battleground states, CCP Virus, coronavirus, COVID 19, election 2016, election 2020, Hillary Clinton, Hunter Biden, Im-Politic, Joe Biden, masks, Nancy Pelosi, political ads, polls, shy Trump vote, suburban women, suburbs, Trump, Wuhan virus
One big reason I’m not a betting person is that I hate a major difference between what I want to happen and what I think will happen. And that’s exactly the case with this year’s presidential election. In other words, although as I explained in a recent post and then amplified in a recent magazine article, I voted for President Trump (and by no means reluctantly), I’m convinced that his time in the White House is just about up.
Not that I’m certain of this outcome. To repeat a conclusion I’ve made to friends, family, and others in various circumstances, I completely accept the idea that the race has tightened substantially in Mr. Trump’s favor in recent months, and especially in toto in the six most discussed swing or battleground states (Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin). But today, as throughout the fall campaign, I’d rather be in Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s shoes.
In fact, I’m sticking with this position even though I’ve become somewhat more impressed with claims of a “shy Trump vote” – i.e., the notion that many Trump voters reached by pollsters don’t reveal their true preferences for various reasons or, similarly, that the same pollsters simply aren’t reaching a significant number of Trump supporters. My main reason? In an era of spreading Cancel Culture at the workplace and elsewhere, it’s entirely plausible that many Trump supporters fear expressing their actual preferences to strangers.
But to me, the most telling poll results stem precisely from those six battlegrounds, however increasingly close the race may be. And that’s because, even though the President carried them all in 2016 (generally by slim margins), and even though he’s the incumbent, they’re now thought to be up for grabs at all. In other words, even though Mr. Trump is now a known quantity (or because he’s a known quantity), and has had nearly a full term of presidential abilities to extend favors to these states, they’re still a heavy lift for him.
I sense, moreover, as just suggested, that his troubles in these “flyover America” regions stem from a political malady that he’s never been able to overcome – and perhaps has never wanted to overcome or dispel: Trump Fatigue Syndrome. I fully accept his insistence (and that of many supporters) that his tweets and other verbal brickbats have built and maintained a large and intensely loyal base (indeed, big enough to elect him President once). I also agree that his combative instincts have enabled him to survive ruthless opponents who, astoundingly, have even filled his own administration and other levels of the federal bureaucracy since his inauguration.
At the same time, it’s hardly a stretch to suppose that even a significant slice of Trump-world is anxious for a return of some semblance of normality to American politics, and that four more years of the President are sure to mean four more years of (partly needless) tumult. Most revealingly, even the President seems to accept this analysis. Why else would he be pleading (only half-jokingly) for the suburban women supposedly most offended by his style to “like him,” and defensively making that argument that his roughness has been the key to his survival? (I can’t find a link, but heard it when listening to one of his rally speeches yesterday.)
And what’s especially frustrating for a Trump supporter like myself: He could have been just as forceful and cutting a champion of his “forgotten Americans” constituencies, and just as much of a scornful scourge of the elites, with a just a little more subtlety and a little more selectivity in his targets.
Some appreciation of nuance, in fact, would have been particularly helpful in dealing with the CCP Virus. In between the kind of fear-mongering and consequent shutdown enthusiasm dominating press coverage and the rhetoric of Never Trumpers across the political spectrum, and the pollyannish optimism and mockery of modest mitigation measures like even limited mask wearing that was too often expressed by the President, could always be found a vast store of effective and actually constructive messaging strategies.
Collectively, they have represented a test of the kind of leadership deserving of political support, and have amounted to acknowledging squarely the difficulties of formulating effective pandemic policies and vigorously supporting targeted counter-measures while staving off the panic that Mr. Trump has (rightly) stated he wanted to prevent. Just as important: The President could have conveyed to the public the admittedly inconvenient but bedrock truth that forces of nature like highly contagious viruses can long resist the powers even of today’s technologically advanced societies. But this was a test that Mr. Trump flunked.
Speaking of forces of nature, the weather across the country today isn’t likely to help reelect the President, either. It looks to be bright and sunny nearly everywhere, with moderate temperatures. Those conditions figure to translate, all else equal, into high turnout, which tends to favor Democrats (even given the astronomical levels of early in-person and mail-in and ballot box voting).
Mr. Trump also faces an opponent who hasn’t been nearly as easy a mark for him as was Hillary Clinton in 2016. Biden’s lack of hard edges unmistakably helps here. But so, too, has his performance in the two presidential debates. As I’ve argued, they’ve belied Trumpist charges of mental and physical frailty. Even better for the former Vice President – he’s also held up more than well enough on the campaign trail. Sure, he’s given himself plenty of rest. But Biden’s increased pace of activity in the last two weeks or so should be enough to fend off a critical mass of doubts among undecided voters about his capacity to serve.
In addition, the Democratic nominee has clearly benefited from the Mainstream Media’s decision to suppress news about the possibly whopping corruption of the entire Biden family. However outrageous I or anyone else considers this cover-up, it’s had the undeniable effect of keeping from huge swathes of the electorate weeks worth of just about the worst news any political candidate could fear.
The Trump campaign might have partly filled this gap, and offset other vulnerabilities, with better advertising. But throughout this election year, most of the Trump ads I’ve seen have been as professional and reassuring as those cable spots for Chia Pets or Sham-Wow – complete with hucksterish voice-overs. Moreover, where on earth are high impact graphics like clips of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi childishly ripping up copies of the President’s last State of the Union address? The videos recently aired at Trump rallies highlighting Biden’s dangerously clueless statements and policy record on China have been very effective. But boy, are they coming late in the day.
Also possibly revealing on the ad front – I see a lot of anti-Trump and pro-Biden ads on conservative-friendly and even transparently pro-Trump shows on Fox News. That’s clearly a sign of playing offense. According to this report, however, the Trump campaign hasn’t taken the fight to hostile territory like CNN and MSNBC to nearly this extent.
I’m not by any means arguing that “It’s over” for President Trump – much less than it has been for weeks. I’m convinced that he’ll be helped by an enthusiasm gap. I take seriously the reports of strong new voter registrations by Republicans, particularly in the key states, along with the evidence that minorities aren’t turning out for Democrats in places like south Florida. Nor, as mentioned earlier, is my faith in the polls remotely complete. But toting up the President’s relative strengths and weaknesses still places him in my underdog category. And unless Election 2016 repeats itself almost exactly, that ‘s no place for a winning political candidate to be.