Nothing is sacred in politics, and presidents in tight reelection races typically pander to voters to boost their odds of a second term. But President Trump, as with many other things, is bolder and balder than most.
Trump has considered, proposed and given a wide range of goodies to voters as he trails Joe Biden in the 2020 bid for the White House. With polls showing Trump falling behind with key voting blocs in crucial swing states, Trump’s vote-nabbing gambits are carefully targeted. Here are six ways Trump is trying to snag last-minute votes:
Farm aid. At rallies and in his Twitter feed, Trump frequently reminds rural voters that he approved $28 billion in farm aid in 2018 and 2019. What Trump doesn’t say is the money is meant to compensate farmers for losses they’ve borne due to Trump’s trade wars with China and other countries. As Trump imposed tariffs on imports from those countries, many retaliated with barriers to imports of American farm products and other goods. Federal aid now accounts for more than one-third of all farm income. Without the aid, farm income would be at the lowest levels since 2014.
Trump is actually understating the massive bailouts going to farmers. In addition to the $28 billion, Trump pledged $19 billion more in April and another $14 billion in September, sending farm bailouts during his presidency to $61 billion. By one estimate, the Trump tariffs—which are taxes paid by American importers— have netted $66 billion in new revenue, with nearly all of it going to farmers to compensate them for their losses. Trump’s real pitch to farmers is substituting government aid for market sales.
Auto-worker pensions. In late October, Trump took a sudden interest in cuts to auto-worker pensions that date to 2009. When the U.S. auto industry nearly collapsed in 2009, the government assumed pension liabilities for about 20,000 non-union workers at the supplier Delphi, and ultimately terminated those pension plans, triggering a lawsuit. On Oct. 22, Trump signed an executive order instructing three Cabinet departments to “review” the issue and “inform” the president within 90 days if there’s anything he can or should do. About 5,000 of the affected workers are in Ohio, a swing state Trump needs to win to have a chance of beating Biden in the electoral college. The 90-day deadline would arrive on Jan. 20, Trump’s final day in office, if he loses.
More tax cuts. Trump is offering more tax cuts if he wins, including a cut in the payroll tax that funds Social Security and Medicare, a further 1-point reduction in the business tax, to 20%, and a lower capital-gains tax, which would mainly benefit the wealthy who claim the vast majority of capital gains. It’s possible Trump could lower taxes further, following the 2017 tax cuts, if Republicans controlled both houses of Congress. But Democrats are nearly certain to retain control of the House, and they have even odds, or better, of taking the Senate. So any more Trump tax cuts are a wish list. Trump also promised to cut middle-class taxes right before the 2018 midterm elections, but he didn’t pursue that at all once the elections were over.
Black empowerment. Less than a month before Election Day, Trump rolled out his “platinum plan” for prosperity in Black communities, which is essentially a grab-bag of ideas for improving economic conditions in Black America. Earlier this year, Trump defended Confederate memorials and called Black Lives Matter a “symbol of hate.” But he might have concluded he needs to do better among Black voters than in 2016, when he drew just 8% of their vote. So he introduced the platinum plan, which is supposed to increase access to capital for Black-owned businesses, improve health care in Black communities and boost safety. At the same time, however, Trump is promising white suburbanites he’ll keep low-income housing—often occupied by minorities—out of their neighborhoods. He’s also trying to kill the Affordable Care Act, and Trump has been killing diversity training among the federal workforce.
Fracking “support.” After the second presidential debate on Oct. 22, some White House officials said Trump was planning a new executive order requiring an economic analysis of the energy drilling process known as fracking. The point, according to the Wall Street Journal, would be for Trump to make a muscular statement in support of fracking, which accounts for thousands of jobs in swing states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and, this year, Texas. Biden said at the debate that he wants to “transition” away from a carbon economy to one fueled by renewable energy. Trump has distorted that by claiming that Biden wants to ban all fracking, which he doesn’t. An executive order in support of fracking would be a final bid by Trump to lock up the fracking vote, though so far he hasn’t issued such an order.
Medicare discount cards. In late September, Trump announced his administration would send up to 33 million Medicare enrollees discount cards that would save them up to $200 on prescription drugs. Trump’s support among seniors is collapsing, in large part because the coronavirus pandemic has hurt seniors the most. Trump discount card programs has hit snags, with some critics questioning its legality. It now appears no senior will get a discount card before the election. Once the election’s over, will Trump still care?
Biden, for his part, is making plenty of campaign promises he’ll be held accountable for if he wins, such as better health care, new funding for child and elder care, more affordable housing, and more government help for college students. Since he’s the challenger, not the incumbent, Biden can’t back any of that up with actual money from Washington or policy changes voters will notice. But if Biden wins, he’ll be in the same position as Trump four years from now, trying to convince voters he’s helped them out and maybe wooing them with some pre-election party favors.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. Confidential tip line: firstname.lastname@example.org. Encrypted communication available. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.