6 October 2020

Is there more to Trump than meets the tweet?

My investment considerations at present are predicated on the basis that Joe Biden will win the next election.

by John Royden

Head of Research


At the time of writing that seems to be the consensus of many of my peers across the industry and the betting odds, historically more accurate at predicting election results than the polls, back this up.

However, I do have a hint of suspicion that maybe Trump is smarter and bolder than his tweets and associated media headlines actually suggest. He has often used simple but emotional messaging to resonate his political aspirations with the general voting population of America in a way that drives criticism from the cognoscenti and in a way that allows his messaging to be misrepresented in the media. But there is more strategy behind the man’s thinking than the simple tweets and media coverage suggest and I think that a realisation of this in the run-up into the election could help him surprise on the upside.

Obama left the Israelis wondering if they still had the backing of the US. Trump reversed that and sent the message that the US looked after its allies if they make a fair contribution. And then he persuaded other Arab states that Iran was more of a threat than Israel. That drove the UAE and Bahrain to make an historic and ground-breaking peace with Israel. How did he do that?  Religious differences helped, but Trump pointed out the manifold breaches of the UN’s Iran Nuclear Deal and forced Iran’s neighbours to deal with it. His tweets suggest that he just did not like what Obama signed before him, but then Trump seems to have a much shorter time horizon.

Obama thought that being nice to the Chinese would allow capitalism and democracy to flourish and that the Chinese would morph into adopting more of the US’s values and democracy; and allow them both to happily co-exist side by side. What Trump actually saw the Chinese doing, was the exact opposite.

Partly motivated by his “Make America Great” and partly motivated by outrage at clear Chinese abuses, Trump set about trying to level the playing field. On the first point, it is hard to argue against a President who wants to make their country great. Make America Second does not have the same ring to it. I want Boris to make the UK great. Who does not want their country’s leader to make the country great?  Having said that, it must be noted that some of Trump’s policies have alienated America’s allies in a way that has allowed China to pursue strategic objectives with greater ease. Islands in the South China Sea are an example.

The simple vilification of China with Trump’s tweets was driven by clear examples of intellectual property theft and or expropriation by process. Technology is now seen as a national security issue and the US claim to have clear evidence of the Chinese state pressurising Huawei into using its fast-selling technology to help with surveillance of the US and others in the West. Pharma is another area of potential strategic weakness. Too many medicines and too much medical infrastructure is made in China. During the darkest days of COVID-19, China told American companies with PPE manufacturing in China to sell their wares only to China-friendly neighbours.

Other examples of Trump’s leadership are how he dealt swiftly with Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Media headlines suggested that Trump’s pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement was because Trump did not believe in climate change.  The actual facts were that Paris essentially gave China exemption from many of the conditions that the US had signed up to because China was seen as an emerging country. Trump said that’s not right and not fair, and pulled out because of the uneven playing field. Equally, he pulled out of the UN’s Human Rights Council, not because he disagreed with human rights, but because the US was forced to share the platform with the likes of Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, the thought being that the US’s presence gave legitimacy to serial human rights abusers.

Finally, Trump supporters will be lifted by his decision to elucidate on the subject of postal voting. My understanding is that the verification process for postal voting varies enormously across the country. Some states have strict processes, which require matched signatures, witnesses and address confirmations etc. Other states seem happy to mail out ballot papers to last known addresses, opening up the potential for electoral fraud. Trump probably has a point here but is also making mischief because it seems that twice as many Democrats as Republicans would like to vote by post. 

So whilst I paint a fairly assertive and successful picture of Trump’s progress in office, I still think Biden has a greater possibility of winning. The first debate did not fill anyone with any confidence that this is going to be a battle fought on the field of intellect or wit, but my take is that Biden probably looked less bad and particularly to voters in those all-important swing states. Additionally, as this article was about to be published we learned that the Trumps have both tested positive for Covid-19 which may alarm some voters further, although their seemingly remarkably quick recovery might ease those concerns.

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Please remember that your capital is at risk and the value of investments and the income from them can go down as well as up and investors may not get back the amount originally invested. The views expressed are those of the author.


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