It being the year of the surreal, no one can guarantee there won’t be more of it come Nov. 3.
Given the odious year Donald Trump has had, given his blunder-laden floundering campaign, the result – a Joe Biden triumph – should be a foregone conclusion. If Democrats blow this one, it will be a humiliation of historic proportion, worse than 2016.
But with less than two weeks remaining, the frantic Mr. Trump still has a narrow path to victory. It’s so narrow you can scarcely find a pollster who gives him a decent chance. One who does is Patrick Basham, polling director for the Democracy Institute. The institute got it right in predicting the Trump victory four years ago and a Brexit win in the same year.
Just like in the last presidential campaign, Mr. Basham maintains pollsters are making the mistake in this one of underestimating the Trump vote owing to the fact that people don’t want to admit – it not being a reputation enhancer in most places – they will vote for him.
The President is behind by an imposing eight to 10 percentage points in national polls, but national polls are largely irrelevant. A dozen battleground states will decide the outcome and in those he trails by less than half that amount.
Overcoming that deficit will require almost everything turning his way until election day, starting with a strong debate performance Thursday, unlike his dreadful first debate with Mr. Biden. It’s their last head-on confrontation. He has to halt the Biden campaign’s momentum.
Mr. Trump can count on getting a boost with the likely Senate confirmation of his popular Supreme Court pick, Amy Coney Barrett.
In addition, there’s the possibility of traction from the Hunter Biden controversy as a result of the supposed discovery of his laptop computer bearing incriminatory e-mails linking his father to influence peddling for him. The story – though Joe Biden has yet to deny that the e-mails are genuine – is widely considered to be bogus.
But Mr. Trump and his Fox News carnival barkers are going to town on it and even if further debunked, it could still have an impact. Democrats are mindful of how the overhyped Hillary Clinton e-mail server controversy weighed on the 2016 campaign.
Attending rally after rally, despite a recent bout with the coronavirus, Mr. Trump is running a far more energetic campaign than Mr. Biden. The 77-year-old Democrat returned to his Delaware basement Sunday to spend no less than four days preparing for the debate. The move hardly serves to counter his age-weary image.
The Republicans have been doing door-knocking blitzes, increasing their voter registration numbers more than the Democrats, who have largely passed on the practice due to the pandemic.
To be considered also are voter-suppression schemes that could reduce Democratic tallies. One involves the counting of mail-in votes, which will make up a high percentage of the Democratic count. There are reports of unduly slow work by the U.S. Postal Service, which underwent a reorganization in the summer. States such as Michigan, which could be pivotal in the outcome, do not accept ballots that arrive after election day, while others treat votes arriving days after as valid. Other states make it easy for the mail votes to be invalidated.
Mr. Trump is neck-and-neck with Mr. Biden in big-prize states like Florida, Ohio and North Carolina, and he’s within striking range in critical Pennsylvania. Even if he loses key states he won last time such as Michigan and Wisconsin, he could still win the Electoral College.
Although Americans are in the midst of a pandemic with its resultant economic distress, a Gallup poll reports that 56 per cent of them still say they are better off now than they were four years ago. That is usually a good sign for an incumbent.
In keeping with the tenor of much of the American electorate, Mr. Trump is still seen as the outsider taking on the elitist establishment. That’s another factor that could help him. And then there’s the great unknown that catapulted him to power four years ago: turnout. If it works to the Republican advantage again this time, look out.
Though odds still heavily favour the Democrats – a landslide is within reach – it’s no time, as Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon recently warned, for complacency. “We also know that even the best polling can be wrong,” she said, “and that variables like turnout mean that in a number of critical states we are functionally tied – and that we need to campaign like we’re trailing.”
It was sound advice. Curiously her candidate, his feet up in Delaware, doesn’t appear to be following it.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.