The Wrong Kind of Case For Trump
The president’s record is not a selling point when Joe Biden is wiping the floor with it simply by breathing.
With The case for Trump will come down to his record. It’s a strong one in The Washington Post, Hugh Hewitt surmised his 800-word case for the president’s reelection thusly:
While establishing himself as the most accessible-to-the-media president in modern times, Trump has also stripped off the veneer of objectivity from the “fake news.” “Blue Bubble” journalists are the last to know the contempt in which they are held beyond the Acela corridor and outside Silicon Valley and Hollywood. They mistake their small audience share for success. In fact, most of America would rather watch a mystery poetry slam than their “news.” Trump hammered that home, and journalists hate him for it. In turn, Blue Check Twitter confirms the contempt that “elites” feel for more than half of America.
Trump’s brawling, slugging, tempestuous approach to everything in every hour has worn down many, but his road is marked by these accomplishments. Former vice president Joe Biden’s near-50-year run in government is marked by . . . well, you fill that in. Polls say Biden is far ahead. We shall see.
There’s an aesthetic critique of Trump that has convinced elites that he must be beaten, that he is cruel and beneath the office. But Americans want their jobs and security back. They like the police. And, yes, most of the time they mostly admire Trump’s style and, almost always, his results.
Setting aside the individual merits to the points Hewitt lays out, it is his premise that is the main problem with his take. This is not a “run on your record” election. We have had many of those; Clinton in 96, W in 2004, and most recently Obama in 2012 all are recent examples of incumbents running on their records and winning another four years relatively comfortably. None of those three had the curveball of the present crisis combo of COVID and economy that has been radiating outward for five months and counting. Nor does there seem to be any abatement coming between now and November. With schools getting ready to restart with varying levels of chaos, the looming start to a new fiscal year that is going to be historically ugly, and the slow realization that the election results are very likely to be a multiple day — if not weeks or months — affair in settling, the pre-March 2020 record is going to feel like a lifetime ago to many voters.
His referencing to the “small audience share” of the granted adversarial media and doubting of the polls are mile markers on the “silent majority” road to success the president and his supporters have been referring to more and more of late. This too eats at his own premise, however. With such a, -according to Hugh- strong list of accomplishments why would the supporters of the president be the 8–12 points worth of silent by which Team Trump currently finds themselves trailing Joe Biden?
Joe Biden, mind you. The barely animated figure with 40+ years of just hanging around on the perimeter of things that were happening with a paltry accomplishment-to-time-served ratio to show for it. The Joe Biden whose campaign was nearly broke in February and came in fourth in Iowa. The Joe Biden who became the default rallying point for a huge mass of the Democratic Party as primary voters took a look at the looming possibility of a Bernie Sanders nomination and ran, not walked, to the polls in record numbers to put down the Democratic Socialists in their own party and bring an abrupt end to a primary that looked like it might go a while longer. A Joe Biden who is currently winning the presidential race by doing almost nothing at all.
Your record is not a selling point when Joe Biden is wiping the floor with it simply by breathing.
Hewitt isn’t completely wrong about aesthetics, though. The president very much benefited with his style in 2016 against Hillary Clinton. Years of loathing from the right of the Clintons in general and Hillary in particular hit the perfect inflection point with the perfect person willing to unload all that invective upon her. To the president’s base the constant combat is daily manna for the MAGA faithful to show their chosen avatar is fighting the fight. Hugh has a fair point in many folks enjoying a predictable and often condescending media getting any sort of comeuppance. It is the sort of visceral thrill that cuts faster than an ideological or policy argument. However, the aesthetics that worked during the economic boomtimes of 2016–2019 are not going to assuage all too real chaos of fall 2020. There isn’t enough anger and contempt in the world for the media to cover up for a lost job, or a chaotic school, or the threat or loss of a loved one to a disease that has killed 157K Americans and counting.
And yet, the president is far from done in this campaign. Historically, the incumbent usually finds a way to tighten up a race, and that is still Joe Biden representing Team Blue, thoroughly capable of self-destruction at any moment. The argument Hewitt and the president’s supporters ought to be making is not the president’s record, but the only argument they have that has proven to gain traction: It’s Trump or the left. The president and his surrogates have been trying to do that, but unlike the far more hated Hillary Clinton ol’ Joe is a much more palatable and normal level of politician. If you manifested the ever-popular “generic democrat” and made it flesh to walk among us at 77 years of age it would look a lot like Joe Biden.
Hewitt also makes a grave error in his closing argument. A lawyer should know better than to ever leave “Well, you fill that in” hanging because that is exactly what folks will do. In an election that for many is an up-or-down referendum on the president, far more folks than Mr. Hewitt will like may roll with “It doesn’t matter.” An electorate who makes the mental leap to “it doesn’t matter” about one candidate as long as they are not incumbent, bodes very ill for the president. The mounting chaos in the country will not help either, and Hewitt and others can point to China all they want for the source of the COVID crisis, but at five months and counting the president needs some kind of win to avoid it being forever the lead item on the list of reasons for his political downfall.
This will not be a record election. It will be a “what have you done for me lately” election. The president had best do something for someone not in his base, and quickly, if he is to remain behind the Resolute Desk come 2021.
Originally published at https://ordinary-times.com as part of the author’s Harsh Your Mellow Monday feature on August 3, 2020.