Donald Trump is no Harry Truman, but a comeback is on the cards

A month ago it looked like curtains for Donald Trump. The number of Covid-19 cases was surging across the US. Consumers were taking the decision to self-isolate and there were fears of a new wave of job losses as people stayed at home rather than going out to eat or shop.

Today the outlook for Trump, while not exactly rosy, is better than it was and good enough to prompt debate about whether the president could pull off a surprise to match that of Harry Truman in 1948 – an against the odds victory against which all comebacks are gauged.

Trump is no Truman and has the added disadvantage of seeking re-election during a global pandemic that is proving a lot more stubborn than he blithely assumed six months ago. The damage wrought to the economy – on which Trump was depending – since then means it is hard to see why anybody who didn’t vote for him in 2016 would do so in 2020. Joe Biden leads in all the key swing states.

That said, the polls have started to tighten a bit and are likely to close still further over the coming weeks, because Trump has three things going for him.

The first is that the number of new Covid-19 cases appears to have peaked, with definite signs of progress in some of the bigger states such as Florida, Texas and California. What happens to the virus over the coming months will have a material impact on the state of the economy.

The second – somewhat ironically – is that activity in China has bounced back more rapidly than expected, and this is keeping global stock markets buoyant. Here, Trump is getting the best of both worlds: he piggybacks on Chinese growth while at the same time getting tough with Beijing over trade and human rights – something that plays well with voters.

Finally, he has the benefit of being the incumbent, which allows him to pull off stunts like the signing of executive orders to provide fresh support to the unemployed. Under the separation of powers, Congress holds the purse strings in the US so Trump’s initiative is unlikely to amount to much, but that’s not the point. This is all about who gets blamed for the impasse between Republicans and Democrats over the next phase of stimulus.

To win, Trump needs nothing to go wrong and everything to go right in the coming months: no surges in Covid-19, no setbacks to the economy, no share price crashes on Wall Street. It is a tall order but Biden should take nothing for granted.

Eating out really is helping out

The weather is hot. People are desperate to have a good time after being cooped up for months at home. Best of all, the government is making eating out cheaper by picking up part of the bill. Britons love a bargain and so it is no surprise that Rishi Sunak’s ”eat out to help out” is proving a hit.

What has come as a shock, perhaps even to the chancellor, is just how popular the scheme has been. The fact that more than 70,000 outlets – from fast food joints to Michelin starred restaurants – have signed up gives the initiative critical mass. Moreover, the subsidy of up to £10 per person is big enough to tempt people even against a backdrop of a modest rise in the number of Covid-19 cases.

The Treasury will be especially pleased that the data from the retail analysts Springboard showed that there was a knock-on benefit for retailers and that the demand for the scheme was stronger in smaller market towns than in bigger regional cities. With the furlough scheme being phased out, the timing could hardly have been better. It has distracted attention from the steady stream of redundancy announcements.

Like the good weather, eat out to help out will be short-lived and the hospitality sector awaits the autumn with trepidation. But if only a fraction of the people who have been tempted to head out for a bowl of pasta or a curry get a renewed appetite for going out again Sunak will consider it £500m well spent.

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