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It's not just the economy, stupid: Trump and Turnbull know it too well

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Donald Trump and Malcolm Turnbull are very different people and very different politicians, but they converged on one key point in the past week.

Trump approached America's midterm elections powered by an economic tsunami of the force that any president would love to have in his favour.

Illustration: John ShakespeareCredit:

With a surging stockmarket and the lowest unemployment rate in almost half a century, the top-ranked Republican in the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, phoned Trump in the campaign's final days and urged him to concentrate on the boom.

But the President decided it wasn't enough: “They all say, ‘Speak about the economy, speak about the economy',” he said at a rally in the final four days of the campaign.

“Well, we have the greatest economy in the history of our country. But sometimes it’s not as exciting to talk about the economy.”

Trump thought it was more exciting to talk about the 15,000 troops he'd ordered to the Mexican border to halt an “invasion” by immigrants.

Illustration: Jim PavlidisCredit:

More exciting to talk about how they might shoot the caravan heading for that border in the event that one throws a rock: “We will consider that a firearm. Because there’s not much difference.”

More exciting to threaten an end to the centuries-old constitutional right to birthright citizenship, which he mocked as “ridiculous”.

And when his party officials proposed that they finish the campaign with ads celebrating the economic “Morning in America”, Trump instead endorsed an untruthful ad demonising immigrants as cop-killers, an ad so incendiary that US TV networks refused to air it.

“They argue it's 'morning in America,' but in their ads, it's not morning in America,” a San Francisco University political scientist, Ken Goldstein, told USA Today long before the final phase of the campaign. He'd picked up a strong theme of attack ads and negativity in Republican ads earlier and wider than the final abortive effort. In American politics, the phrase about morning recalls the campaign of Republican hero Ronald Reagan, optimist.

But Trump, demagogue, wasn't content with economic good news. He conjured fear and hate as well.

On the other side of the world, literally as well as figuratively, was Malcolm Turnbull. He had to accept that presiding over an economic boom was insufficient for him to hold the prime ministership.

The former prime minister set out the basics during his appearance on the ABC's........

© The Age