Since I live alone and am under a shelter in place order here in California, I end up talking to myself a bit more than usual. With that in mind, I decided to conduct an interview with my internal Devil’s Advocate. On one shoulder is a deeply estranged Republican (actually, as the GOP has completely abandoned its traditional principles, guess I’m now an official RINO) and the other, a transient Democrat, who knows even when the odds are in your favor, defeat can still be snatched from the jaws of victory.
Forced isolation has given me plenty of time to ponder and postulate, so I’m considering making this a two-part series. I humbly ask for your patience and consideration, as conversing with the walls has proven to be rather unfruitful (didn’t work that well for Richard Nixon in his last days in the White House either).
Q: How will the coronavirus affect the 2020 election? Despite all the potent arguments for removal of the president during the impeachment hearings, followed by the unconscionable vote without trial in the Senate, all the evidence they matched against Donald Trump has for now been rendered moot. So does Trump’s rise or fall hinge on his handling of the coronavirus and its fallout?
A: For the Democrats, it just shows that in politics, you can spend over three years meticulously assembling a master game plan, and it may be useless the next week or the next month, especially when a crisis arises, no less an unprecedented one like this.
Unquestionably, the president’s mishandling is going to be the central theme of the election. For people who were greatly concerned that Trump’s approval ratings were rising to an all-time high last month, I would offer a couple of reassurances. First, every president gets a bump on ratings when there’s a rally-round-the flag crisis, but Trump’s bump was far less than George H.W. Bush got during the first Iraq war and George W. Bush during the second. It is also smaller than the boosts President Macron and Chancellor Merkle have received in France and Germany. And as the coronavirus crisis continues, his ratings are dropping as the public sees how deceptive, disorganized and inefficient the federal government’s response has been. As the election draws closer and the human and economic losses mount, this administration will be blamed for its latent response and inept follow-through.
Q: What about all the television exposure the president is getting right now, while Joe Biden is largely hidden from public view? To some people, especially those who get their information from Fox News, you would think the president is providing the kind of competent leadership this pandemic desperately calls for. How important is the TV exposure Trump is getting at his daily press briefings, even though some of his remarks are pure fiction, and the only hard facts seem to be presented by Dr.’s Fauci and Brex?
A: Actually, his daily press briefings are starting to work against him, as rather than deal with the crisis, he has largely used them to promote himself, badmouth governors (many of whom are showing the kind of leadership that is lacking in Washington) and duel with the press in his usual bombastic style of deny, deflect and lash out with blame. These briefings have provided Trump with an opportunity to appear presidential during a national crisis, but even his own staff recognizes that they are becoming a liability. Just as on The Apprentice, Trump appears in control, calling on people and running the show and it’s replaced his constant need for rallies where he can preach to the converted. But in the end, people are going to realize that even after learning of the threat of a national epidemic, this administration delayed response to the coronavirus for over a month, and thus, many more people needlessly died. That’s going to be hard for Trump or anyone else, for that matter, to spin.
Q: Given that we are sailing in uncharted political territory, what should the Democrats’ strategy be going forward?
A: The key is a three-pronged approach. First, you go after his failure to lead during this pandemic. There’s irrefutable evidence that Trump has proven to be incapable of being a “wartime” president during a crisis that threatens the very survival of every American. That should be the major referendum presented to the public on his re-election.
Second, highlight the president’s betrayal of the American worker, based on false promises from the 2016 campaign: raising taxes on the rich, protecting entitlements and getting people better, cheaper healthcare. The economic policies the Trump administration has pursued have proven to be against the interests of the working class.
Third, the Democrats should go after him on the environment, but not just frame it as the fear of climate change. Don’t get me wrong, the carbon problem is very real. Yet asking people to pay a hard cost, today, for an unclearly defined benefit in the future is a tough sell for anything. But promoting environmental policy as good for the economy, creating new industries and jobs, is something that the Dems haven’t effectively done.
Then, there’s the systematic gutting of environmental regulations, especially those enacted under the Obama administration, such as rolling back fuel economy standards, and protection from air and water pollution. And hammer home economic figures such as the alternative energy sector now having more workers than traditional power industries and that private business, including small businesses, are leading the way to a cleaner planet. That’s how you beat Trump on climate change.
Q: The president’s base hasn’t abandoned him during his handling of the coronavirus, but will that change in the months to come as the economy continues its tailspin and the death toll increases? And is there anything else that would possibly siphon off votes to the Democrats in the 2020 election?
A: There’s that 30-35 percent that’s so immersed in the Cult of Trump that I don’t think are reachable. But that’s not an electorate, that’s a faction. The underrated factor in winning presidential elections is being able to peel off votes, whether it was Clinton with the Third Way, George W. with Compassionate Conservatives, Obama’s Change We Can Believe In. Trump initially portrayed himself as the most moderate GOP nominee since Eisenhower.
I don’t know what Biden’s central theme will be, but the obvious choice is something like a Time for Healing because people are so exhausted from the continuing anxiety, anger and fear generated by this president on a daily basis. Most of all, the coronavirus has proven there’s no distinction between Red America and Blue America; we are all equally at the mercy of this pandemic. It’s cruelly ironic, but the virus may become a unifying force in our bitterly divided nation.
That’s enough of today’s “conversation.” As the lockdown will continue through April at the very least, I’ll be back with Part II, which will include Joe Biden’s choice for Vice-President, the role Mike Bloomberg’s billions will play in the election, the impact of delayed primaries and the option of a national vote by mail, which the president said that he’s against that because “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” There’s also the possibility that if Trump thinks he might lose, that he will try to delay or cancel the election. Of course, this is against the Constitution, but if it comes down to it, can this nation count on this conservative majority Supreme Court to rule against the president? Now, that’s a scary thought.
OK, back to pacing the hallways. Last, but not least, stay safe out there.