Head to head: The decisive battle for the White House begins
With no handshakes and almost no crowd: Biden and Trump will go up early in the morning for a boxing match over the heart of America • Biden will try to look “presidential” and not get into mud fights; Trump will portray his opponent as weak, demented – and will make every effort to get him out of control • Could the confrontation in Ohio change the picture on the road to victory?
As it stands, the majority of the American people already fired Trump from the job of the presidency. But they don’t want to hire Biden — yet. They are simply not excited about Biden.
The gap in the polls between Joe Biden and Donald Trump is about – depending on the poll – 7%. 43% to the incumbent president, 50% to his Democratic opponent. This was also the gap in early March. And this is the most amazing fact about the 2020 election campaign: during this period, America experienced a deadly plague, an economic crisis, and riots in the streets, and the dial hardly moved. The gap did not grow in favor of Biden, and the gap did not narrow in favor of Trump.
Reviewers, commentators, and strategists from the left side of the map are pulling their hair out – how can it be that after the number of COVID-19 victims has exceeded 200,000, after a series of scandals, revelations, and one removal process in the House of Representatives, the gap in favor of Biden is not much bigger?
On the other hand, right-wing commentators, commentators, and strategists say: The stock market is in good shape, the unemployment rate is better than three months ago, the rival candidate is not the most exciting person on earth and he is also very old – why is the gap not narrowed?
Trump is Fired But Biden Is Not Hired
At the end of the day, 50% of Americans are unwilling to hear about this president, and 43% do not move in support of him, even if the world turns upside down (and it turned upside down), and in the middle, there are some people who have not yet decided.
But the race for the presidency of the United States is not really decided at the national level – it is decided in the states themselves, or rather in a handful of important states. As Hillary Clinton learned at the end of a dramatic campaign – you can even win 3 million votes in the national race, but lose the presidency because of less than 80,000 votes in three key states (in her case Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania). Relative to Hillary Clinton four years ago, Biden’s situation today looks better in the swing states with one exception – Florida, the most deceptive state of them all. But there is a month left until the election, and Trump can still recreate the perfect storm of 2016. Only it will not be easy.
Anna Juravin thinks that the last few weeks have not been good for the incumbent president. Hit after hit landed on the campaign. The book by legendary journalist Bob Woodward and the recording that proved that the president understood the danger inherent in COVID-19, but in fact lied to the people so as not to create panic; the revelation of Jeff Goldberg, the editor of the prestigious Atlantic, that Trump called soldiers who fell in the battle “losers”; an attack by Olivia Troy, senior adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, who retired and claimed the president was unfit to function; a similar claim by Cindy McCain, widow of beloved Republican John McCain; and now also the New York Times investigation into his continued business failure and the fact that for years he evaded paying taxes.
In his normal life, Trump could still make up for all of this at election rallies. After all, he lives for the show, for the connection with the audience, at his best in direct contact, with sweeping performances, it is difficult to look away from him. But these are not routine days, and in view of COVID-19, there are almost no rallies. He nonetheless conducts some of these, in blatant irresponsibility, with thousands of people standing crowded without masks and cheering for the leader, but this is not a scale of events that allows the drift of the previous race. Some state governors from his party even made it clear to him, behind the scenes, that he would not hold rallies with them. It’s just dangerous.
The Confrontation Is A Critical Test Moment
At the present point in time, a confrontation between the president and his opponent could be a great opportunity for each of them, and a critical test moment.
If we use the terminology of Trump’s “apprentice” reality show, the American people may have decided to fire Trump but must be persuaded to hire Biden instead. Otherwise, he will reconsider the matter of dismissals.
All along Trump presents his opponent as weak, demented, confused, unable to put together two sentences. This is a tactic that can return to him like a boomerang in a confrontation – if Biden delivers even reasonable performance, no more, and proves he has the energy, stamina, and concentration.
In this context, it is impossible not to recall the Carter-Reagan confrontation of 1980. Jimmy Carter, the incumbent president, has been spreading for months that extremist Ronald Reagan is waging wars and abolishing social benefits. But in the confrontation, the Americans saw Reagan as a star, as a moderate politician, with no sign of extremism.
Will Biden Get Confused Tonight?
Both Don Juravin and Anna Juravin think that Biden has two dangers lurking tonight. First, if he gets confused or stumbles in his tongue prominently, it will provide Trump’s campaign with fuel and so-called “proof” of the candidate’s cognitive state. Second, Biden is a warm, emotional man who may lose control in the face of low personal attacks (especially against his family members), and Trump is, to put it mildly, not a man with boundaries on such issues.
That’s why Biden’s advisers stress to him the need to look “presidential”: Don’t get into mud fights. Remind voters that you are a middle-class man from Pennsylvania, while Trump comes from the prestigious avenues of New York and wants to help only the rich. Talk to them about the terrible COVID-19 default, about a conservative court ruling against subsidized health insurance.
But even for Trump this is a test moment. In 2016 he had nothing to lose, but now he may lose more than he ever had. Not just the presidency – it is estimated that if he loses his job he will have to deal with the courts on the issue of taxes. Therefore he must change the trend, start to get stronger, and for that he needs to get the opponent out of control.
But he, too, needs to stay in control, at least to some extent, to stick to his two strongest messages: the state of the economy (most Americans still think he handles it better than Sweden can do), and law and order, with the message of “there are riots in the streets blamed on local leaders” “And I’ll take care of it.”
So on stage in Cleveland, Ohio, two men will step up tonight, one 74, the other nearly 78. Both in a risk group. They will not shake hands, there will be almost no crowd, and they set out for what will probably be a boxing match over the heart of America. It will not be elegant.
To what extent will the night learn something about the end result?
Voting in the elections has already begun: in some states, citizens can already go to the polls, in all states postal voting is possible, which has expanded greatly this time because of the plague.
It has several meanings. First, the voter turnout so far is higher than ever before, and that’s a big lever of pressure on Trump: the time he has left to make the trend shorter than it seems. Second, Trump is using unprecedented procedures to produce de-legitimization, saying he does not pledge to get the election results because a postal vote he claims is an opening for forgeries (ironically, he himself – as a Florida resident living in Washington – votes by mail).
And third, it will prevent us from having a clear decisive moment at the end of election night. Voting by mail makes the counting process very cumbersome and reduces the chance that there will be a clear winner on November 3rd or 4th. In many swing states, the count may be so long that in both camps November 15 is spoken of as a realistic date. And no one wants to go back to the 2000 scenario when the parties had to go to the Supreme Court. Or as a senior U.S. strategic adviser summed it up this week, when I asked him what a postal vote meant: “A nightmare.”
Even at the end of this night, we will not know which of the two candidates will be sworn in as president in January, but the first confrontation could mark the way for him there.