Pendhamma Sindhusen is an independent political columnist and analyst.
We’re only 80 days away from election day, and by so many standards, the Trump presidency seems to have been enmeshed in an extremely precarious territory in the past several months. In a stark contrast to the buoyant environment in 2019 and earlier this year where the economy was booming and the president’s base was galvanized in the wake of the failed impeachment attempt by the Democrats and their leftward lunge on the political spectrum, America is now confronting both a public health crisis and an economic downturn begotten by the COVID-19 pandemic and continuous civil unrests in major cities in the wake of the George Floyd incident.
Many Americans are out of work and have a difficult time trying to suffice their monetary sustenances, and many are infuriated at the administration for its handling of the pandemic and the “systemic racism” they claim to have infested their country. This is not an environment any incumbent president running for re-election would be in favor of.
Herbert Hoover lost the 1932 election to Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the United States was undergoing the Great Depression. Jimmy Carter lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan during a stagflation and the Iranian hostage crisis. And George H.W. Bush lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton when the economy was sluggishly recovering from a recession in 1992 and after the infamous Rodney King incident.
Given all those historical precedents, it seems likely that Trump is on an assured path to defeat at the ballot this November. Such a predicate would be corroborated by the fact that Trump’s polling data has consistently shown the president in hot water. Since June, national polling averages have had Trump down by at least 7%, a gap large enough to cast doubt on the prospects of 2016 recurring; even Clinton’s polling numbers in 2016 never transcended Trump’s (during that year) to this extent. Trump’s numbers have also been dismal in crucial states he needs to clinch in order to win re-election—Florida, Arizona, North Carolina and all those in the Rust Belt area that he won in 2016.
Moreover, the presence of the Coronavirus and social distancing norms inhibit any form of conventional campaigning or rallies, which could energize the Trump base, as well as possibly drawing more to the Trump quarter, as they have manifested over the course of the president’s political career, and that further complicates his efforts to retain the White House. However, that’s not to say that the Trump presidency is doomed. Indeed, its path to another 4 years has narrowed to a dangerous degree, but that path still exists nonetheless. In fact, it may even be more promising than we previously thought.
Since 2015 when Trump launched his presidential campaign, he’s been touting himself as an outsider who’d drain the swamp and fix the broken system, answering the calls of those many who despised career politicians. To them, Joe Biden is one of those career politicians. Biden spent 36 years in the Senate and then 8 years as Obama’s vice president, a long total of 44 years. That distrusts many anti-establishment voters on both sides of the aisle who attribute the problems their country has to establishment politicians even though a number Bernie Bros are now grudgingly supporting him out of their fear of a Trump victory.
In the meantime, Biden’s lengthy period in the policy-making business provides Trump a handy list of faulty records and controversial remarks to pick from for offensive strategies. For example, the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that he helped write has already elicited attacks against him on criminal justice and racial equality, many of which even came from Democrats during the raucous primary season. His opposition of busing, cozy relationships with segregationists and sensitive remarks including the notorious “racial jungle” wouldn’t help him either, and neither would his running mate Kamala Harris’s prosecutorial records that seem to disproportionately affect the African-American community for minor offenses. At the same time, Trump can avail to his campaign’s advantage his enthusiastic championship of the FIRST STEP Act which is widely applauded as an important first step in criminal justice reform that liberates African-Americans from undue legal persecutions.
Biden also has another susceptibility that could adversely affect his chances at getting elected: gaffes. While gaffes are a common occurrence in politics, the candidate has a disreputable history of them. From plagiarism and the “lying dog-faced pony soldier” to the blurted “you ain’t black” and the recent interview statement suggesting the black community lacks diversity of thought, the candidate has made a great number of lapsus linguae throughout his political career, and they’ve already cost him a shot at becoming president twice in 1988 and 2008. They could end up doing the same again this year, especially now as he’s now 77 years old.
As many have highlighted, his gaffes have become more frequent, and some of them even prognostic of a compromised cognitive capacity—those multiple times he miscalls names or confuses his whereabouts and his failures to recall names or numerical figures during his speeches, just to name a few. To be fair, it’s not at all an aberration for a senescent septuagenarian like him to make accidental verbal blunders or sometimes display confusion; Trump does on occasion, and God knows how many seniors around the globe do. But for Biden, the frequency of them seems rather disturbing. Indeed, 38% of Americans and even 20% of Democrats think he’s suffering from dementia, according to a poll conducted by Rassmussen. The same poll also shows 61% of Americans demand that he publicly address the issue of his mental fitness.
But factors contributing to the possibility of Trump’s second term aren’t merely limited to some of Biden’s personal qualities. They also include the policy proposals that he’s pushed forward. Despite being pitched by many as a moderate candidate and actually entering the race as relatively more moderate than his peers, Biden has adopted many ideas portrayed by critics as radical or socialistic in an attempt to appease progressive Democrats, and that could do more harm to him than good. His blueprint on healthcare policy and $2 trillion climate plan, for example, while not as extreme as Bernie Sanders and AOC’s Medicare for All and Green New Deal, could still be perceived by the public as extreme and impractical, as could his massive $4 trillion tax increase proposal.
