There is a theory behind every presidential campaign, a basic narrative as to why the specific presidential aspirant and the specific moment are met, why the candidate is uniquely gifted to help the country through its present moment of peril.
Of course, more often than not, this amounts to nonsense.
For every Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan — who did seem to materialise from nowhere, mastering and epitomising their times — there is a Warren Harding, a Gerald Ford, a Jimmy Carter. But the basic story as to why a candidate must be elected because they fit the needs of the moment is how America elects its modern presidents.
And with fewer than 100 days to go until the November election, the basic pitches of both President Donald Trump and his challenger Joe Biden are clearly visible.
As we enter the final lap, it is also apparent that Biden presently holds the edge. According to last week’s Real Clear Politics aggregate of polls, Biden leads Trump nationally by 51 to 41 per cent.
Of course, the US does not elect presidents nationally. Rather it is done through the electoral college, in what amounts to 50 state contests that are then added together. But by even by this more accurate yardstick, the President is well behind his challenger. The Real Clear Politics average has, as of last week, Biden with 352 electoral votes (if the election were held now), to Trump’s 186, with 270 needed to win. Biden is winning outside the margin of error in pivotal Wisconsin, Florida, and Pennsylvania. So there is no doubting that the challenger has surged ahead of the incumbent President.
It is also plain that two key issues explain Biden’s present rise: his successful criticism of Trump’s erratic handling of the Covid-19 crisis, and the stunning appearance on the scene of the largest civil rights protests in a generation following the police murder of George Floyd.
Trump increasingly looks like he is in trouble, hence his narcissistic and unconstitutional Twitter outburst last week that the election might be postponed altogether. As the timing of the presidential election is a date (thank goodness) enshrined in law, an increasingly desperate Trump will have to find another rationale for his political survival. Look for his narrative to go like this:
“The spread of the coronavirus was the obvious fault of China, a country that I am the first to call out as America’s primary competitor in the new era, while Biden and the Democrats under Obama shamefully ignored this primary threat.
“While Democrats were complaining, I shut down flights from China and Europe (a brave decision which in retrospect saved untold lives). I boldly ignored their ruinous political correctness and did what had to be done. Everyone knows I am better than the spendthrift, economically illiterate Democrats at managing the economy; this is going to be the vital skill necessary to bring America back.
“As to the civil rights protests, they have been hijacked by radical leftists who are fomenting violence and urging US cities to adopt lunatic policy positions like defunding the police. Biden, bless him, is too old and too politically out of step with his leftist party to stop this radical surge that could do untold damage to the country.
“If you vote for me you are voting for law and order, and the stability to have America remain as it is.”
Biden’s narrative could not be more starkly different.
“While China has a lot to answer for in propagating the global spread of Covid-19, it is the Trump administration’s helter-skelter incompetence that made a bad situation outright disastrous, as the President’s erratic and overly optimistic take on the pandemic has been the primary reason for America’s relatively terrible performance in handling the virus. I promise to bring back Obama-levels of competence, to stop the soap opera in Washington, and to concentrate on actually governing the country.
“As for the civil rights protests, after years of dog whistles toward intolerance, there is no doubt that the Trump administration has poured gasoline on the flames of people’s righteous indignation. Only I, with my general sympathy for the protestors, can bring the country together and move it forward, all the while eschewing the most radical and violent extremes of the movement.”
Of course, a lot could and will change before November. The economy could begin to do better. There could be further acts of violence in upcoming civil rights protests which would vindicate Trump’s law and order strategy. The pandemic could further subside in the US. Biden, who correctly describes himself as “a human gaffe machine”, could make a major mistake at one of the three upcoming presidential debates.
But for all that, the basic narratives of the 2020 campaign are already there for all to see. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Main image credit: Getty