The 2020 U.S. presidential election was always going to be a referendum on Donald Trump.
Except for a vocal minority of self-involved Democrats who believed class warfare was their party’s ticket to the White House – either through a Medicare for All platform that would deprive 160 million people of their private health insurance, or a Green New Deal that was really just radical redistribution disguised as environmentalism – everyone else knew otherwise.
Mr. Trump is the most polarizing president in anyone’s memory, which is saying a lot in country that has a long history of polarizing presidents. He has made everything, from the state of the stock market to the State of the Union, about him. And some Democrats thought they could make the election about something or someone else?
Until the COVID-19 pandemic ruined his “greatest economy ever” narrative, Mr. Trump seemed to be coasting toward victory in November, regardless of who ended up as the Democratic nominee. All that remained to be determined was whether he could improve on his 2016 performance, when he won the electoral college but lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.
About 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since most states shut down their economies a month ago in order to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. The shutdowns are likely to continue for several more weeks, notwithstanding Mr. Trump’s threats about overriding governors with the gumption to put public health ahead of jobs. The resulting economic collapse will leave millions more Americans scraping the barrel and see thousands of businesses fail.
Mr. Trump is about to become a Depression-era president. The election will still be about him, just not in the way we might have imagined it a few months ago. Mr. Trump’s handling of the pandemic will determine whether he follows in Herbert Hoover’s footsteps, becoming a one-term president whose name is forever associated with economic misery.
If you think his defeat is now inevitable – perhaps the only piece of good news to emerge from this annus horribilis – you would be wrong. The presumptive Democratic nominee, former vice-president Joe Biden, seems to be living up to the “sleepy Joe” nickname Mr. Trump has given him. For all his experience and middle-American appeal, Mr. Biden excites no one.
That may not matter in an election that is all about Mr. Trump, anyway. As many Democratic pundits see it, all Mr. Biden needs to do between now and November is to keep an even keel and let Mr. Trump dig his own grave with his increasingly erratic behaviour and unhinged lashing out at the media and governors who dare to question his crisis management skills or authority.
Mr. Trump’s daily coronavirus press conferences are mesmerizing, and not in good way. But it would be a mistake to think that most Americans see through his attacks on China or the World Health Organization or the media as attempts to change the channel from having to explain his own failures. On the contrary, his attacks resonate with plenty of voters beyond his own base.
Gallup polling consistently shows that most Americans simply do not trust the mainstream media to report the news “fully, accurately and fairly.” And the reporting (or rather lack thereof) done by mainstream media outlets on the allegations of sexual assault levelled against Mr. Biden by former Senate aide Tara Reade appear to confirm their worst suspicions.
The New York Times took 19 days from the time Ms. Reade came forward on Mar. 25 with accusations that Mr. Biden assaulted her in 1993 before publishing an article about them this week. The article found no former colleagues of Ms. Reade who would corroborate her account of the incident.
Still, The Times’ justification for not reporting on Ms. Reade’s story earlier, and only in passing when it did, rang hollow considering its extensive coverage of assault allegations against Mr. Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, in 2018.
Ms. Reade’s story is bound to come up repeatedly on the campaign trail. Mr. Trump will make sure of that. Mr. Biden has vowed to choose a woman as his running mate and, whoever it is, she will face uncomfortable questions about standing by a man who has faced complaints from several other women that he has inappropriately touched them.
No wonder an increasing number of Democrats want New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose meaty, heartfelt and informative daily coronavirus briefings have upstaged Mr. Trump’s meandering train wrecks, to launch a write-in campaign to contest the party’s remaining primaries.
In a year that has already defied all prediction, nothing is impossible.
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