The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he doesn’t exist. His second greatest trick might be convincing America that Donald Trump is toast.
Despite all the premature grave-dancing going on right now, make no mistake: Trump can still win this thing.
His stunning victory in 2016 (in the wake of the Access Hollywood scandal that broke in October) should have convinced everyone that writing him off—ever—is insane.
Humility is important for commentators who don’t want to end up with egg on their faces, but it’s doubly important for the operatives and activists (charged with replacing him) who see this president as an existential threat.
To prevent irrational optimism from taking hold among anti-Trumpers, I have come up with a few helpful reminders to keep us grounded.
Election Day is more than four months away, and something crazy could still happen in the world. A candidate could contract COVID-19. Our military forces could snuff out a highly valued terrorist. A Supreme Court vacancy could occur. Another high-profile police abuse incident could be captured on video, sparking more civil unrest in the streets.
Even if you dismiss the possibility of another black swan event, you can’t quibble with reality: Biden has yet to name a running mate, the conventions (assuming they quasi happen) have yet to drop a single balloon, and at least three presidential debates are presumably going to happen. Each of these moments presents opportunity and danger. In short, there’s a lot of game left to play.
At this point, you’re probably tempted to go all Fantasy Island on me chanting, “The polls! The polls!” I get it. The latest one has Biden up by 14 points. But don’t forget that the national polls don’t matter much, since Trump only has to win the Electoral College and (to the consternation of many) not the popular vote.
Even at the state level, we don’t really know what turnout is going to look like. In 2016, battleground state pollsters got the educational composition wrong. Have their assumptions about the electorate improved? Are some Trump supporters still too hesitant (or cagey) to admit to pollsters how they plan to vote? I guess we’ll see come Nov. 3.
Please remember that other incumbents have overcome large deficits. The most famous example was Harry Truman’s stunning upset in 1948. But let’s not forget that George H.W. Bush (not technically the incumbent but acting like one) was down by 17 points to Mike Dukakis in late July of 1988. We all know how that one ended.
Next, let’s revisit modern America’s penchant for re-electing incumbent presidents. (Better the devil you know?) The exceptions—Jimmy Carter in 1980 and the aforementioned Bush in 1992—were both ousted during times of economic distress.
We are, in fact, in the midst of a similar turmoil. What makes this unique is that the economy was put on ice by Trump’s own federal government, and the possibility of a quick thaw reportedly worries some Democrats.
Trump’s appeal is also boosted by expectations that a COVID-19 vaccine is on the horizon, as well as massive government spending that has boosted the stock market and mitigated America’s pain. And who’s to say it will stop between now and November?
Indeed, there is every incentive to keep on spending. Case in point: On Monday, vulnerable Republican Senator Martha McSally proposed a huge travel stimulus check for Americans to take a vacation. It’s clear that Trump’s GOP is testing the theory that they can’t win by getting into a bidding war with Democrats. They’ve stopped pretending to appear fiscally conservative and are instead doling out cash.
Speaking of money, Trump still has more of it than Biden—even though the advantage is shrinking. And despite recently being outmaneuvered by K-pop fans, Trump’s digital campaign seems vastly superior.
Even if you poo-poo fears about the Kremlin, voter suppression, or voter fraud, it is still entirely plausible that Trump will finagle a way to win this election fair and square.
The “defund the police” slogan, violent protests, and the tearing down of statues in the images of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson have also provided Trump with ample fodder to fire up his supporters and enlist them in the culture war.
So far, Biden has distanced himself from the left’s most radical positions, and their overreach hasn’t stuck to him. Can he continue running up the middle of the field for four more months? Maybe the real question is this: Will the left allow him to do so? If the election is about Trump, then Trump probably loses. But if the left makes it about Washington and Jefferson or abolishing the police, then all bets are off.
Speaking of bets, I admit that I’ve been guilty of advancing the notion that Joe Biden is headed for victory. If I were betting today, I’d bet Biden. But I’m not betting today.
And it ain’t over til it’s over.