By Mark S. Singel
Previously on the 2020 Presidential Show, Democrats were slugging it out in never ending debates and the President was scheming to tarnish Joe and Hunter Biden. The President’s actions resulted in impeachment which his Senate allies quickly swept away. Biden survived the early primaries and miraculously turned his fortunes around in South Carolina.
Then the coronavirus hit, and the news was all COVID-19 all of the time.
Now that the pandemic seems to be reaching threshold levels and we are told that our social distancing has, indeed, begun to “flatten the curve,” it may be time to tune back in to the political drama that continues to unfold.
Here are a couple of developments.
President Donald Trump enters the pre-convention fray with a huge cash advantage. Raising more than $200 million in the first quarter of 2020 would usually be enough to push any opponent into full panic mode. But the Democrats are displaying something that is not often seen in their ranks: optimism.
Despite the money disadvantage, former Vice President Joe Biden maintains a lead of 6-10 points over the President. This is largely because Biden got through the primary maze unscathed. Bernie Sanders and all his erstwhile opponents are now onboard and singing from the same hymnal. President Obama weighed in with a ringing endorsement. Their common goal: defeat Donald Trump.
Biden, despite the taunting and the onslaught of a President who ignores any honorable rules of engagement, still maintains solid favorability ratings. Folks know Joe Biden and they are getting on board without a trace of the hesitation that bogged down the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016.
There are also some real numbers to consider. In 2016, Trump or Clinton won without cracking 50 percent in 14 states. This is because third party candidates and those who simply skipped the box next to the Presidential candidates’ names siphoned off enough votes to prevent majorities in those contests.
That’s nearly 8.3 million voters who sat it out or tossed their support to challengers with no hope of winning. Most of those were registered Democrats or independents who could not vote for Trump but would not vote for Clinton. Experts believe that 60 percent of those “stragglers” will find their way back to the Democratic fold.
And the Democrats are not taking their fundraising and organization duties lightly. Reports from the field are that battleground states are staffing up in preparation for what will be an intense ground game in the fall.
That is, there will be ample workers, technology, and media in Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania to name a few. In the all-important effort to get the vote out, the early signals are that the Democrats will not be out flanked.
Finally, the most powerful ally in the battle with Trump may be Trump himself. Instead of projecting himself as a steady leader in the coronavirus crisis, the president continues to send contradictory messages. He can’t seem to pass up the opportunity to hold daily campaign rallies disguised as pandemic updates. He can’t stop himself from bickering with the press and his own experts.
In every war or crisis that posed an imminent threat to the country, Americans have rallied around their President. Think Roosevelt and the Great Depression; Reagan and the Cold War; George W. Bush and 9/11. These leaders projected calm and compassion in the face of adversity.
They accepted the responsibility of leadership and their polling numbers rewarded them for it. Because of his own antics, the president’s numbers are falling; not rising.
Two other things happened while we were all sequestered in April, both of which involve battleground states. In Wisconsin, the courts ruled that the primary would not be moved back to June or later.
Voters waited in socially distanced queues for hours on end. They risked their health to exercise their right to vote. In that primary election, they sent an angry message to the Republican party by resoundingly ousting two GOP Supreme Court Justices.
In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was demeaned by the president as “that woman from Michigan” as he threatened to withhold assistance for her state. Why? Because she had the temerity to challenge the supply chain mechanism that was choking off help for her people.
These two states now have additional reasons to return to blue.
Since we are all binge-watching anyway, it is time to tune back into the race for President. This is a long-running program that promises more plot twists than Homeland, This Is Us, and House of Cards combined.
Mark S. Singel is the former lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania. He wrote this piece for PennLive/The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa., where it first appeared.