I know it’s very fashionable right now to write President Trump’s re-election epitaph. He’s underwater nationwide, he is trailing in Texas and neck-and-neck in Georgia, he’s alienated key voting blocks, he’s failed to provide anything remotely resembling unifying leadership amidst a horrible start to 2020 in the United States.
And we could keep going – the economy has collapsed, a pandemic is lingering here worse than other places (or maybe it isn’t, but no one knows because no one knows who to trust and everything has become overly politicized), race riots gripped the country for weeks, and Trump’s only impulse seems to be tweeting out “Law and Order” and threatening to use massive military force to crush his own disgruntled citizens.
It doesn’t look good for Team Trump.
But it’s the end of June. The election is four months – a political eternity – away. Regardless of how intransigent COVID and Black Lives Matter riots may appear, history tells us that we can expect to have several other, entirely different issues that bump these two from the headlines before November.
And there’s this: his opponent is Joe Biden.
The man is obviously in failing health. That isn’t an insult, it’s actually a statement of sympathy that he is being used like this. What’s happening to Biden isn’t a stuttering problem, it isn’t a series of “gaffes,” it isn’t the rigors of a presidential campaign. It’s a mental issue. He can’t speak logically or coherently for more than a couple sentences. It’s frustrating to those watching, and you can only imagine how frustrating it is for him, if he even realizes it’s happening with the concerning frequency those paying attention have noticed.
Trump will remain underwater precisely until the moment that Joe Biden is forced to come out from the shadows and start speaking. When average, voting Americans actually see and hear Joe Biden as he now exists, everything is going to change. Trump exudes no statesmanship, but Biden inspires no confidence that he can make it through the next statement, no less the next four years.
So who wins? I don’t know. But in a certain way, the way that Rich Lowry wrote so admirably about over at National Review, it doesn’t matter. Neither side will take defeat well, and the anger will be palpable from two tribes that absolutely hate one another.
Perhaps a handy victory by Biden or, much less likely, Trump, will take the edge off the post-game acrimony, but it is going to be ugly regardless. If the election is close, the aftermath will be a norm-busting extravaganza of conspiracy theories, lawsuits, and, at the very least, threats to take it to the streets.
I think he’s right. If Trump wins, it will be riots redux. If Biden wins, the transition will put on display the most acrimonious, obnoxious, and self-absorbed traits of Donald Trump. Trump will see to it that Biden is incapable of uniting the country, assuming Biden would even be capable (at that point) of carrying out the duties of the president.
These are simply different times than, say, the hotly contested election of 2000 when this happened:
With control of the presidency hanging by a thread in Florida, there were no large-scale demonstrations, let alone violence. The legal briefs flew fast and furious, and both former president George W. Bush and former vice president Al Gore wanted to win and distrusted the legal and electoral maneuvers of the other side.
Yet there were things that neither of them would say in public, and both of them were willing, if it came to that, to concede with grace. Both men were shaped by the post-World War II consensus in American politics. They had absorbed its standards and reflexively honored its guardrails.
That was 20 years, and an eon, ago.
I think Lowry’s right. This national division and hatred isn’t going away in the next four months. And if there’s anything that will stoke unrest and inflame the tension, it’s this election. No matter how it turns out.