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The 2020 Air War and the Ground War that Isn’t

Believe it or not, this Presidential campaign has yet to heat up.  With just four months to go, Joe Biden still has to pick a running mate and the two parties have yet to hold their conventions.  Trump’s famous rallies have only recently come off of a hold because of the pandemic and even now it looks like they will be few, at least for the immediate future.  And, of course, Joe Biden is still camping out in his basement. 

But you wouldn’t know this from television.  On the airwaves of the nation, the mud has already started slinging, and it looks like it will be intensifying. 

In the battle ground states Arizona, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina the Trump campaign is preparing to launch an ad blitz that will take them right up to election day.  The total amount of this ad campaign is estimated at $95 million. 

The states in question were key to Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016 and will be key to victory this time around as well.  However, recent polling suggests that in these states, he is trailing the former Vice-President by a healthy margin. This move on the Trump Campaign’s part comes on the heels of them pulling ahead of Joe Biden in Facebook ad spending. 

Trump’s hand was forced not only by these poll numbers, but also by the moves of his opponent.  The Joe Biden campaign has launched a similar as campaign in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  His campaign, though, is only burning $15 million on the project.

Included in the advertising for both campaigns are Spanish language commercials aimed at Latino voters, particularly in the state of Florida.  In Trump’s case, the Spanish language ad is the same as an English language ad that calls into question Joe Biden’s mental fitness.

It is unlikely that either campaign is done buying ads at this point.  Trump was recently forced to by ads in the traditionally Republican state of Georgia do to lagging poll numbers there.  Additionally, the crown jewel of the Republican electoral crown, Texas, appears to be moving closer to toss-up status.  Meanwhile, states like New Hampshire and Nevada and Minnesota, which went blue in 2016, appear to be up for grabs as well.

All of this is well and good as far as it goes.  But will ad buying be enough to pull either campaign across the finish line?

Well…yes and no.

Yes, if things continue for the next four months as they have been for the last three.  If that’s the case, then Joe Biden will have an easy time beating Trump in both popular vote and electoral college vote.  This is because most people, at the present time, aren’t actually seeing Joe Biden for who he is.  Disengaged voters, who haven’t been following things as closely as the average Resurgent reader, are only seeing Joe Biden as the anti-Trump candidate.  To these voters, it is not a question of weighing Trump vs Biden.  It’s a matter of asking, “Do I like Trump?”  If the answer is “yes,” then that voter pulls the lever for the Orange Guy.  If the answer is “no,” then the anti-Trump gets that vote by default.  As long as Biden can maintain his status as the anti-Trump, then simply letting the voters know he’s there through ad campaigns will be sufficient. 

There are two reasons for this.  First, Trump is an abrasive personality.  He is loud, arrogant, pushy, and insulting.  At least, that’s how he comes across at first.  Second, Trump is currently the President and one of the rules of that position is that you get all the credit when things go right, but you also get all the blame when things go wrong.  And there are a lot of things going wrong right now. 

Yes, Trump can legitimately point out that it wasn’t he who shut the economy down, it was the Democratic state governors.  Trump can legitimately point out that most of the violence and civil unrest currently taking place is in Democratic run cities and Democratic Run states.  He can point out that he has offered these localities federal assistance but that have not, as of yet, taken him up on the offer.  That would all be true.  But selling the American people on that idea is going to be an uphill battle since it runs contrary to their natural inclination blame the guy at the top.

So, again, in answer to the question: yes, ad buying will be enough for Biden if things stay as they are?

But the answer can just as easily be no, ads will not be enough if the situation changes.  How might the situation change?  Trump can change the situation himself by taking to the campaign trail.  He can host his famous rallies.  He can take part in town halls.  He can engage, personally, with voters.  These things are his strength and it was these things that delivered the swing states to him in 2016. 

Additionally, Trump can change the situation through a little thing called self-discipline.  So far, he has been defeating himself through a series of unforced errors.  And (sigh) a lot of these have come by way of Twitter.  His love/hate relationship with that website has been his biggest liability.  By routinely engaging in conspiracy theories, petty bickering and (most recently) retweeting things without knowing their full content he is killing his own campaign with a death by a thousand self-inflicted cuts.  The best thing the President could do for his campaign is to give full control of his Twitter accounts to his campaign’s communication team.  This is something that needs to be done yesterday.

By taking the campaign directly to the people, in person, and introducing more personal discipline (especially on Twitter), Trump can change the trajectory of the campaign and force Biden out of his basement.  If Biden is forced onto the campaign trail to compete directly with Trump, poll numbers will start to change.  This is because, unlike Trump, Biden’s strengths are not in large rallies, in person town halls, or even in interviews.  And if forced to engage in these formats, voters (even the disengaged ones) will start to view Joe Biden as Joe Biden and not as the anti-Trump candidate that he currently is.  And Joe Biden isn’t nearly as electable as anti-Trump is.

So, in the coming months you can expect lots of TV time from both of these candidates.  But you can also expect two other things.  Trump is going to try to re-engage personally with voters in whatever way he can.  This will be in rallies, interviews, town halls, and whatever else he can manage (remember, the debates are still to come).  Biden is going to resist following suit for as long as possible.  He will stay in his basement and use the Coronavirus as his excuse.  What few engagements he does, will be over the computer or telephone.  Additionally, Democrat governors across the nation will run interference for Biden whenever possible by limiting Trump’s ability to engage voters in their states.  They will forbid rallies because of social distancing and other such things (I predict that Biden will even try to get out of the debates all together). 

The true gauge of how these campaigns are going will not be polls.  They will be the actions of the campaigns themselves.  More specifically, they will be the actions of Joe Biden.  If he stays in his basement, then he is in a comfortable place as far as the campaign goes and he will be content to stay there right up to election day if need be.  If he starts to emerge to do rallies and town halls, then that means he is being drawn out by Trump.  It is not the position he will want to be in and if it happens, it will be a sign of desperation on his part.

I was in 4th grade during Operation Desert Storm.  I don’t remember much about it.  But one thing does stand out.  I was watching television at home when my mother walked in and told me to change the channel to the news.  “The ground war has begun,” she said.  This came on the heels of a lengthy air campaign that softened the enemy and made them more vulnerable to the overwhelming U.S. ground forces.  The next day, at school, all of us fourth graders knew that the beginning of the ground war meant that the whole thing would be over soon.  After all, how could Iraq resist our soldiers?

In the political warfare of 2020, the air campaign is just getting started.  It will be long and it will be brutal.  Trump will try to soften the Biden camp through carpet bombing the swing states with a savage ad blitz.  If that stage is successful, then look for the political equivalent of “The ground war has begun.”  Those words will mark the beginning of the end.  If you don’t hear that or something like it, however, then Trump’s air campaign will have been a failure and he will have spent $95 million just to make a lot of noise.

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