The Trump campaign’s been relentlessly labeling Biden as a captive of the far left and tying his proposals to socialism, a move that could turn moderates away from him. Albeit gaining traction, socialism is still unpopular among the American electorate, as manifested by a multitude of survey results. That represents an obstacle for him on one side, and on the other, the progressive base is simply not much electrified by the Biden/Harris ticket. Biden is still viewed as an emblem of the establishment and nevertheless too centristic for them while Harris, in spite of sponsoring policies that converge with their preferences during her own presidential campaign, is seen by some as not “woke” enough because of her questionable records as a prosecutor. In combination with the ubiquitous fear of COVID-19 that apparently affects more Democrats than Trump supporters in general and the constant comfortable leads of Biden over Trump that would likely lead to the same kind of gloating that partially led to a Clinton defeat 4 years ago, this will likely dampen voter turnout for the former vice president and give Trump an edge.
The push for defunding/abolishing the police and persistent visceral outcries by Black Lives Matter activists aren’t so popular with the populace either; one Gallup poll from July found that only 15% of Americans are in favor of abolishing the police while another revealed the vast majority of Americans prefer the current level of police presence or even more (67% said they prefer the current level and 19% said they prefer even more police presence). A Monmouth University survey in June also found 38% of Americans feel the Black Lives Matter movement has exacerbated racial relations in the country and 32% feel that the movement hasn’t really changed things at all.
Besides the issue of the candidate and his running mate themselves, there are also other factors that could be Trump’s allies. With violent riots and widespread social chaos since the death of George Floyd, Trump’s positioned himself as a law-and-order president who’s keen to reinstate stability and support the police. That could potentially resonate with many Americans who, while abhorring racial inequality and unjust police brutality, are weary of turbulent demonstrations and want to return to normalcy.
Many also have seen firsthand the violence and destruction rioters wreak on their neighborhoods, and Trump’s successfully tapped into their concerns by promising to restore order and taking action on his part to deploy federal personnel to quell riots in their cities. No wonder why Trump’s gaining grounds in Minnesota, the very state where the spark of tremendous commotions across the country was lit. Biden, on the other hand, while having yet to endorse the “defund the police” rallying cry, is not signaling the same kind of intention to restore order that Trump’s proclaimed. In fact, many detractors of Biden are already inferring Biden supports defunding the police because of his reticence on this issue (and because some of his campaign staffers actually flirt with the idea), and the presumptive nominee’s sharp censures of Trump’s acts on this matter only go their way.
With that in mind, the Biden/Harris ticket is still vulnerable despite the many shortfalls and setbacks in the president’s performance in recent months, and such vulnerability might be compounded by the third-party candidacy of Kanye West. West, despite previously endearing himself to the MAGA-Land with his profuse appreciation of the president, is not expected to siphon a significant amount of votes from Trump. The president’s base is incredibly solid and energetic, and they’re going to back the president regardless. Meanwhile, the Biden base is rather relatively more homogeneous; there are those who genuinely like him and those backing him only out of their opposition of the Trump administration, many of whom are African-Americans or religious Democrats who might find Biden’s aforementioned records and remarks on blacks and position on abortion and other religion-related subjects offensive. West, who's religious, African-American and a noteworthy celebrity, could sway them to his corner. That makes the 43-year-old icon a prospective election spoiler against the former VP.
At this point, all of the above points may sound a wee bit bold. But this is 2020, and we’ve learned many lessons in the past 4 years. Kanye shouldn’t be taken lightly the same way candidate Trump shouldn’t have been taken lightly in 2016. Poll numbers aren’t necessarily a foolproof indicator of who’ll eventually win an election. Things can change drastically, even within a short amount of time, the same way they partially did in October, 2016 when the FBI launched a probe into Hillary’s emails. There’s still a prospect of the economy recuperating from its deep abyss (and with all the trends we have today, that prospect seems quite roseate) and Trump picking up additional support because of it. There’s still room for the president to make the case for his re-election to the American people with more achievements as he just did with the historic peace deal between Israel and the UAE. And there are still chances of Biden stumbling.
The presidential debates are about one month away, and what if Biden blunders during those debates? Considering his history, blunders are highly likely to arise at some point, and with enough gravity, they could take down his entire campaign. Gerald Ford essentially eroded his own chances at winning in 1976 when he said “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe” during a debate with Jimmy Carter. Michael Dukakis became perceived as insensitive and weak on crimes after his renowned debate answer on the death penalty, finally losing in a landslide after having been continuously beating then-vice president H.W. Bush in the polls. Bob Dole got ridiculed as frail after he fell off the stage in September 1996. And Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton severely hurt their campaigns just 2 months before the election with their ill-famed “47%” and “deplorables” comments, respectively.
80 days might not sound too long, but they’re long enough for anything to happen. Joe Biden seems to be the favorite to win this November, but he can still lose. With all the liabilities of his campaign that I’ve laid out, and the possibility of a Trump-boosting or Biden-harming event transpiring between now and election day, Trump can still triumph. Many political pundits and the media are already anticipating a Biden presidency, but what ultimately matters lies on election day. I’m not saying that we should disbelieve the current polling data; polls do provide a useful insight into the election, but it’s inane to trust them totally. And of course, I’m not saying that Trump will win or has a decent shot at winning, but he has a shot nonetheless. We can’t count him out just yet. After all, the year’s 2020, and anything is possible.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2020 Pendhamma Sindhusen