The US president knows his base supports him for his positioning outside of the US establishment, by presenting himself as David against the Democrat Goliath, he can motivate his supporters to turnout in November.
He sits in the most powerful office on Earth and is worth billions, but US President Donald Trump is the underdog in the upcoming election, and he likes it that way.
Despite being born to a multimillionaire real estate baron, Trump has presented himself as a self-made man helped only by a ‘small loan of a million dollars’.
From those humble origins, the Republican leader first turned himself into the most prominent businessman in the US and later the leader of the country.
The self-perception is by no means delusional, as the events of the 2016 presidential election make clear.
Trump was a complete outsider, riding a populist wave to overcome first his Republical rivals and then later Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton.
Pundits brought on to discuss the election, literally laughed at the idea that Trump could pull it off. The polls and number crunchers put the likelihood of a Republican presidency in just over single digits.
But election day came and went, and in January it was Trump standing outside Capitol Hill with his palm raised, being sworn in as US president.
Even as president, Trump has portrayed himself as an outsider within the enemy’s den, repeatedly promising to drain the swamp from the inside.
Trump’s narrative has been further strengthened in part thanks to investigations into apparent foreign meddling in the 2016. Investigations, such as the Mueller report, found that foreign actors had tried to influence the election but there was not enough evidence to show collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. The interference itself could not be proven to have had an effect on the results of the vote.
Supporters of Trump and the president himself have cast the inquiry as an attempt to overturn his presidential mandate and replace him with someone more amiable to the so-called deep state.
The extent to which how much of this rhetoric is part of his image management and how much is sincere conviction is besides the point. The reality is that the messaging has struck a chord with swathes of America felt left out of the conversations happening in Washington.
Recreating the underdog narrative
The pundits seem to have learned a lot of the lessons of 2016 in the run up to the November 2020 election.
Biden has a clear and significant lead heading towards election day. Nevertheless all but the most foolhardy of analysts is including the caveat that polls can be wrong and that it will be the result in a few swing states that decides the election.
Trump will no doubt be aware that if anyone can cause an upset, it’s him but he also appears to be taking another approach, accusing the media of concocting polls to show that he is doing worse than he actually is.
On October 12, on his Twitter account, he wrote: “Almost nobody showed up to the Sleepy Joe Biden “Rally” in Ohio. The reporting and polls are a Media Con Job - Fake News. We have far more support and enthusiasm than even in 2016. November 3rd. will be a great day for America!!!”
The concoction of unfavourable poll numbers are just one tactic Trump accuses his opponents of utilising - all without presenting evidence.
Other claims include the, as of yet baseless, assertion that the country’s main-in ballot system is susceptible to voter fraud and mishandling.
The claims nonetheless do serve an electoral purpose, regardless of whether it is intentional or not.
By creating the narrative that the ‘establishment’ is working against him Trump can mobilise his supporters to ‘take on’ his enemies, and if he loses he has a ready-made explanation for his loss - ie; not his popularity among the electorate but forces working to stifle him and remove him from office.
US media outlets are already playing out loud scenarios in which Trump has to be dragged from office literally and metaphorically after refusing to concede to Biden.
The reality, however, may be a little more simple. Before the election, complaining about a rigged system turns an election into an existential battle between the ‘people’ and the ‘establishment, thereby increasing turnout among die hard Trump supporters.
After the election the narrative could serve to save face - “I would have won, if the establishment was not conspiring against me.”