If you had been observing the behaviour of only one U.S. presidential candidate in recent days, you would likely have concluded that Donald Trump is toast. The incumbent Republican President spent the week lashing out in truly disturbing ways, even for him. He may get away without wearing a face mask. But he seems increasingly at risk of winding up in a straightjacket.
Mr. Trump’s allies came close to staging an intervention after he dredged up a conspiracy theory about the death of an aide to former congressman Joe Scarborough, now an MSNBC morning show host and one of the President’s biggest critics. It was such a cruel stunt, without regard for the pain it caused the late woman’s family, that even the Trump-friendly media called him out on it. “Trust us, you did not look like the bigger man,” a New York Post editorial told him.
As the U.S. coronavirus death toll surpassed 100,000, the President remained stubbornly detached from the reality of the pandemic and the devastation it has caused, other than continuing to blame China, and a handful of Democratic governors who refuse to ease lockdowns in their states, for ruining the election-year narrative he’d been banking on.
Even his midweek trip to Florida was a bust when the launch of the NASA-manned SpaceX rocket, which was to mark the triumphant U.S. return to space, was postponed due to poor weather. You just knew that would put him in a snit. And so followed his threat to take executive action against Twitter for slapping a “get the facts” disclaimer on a couple of the President’s tweets regarding California’s move to allow all registered voters to cast ballots by mail in the November election. Mr. Trump insisted that would lead to rampant voter fraud.
Mr. Trump’s singular obsession remains his own re-election, not the pandemic. He seems preoccupied with the latter only to the extent that it is interfering with the former. His increasingly unhinged behaviour should be enough in itself to ensure his defeat.
Unfortunately, there’s Joe Biden to think about. The presumptive Democratic nominee has been nearly invisible since he was forced into his Delaware basement in March, when his and most other U.S. states imposed strict stay-at-home orders on their residents. In the weeks since, Mr. Biden has seen his lead over Mr. Trump steadily increase in national polls of all voters.
Yet, Mr. Biden’s campaign managers remain anything but confident of victory. If they were, they would not have risked giving swing voters a reason to think twice about voting for Mr. Biden by moving so conspicuously to the left with barely five months to go before election day. The Biden campaign has been bending over backward to accommodate the whims of his progressive former rivals for the Democratic nomination, senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. There is even speculation that Ms. Warren leads Mr. Biden’s list of potential running mates.
The cherry on the progressive sundae, however, has been Mr. Biden’s move to tap break-everything congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to co-chair the climate task force that will help forge the environmental platform Mr. Biden takes to voters in November. AOC, as she’s known, is a champion of the Green New Deal that would impose a slew of new regulations on U.S. energy producers and impose an outright ban on hydraulic fracturing. The plan’s proposals were controversial even before the pandemic struck. But with the U.S. economy facing its worst slump since the Great Depression, promising to strangle the country’s energy sector does not sound like a winning pitch when 40 million Americans are out of work.
While Mr. Biden’s platform is not expected to propose a fracking ban, he has nevertheless given Republicans a reason to accuse him of plotting one by giving Ms. Ocasio-Cortez such a prominent role in drafting his policies. Of course, Mr. Biden’s goal may simply be to keep her onside during the campaign only to throw her under the bus later. But he risks seeming willing to barter his principles in exchange for support from the left.
That could be a deal-breaker for voters in Pennsylvania, the state where Mr. Biden grew up, but one that has grown increasingly dependent on energy-sector jobs. Mr. Trump won the state by fewer than 50,000 votes in 2016. The Biden campaign has been counting on its candidate’s popularity among African-Americans to drive turnout among the state’s black voters, a constituency that Hillary Clinton struggled to mobilize in 2016.
Mr. Biden being Mr. Biden, however, he put his foot in his mouth yet again last week by telling a popular radio host that African-American voters who remain undecided about whom to vote for in November “ain’t black.”
No wonder so many Democrats are worried. It’s not Mr. Biden’s mask that’s the problem. It’s the candidate himself. Keeping him out of sight and out of mind may be his only path to victory in November.
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