How the Election Will Be Won | Opinion

Bill Clinton's strategist, James Carville, famously coined the phrase, "the economy, stupid," ahead of the 1992 presidential election. As America recovered from a recession, Carville knew that this was one of three key areas in which Clinton's campaign team should focus if it wanted to win. They took his advice and Clinton stormed to victory, unseating President George H.W Bush after just one term in office.

Over the last few months, I have been wondering which issue would become pivotal in the 2020 election. Would it hinge on which candidate has the best plan to rebuild the economy after the havoc wrought by the world's reaction to COVID-19? Or might it boil down to who inspires the most confidence when it comes to handling the COVID-19 crisis itself, and its aftermath?

The answer to both of these questions is, "no." In fact, after the death this month of the liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I now have no doubt that the Senate battle to replace her means that this election will be dominated by America's ongoing culture wars. After months of riots and increasing violence and disorder in cities across America, the time has come to deliver a verdict on the Black Lives Matter movement. And in this context, I am certain that President Trump just got lucky.

The primary appeal of Joe Biden that he is busy selling to America is that he is not Donald Trump. Polling tends to confirm that this is his strongest pitch. The image that Biden wishes to project is that he is the calm, experienced, all-around good guy who has endured personal hardship, including the death of his first wife and infant daughter in 1972, with fortitude. Another card he is willing to play is that President Trump has handled the COVID-19 crisis badly. (As it happens, we see much the same approach from Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party in Britain. Having caught up with Boris Johnson in the polls, Starmer has been making the COVID argument, as well.) Biden's other main claim is that, having served as vice president in both of Barack Obama's terms, he bequeathed Trump a strong economy.

Biden may be able to wield a certain amount of capital out of any or all of these arguments, but one sphere in which he is on much shakier ground concerns the problems on the streets and the anti-police narrative that now engulfs America. Biden's problem is that he cannot condemn the Antifa and Black Lives Matter movements—which want to "defund" the police—in the trenchant terms that would appeal to law-abiding Americans. The simple reason for this is that the rest of his party is working hand in glove with these groups. Their obsession with political correctness will, ultimately, do Biden great damage.

Trump, meanwhile, is currently working out who should replace the late Justice Ginsburg. A Supreme Court nominee who represents the Christian values of the United States of America and the rule of law would certainly appeal to the middle-class suburbanites and the elderly—two key groups that will help to determine November's result. Small wonder that Amy Coney Barrett, a devout Catholic, is considered the leading candidate as of this writing. Adding to Biden's difficulties, incidentally, is that he also has a fire to fight in the form of fresh allegations that his son, Hunter, has made a considerable fortune working with the Chinese. This unhelpful distraction will be hard for him to shake off.

President Trump at campaign rally in Florida
President Trump at campaign rally in Florida Joe Raedle/Getty Images

For Trump's base, a Supreme Court that moves from a 5-4 to a 6-3 majority in favor of conservative values will be a cause for celebration with consequences for American cultural life that could last for many years. A court of this complexion may further embolden the president in his quest to tackle the "woke" cultural revolution that is spreading at speed.

With that said, Trump's support from his base is solid—and some people that I have spoken to, including pollsters, fear that he is already focusing on this group too heavily. At the same time, his handling of the pandemic has upset some older Trump voters, and comfortable suburban middle-class voters have never really liked his brashness. Therefore, a campaign centered on values is his best opportunity.

With this in mind, I expect to hear even more from him in the coming weeks about patriotism, as well as further denunciations of the various "hateful lies" about America that he feels are being told by the Left. Trump has already begun to crack down on 'critical race theory" training in federal agencies, calling it a "cancer" and a "hateful Marxist doctrine." He believes this agenda is not in favor of hard work, the family and everything else that decent Americans traditionally prefer. He did talk about this two weeks ago, but there was little pickup. As the Senate debates the new Supreme Court nominee, however, this line of attack will become increasingly important for Trump. Ordinary, honest Americans will, I have no doubt, recoil when they learn in greater detail what these new theories from the Left actually involve.

This argument over values will, I predict, push talk of COVID-19 lower down the agenda, and will be a very valuable diversion to the Republicans. Huge numbers of older voters are appalled that they are now considered "racist" when criticizing an individual or a group, even though race is actually very far from their minds. For them, being branded in this way is the equivalent of being in what Hillary Clinton memorably referred to four years ago as Trump's "basket of deplorables".

The 2020 election is all about what kind of country America wants to be. My belief that Trump will win in just under six weeks' time is now stronger than ever.

Nigel Farage is senior editor-at-large of Newsweek's "The Debate" platform.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.​​​​​