few months away, President Trump has come up with one of the strangest suggestions – delay the election. The idea has been dismissed by several Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, and House of Representatives Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, who remarked, “Never in the history of the federal elections have we ever not held an election. We should go forward with our election.”
Some have even labelled this suggestion as a “serious and chilling attack on the democratic process”. Constitutionally, a delay can only be approved by the Congress which at present is partially controlled by the opposition Democrats. The US president does not have the authority to postpone the elections.
Trump’s far-out idea comes in the wake of the several American states’ desire to make postal voting easier due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated public health concerns. A record number of Americans are expected to participate in November’s vote through mail-in voting to avoid the risk of getting infected with coronavirus and aggravating the already gloomy situation.
Without any solid or reasonable evidence, Trump has shown his concern that the postal or universal mail-in voting will make the upcoming election “the most inaccurate and fraudulent” election in the US history and, therefore, “a great embarrassment to the USA”.
Trump wants to delay the voting till the people of the US feel safe and secure to cast their ballot. If asked when will that situation occur, he may not be able to give an answer himself given the current Covid-19 infection and fatality rates in the US and his government’s extremely poor show in controlling the spread of the disease in America.
As of end of July 2020, more than 4.6 million people in the US were infected by coronavirus and almost 155,000 had died. These numbers are way ahead of Brazil; the second position holder on the table with 2.6 million infections and 91,000 deaths.
Bizarre as it may seem, the queer suggestion by Mr Trump is a clear signal of his lack of confidence in the not so far away battle for the White House against Joe Biden. A glance at the national polls makes things quite clear. Mr Trump’s nervousness is justified by the predictions regarding who is expected to occupy one of the most powerful public offices in the world.
The state-by-state polling data of July 30 shows 308 Electoral College votes out of a total of 538 for Joe Biden and only 128 for Donald Trump with seven toss-up states having the rest of the 102 votes. In the toss-up states the difference between the two rivals is less than five percentage points. Even if all of these states tilt in favour of Trump, he may not win the election.
A clear lead by Biden who requires 270 Electoral College votes to win the elections seems to have made Trump shaky and recommend a postponement of the elections.
It is not only a dismal performance in controlling the pandemic that has increased Trump’s fear of losing if the elections are held on time. The release of the second quarter economic data has added to his woes. He had been relying on the financial turnaround theme to strengthen his campaign for re-election. However, the economic indicators of the second quarter, published recently, portray a dark picture.
The Financial Times has reported the sharpest post-war contraction of the US economy in the second quarter. The GDP fell by a historic 32.9 percent on an annualised basis. Although this figure is slightly better than the expected 34.7 percent, no other shock (like the Great Depression or the Great Recession) over the last two centuries has had such a huge impact on the US economy. The closest previous drop was in 1921.
While commenting on the state of the US economy, Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s analytics remarked, “It’s a very deep and dark hole and we’re coming out of it, but it’s going to take a long time to get out.”
Since the outbreak of Covid-19 in the US, there have been sharp declines in consumption, exports, investments and spending by the state and local governments. Spending in healthcare, clothing and footwear have nosedived along with sharp drops in inventory investments by motor vehicle dealers and big reductions in new family housing investments.
All of these have combined to pull down the GDP substantially. Besides this an unemployment rate of 14.7 percent, a post-Depression high, has worsened the situation. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits in the third week of July was 1.434 million.
President Trump seems to be stuck in a deep quagmire. His frustration is evident. It would not be unrealistic to expect more desperate moves from him in the days to come and as the election gets closer.