In July 1988, a Gallup poll brought grim news for the campaign of George H.W. Bush. Conducted on 21st and 22nd of the same month, the survey found that the then Vice-President was trailing his Democratic challenger, Michael Dukakis, by 17 points - 38-55. Even worse for the Bush camp, it was far from the only poll that year which indicated that the Massachusetts Governor enjoyed a double-digit lead in the race for the White House. A mere four years after Ronald Reagan's historic 49-state landslide, it seemed that his preferred successor was destined for an embarrassing defeat. By November, however, Bush had made a remarkable turnaround. Commanding 53% of the popular vote, he romped home to a 40-state victory.
32 years later, Donald Trump faces a similar battle. Amid a global pandemic, which in turn has caused an unexpected and unprecedented economic downturn, the incumbent President finds himself trailing in many opinion polls - often by double digits. As Coronavirus continues to spread, the campaign rallies for which he is renowned have been placed on hold and many pundits have already written off his re-election chances.
This is a mistake. While it is impossible to deny that he faces an uphill battle ahead of 3rd November, the real race for the White House is just getting started. Once the dust settles from the end-of-summer Party Conventions (at which Trump and Biden will both formally accept the nominations of the Republican and Democratic Parties respectively), the battle for the White House will truly begin to heat up. While the circumstances in which President Trump must make his case to the American people are considerably more challenging than those George H.W. Bush faced in 1988, the latter's victory is nevertheless an important precedent. As polling day draws ever-closer, it's still all to play for.
Over the 4th July weekend - and in the wake of weeks of violence, vandalism and lawlessness in cities (many governed by Democrats) across the United States - Trump gave his fellow citizens a taste of what his campaign will look like going forward. He began on 3rd July with a speech beneath Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. Joined by Governor Kristi Noem (a rising star within the Republican Party) and an enthusiastic crowd, Trump did what any good President should do; he defied the woke mobs roaming America's cities and stood up for his country. He didn't apologise for America, or for the lives of the four men depicted in stone above him. And instead of playing into the leftist narrative, as all too many politicians have rushed to do, he destroyed it.
"There is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance," he explained, "if you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted and punished."
He went on: "Make no mistake: this left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution. In so doing, they would destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress. To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage."
As if to prove his point, a group of chanting protesters gathered to burn the American Flag the very next day. "America was never great," they cried, as the flames rose up and began to consume the red, white and blue cloth for which so many have given their lives. It wasn't the first time the Stars and Stripes have been desecrated in this way - burning the American Flag has long been a favoured pastime of extremists across the Middle East - but this was different; this wasn't Tehran or Baghdad, this was Washington D.C. on 4th July.
It was but one of many episodes in the series of outrageous protests which have consumed the United States in recent weeks (and, alas, spread across the Atlantic to our own shores), but somehow it felt more heinous and reprehensible than those which had come before, while also encapsulating perfectly, in one wretched act, the hatred the far left feels towards the United States, and indeed Western Civilisation more broadly. It was slap in the face on America's birthday.
Only moments before the incident, President Trump had concluded his second barnstorming speech in as many days. Hot on the heels of his Mount Rushmore address, he took to the stage at the White House and declared the following:
"We will never allow an angry mob to tear down our statues, erase our history, indoctrinate our children, or trample on our freedoms. We will safeguard our values, traditions, customs, and beliefs. We will teach our children to cherish and adore their country so that they can build its future. Together we will fight for the American dream, and we will defend, protect, and preserve American way of life."
As in South Dakota the previous evening, this was more than just a 4th July speech. It was a robust defence of the United States and it was an election pitch. If Trump's remarks at Mount Rushmore represented his opening salvo in the battle for the soul of America, then this speech was a broadside against those who would tear down everything their forebears have laboured to build since 1776. It was an appeal to ordinary, decent, patriotic citizens on the one day of the year upon which it still appears to be acceptable to declare one's love for the United States. It was brilliant.
Trump's offer at this year's Presidential Election, then, is not a vision for America in the traditional sense. Trump's offer in November *is* America. The alternative, showcased moments later by the angry flag burners, is a dystopian future so far removed from the founding values of the United States as to be unrecognisable, and one which is sure to be anathema to patriotic citizens from sea to shining sea.
Twice in one weekend, President Trump offered a simple, yet powerful repudiation of the cancel culture which has swept the Western World - outlining a damning critique and then, crucially, extending an alternative offer. He will surely continue to do so until November, when Americans will decide which offer they prefer. Donald Trump has already pulled off one remarkable upset victory, and if he can maintain discipline of message, expose the extremism of his opponents, mobilise the silent majority and turn this election into a referendum not on him, but on the idea of America itself, then he can win again - and perhaps even emerge as one of the saviours of Western Civilisation. Even so, the President must take nothing for granted; this is not 2016 and Joe Biden is not Hillary Clinton.
1. President Trump's Mount Rushmore Speech - 3rd July 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6cLl_hHm7Y
2. President Trump's Salute to America - 4th July 2020 (speech begins at around 09:21): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0viPWOjMvs
3. President Trump's Speech in Warsaw, Poland - 6th July 2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQJjILhqj9A