Trump’s Heat Level: A looming chilly re-election for Trump after 1968’s déjà vu

  • + George Floyd’s death, a pivotal event to November’s presidential election.
  • + Trump finds in Nixon a great example to address the protests. 
  • + Reminiscent events of 1968 do not guarantee a free pass into a second-term.
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky – Business Insider 

Why has Trump’s heat level become chilly? 

Answer: Nixonian tactic could be outdated. 

On May 25th the world witnessed the death of George Floyd, an African-American who lived in Minneapolis and was killed by a white police officer who kneeled on his neck as he gasped for breath during several minutes. Since then protests have swarmed the streets of at least 140 cities across the United States. These have been declared the worst protests since the 1968’s violent protests that occurred in the immediate wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. In fact, tensions reached such a boiling point that Trump and his family had to use the underground White House’s bunker, which had remained unused since the 9/11 attacks. See our recently published RAIA article about George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. 

On the surface, the current situation of social cleavage and violence looks like an uncontrollable disaster for Trump. However, if we look into the outcome of the comparable situation aforementioned, during the protests triggered by King’s death amidst the presidential elections campaign, the Republican candidate, Nixon, won. It has been proven that violent unrest often drives voters to the right. So could the grieving protests of Floyd’s death throw Trump a political lifeline? 

The Nixonian tactic of linking Democrats to crime and disorder is already being followed by Trump. Firstly, he delivered an ultimatum to Minneapolis protesters on May 29th, where he threatened to deploy the use of armed force to suppress riots. Secondly, he has styled himself the same way as Nixon did, as men that embody law and order in periods of chaos. Trump stood in the White House Rose Garden and declared: “I am your president of law and order”. Same three words Nixon used in the past. He stood holding a bible in his hand, portraying he is the one who holds and is willing to reestablish peace, unlike the Democrats who are supposed to be behind the fires that spread through American cities. 

It has not been Bernie Sanders’ electoral campaign suspension or COVID19 pandemic outburst, but the death of George Floyd, which has brought the most widespread social unrest in half a century. Therefore, it is here and now when Trump’s re-election campaign really starts, as Floyd’s death response is pivotal to November’s presidential election. As a result, Trump could not have leaned on a better idol to take his last steps before November’s elections. 

Though we must take into account that more than 50 years have passed between Nixon’s election and 2020, and the financial and socio-political circumstances are not at all the same. 

Who is changing Trump’s temperature? 

Answer: Today’s context is completely different to 1968 and we already know Trump… 

As elections come closer and closer Trump needs to re-construct the persona that brought him into power in 2016. Trump has metaphorically constructed his political persona as that of a repairman, builder, healer, and warrior among others. These capabilities are what America needs today in order to face the national social unrest. The fact that he is mimicking Nixon’s actions before voting for elections, portray his intention to be that man, the man that wears the shoes of the person who is going to make America great again. However, could we confirm that his response to these protests will guarantee presidential victory as it happened to Nixon? 

Well, going back to the question, there are many elements that are changing Trump’s temperature bringing it down from blazing to chilly since it is not guaranteed that Trump will eventually get what he wants; another four years in the White House. While there is much today that is reminiscent of 1968, many things have changed. One of the most important differences is found in the political trajectory between both leaders. Trump, unlike Nixon, is an incumbent president. People already know what Trump is made up of and each person already has a conceived idea of their preference and liking towards the President. In contrast, Nixon was a new face in America. He claimed to represent stability in the face of chaos and for people at that time, it was easier to believe it, as he had done no actions that could jeopardise the messages that he was invoking. Trump can no longer do such a thing, as he has sold himself as an avatar of violence rather than order and control. Overall, Nixon was the challenger of his time but Trump is trying to bring a solution to a problem that occurred under his own term and could not avoid it. The polarised electorate could be counter-productive for Trump’s victory. 

Not only that but Trump’s challenger Joe Biden is also becoming more and more popular. He is a major figure within the Democratic Party, he is completely backed by the African-American community and most importantly he is also considered a man conservative on law enforcement. In this sense, he is putting a persona very similar to that of Trump’s. So could it be that the winning challenger of our time, Biden, could win, as Nixon was back in the days? November will tell. 

What is driving Trump? 

Answer: Become President of the United States for a total of 8 years. 

As aforementioned, Trump wants to bring another victory for the Republican Party with the help of society’s fear of disorder and crime, as it tends to play into the hands of his party. Therefore, Trump could be resembling 1968 on purpose in order to scare off Democrats. Trump’s opportunity to overcome Democrats again has been given to him on a silver platter. The President’s echo to the past builds up fear between the Democrats, as what they fear the most is a repetition of the voter reaction to urban rioting in the late 1960s. Such fear is indicated by the chain of events that followed Nixon’s victory, which brought an end to Democratic hegemony at every level of government for the next 52 years.  Overall, the main ingredient that could be driving Trump into the Presidential seat for a second term could be the new slogan that he is presenting his country with: “Keep America Safe” again. A confident, strong and unitary slogan that the figure of Trump knows how to represent at its best. 

American or not, what does this mean for you? 

Answer: The back-bone of these racist protests is to bring change in the US government, though could they be counter-productive? 

As explained a bit above, Trump’s response to George Floyd’s death could be pivotal to November’s presidential election. We all have experienced that many things can happen in short periods of time, therefore until November many things could happen. Though we do know that Trump’s actions today, especially on how he deals with the protests in his country could be determinant for November. However, we must also take into account that the world today stands on uncertainty. Focusing on the US, American faces the biggest public health crisis since 1918, the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression and the worst race relations crisis since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death in 1968. Therefore, will Americans go for the devil they know or the devil they don’t? I leave this question open for you to reach your own conclusions. 

However, going back to the purpose of this article on the moves that Trump is taking to deal with the protests, their internationalisation and the rage that people are expressing against the President, does not reflect at all the situation that Nixon had to face. Actually, it is the other way round since Trump is the accused and Nixon was the challenger. 

Berta Pereda Asencio

Research & Analysis Intern