Trump Has No Time Left to Spare

October 15, 2020

The 2020 campaign has entered its stretch run. Though early voting just began, at least 14.9 million people have already cast a ballot. This points to an election turnout that will eclipse 2016’s total of 138 million votes.

President Trump is now trailing nationally by double digits in public polls. Fresh off recovering from coronavirus, he returned to the trail Monday with a rally in Sanford, Fla.

In a campaign that has often veered toward the dark side, Mr. Trump was a happy warrior that night, displaying energy and pizazz. He clearly enjoyed bathing in his supporters’ adoration and even briefly danced to the Village People’s “YMCA” as the rally wrapped up. It was as if he understood, at least for one night, that Americans want to support someone who thinks he’s got a real chance and is fighting through to victory.

His attacks on his Democratic rival, former vice president Joe Biden, were delivered with a smile and received with laughter by the cheering crowd. Mr. Trump was more focused than usual, dwelling on differences over tax cuts, China, energy and the Supreme Court. He also made his first sustained effort to call out Mr. Biden for Monday-morning quarterbacking on Covid-19. Mr. Trump’s discipline likely caused his staff to hope he’ll now reprise the decisive closing weeks of 2016, when he mostly stayed on script.

Closing the gap won’t be easy. Mr. Trump must prosecute the differences between Mr. Biden’s very liberal statements during the primary (e.g., “We are going to get rid of fossil fuels” and “I’m going to eliminate the Trump tax cuts”) and his attempts now to make those comments disappear. Team Trump has done too little of that so far. The president is a showman; he should be able to drive this home. For example, he could highlight problematic Biden statements by playing videos of them on a giant screen at his rallies.

The president must close on his strength—the economy—on which people trust him more than they do Mr. Biden. Gallup recently asked Americans if they are better off today than four years ago. An astonishing 56% said yes, despite the pandemic and recession. By comparison, 45% said yes as President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election came to a close and 47% at this point in President George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign.

As for Mr. Biden, he continues playing the prevent defense, trying to avoid saying anything memorable as he flies to battleground states to meet with important subgroups of the electorate. But a location and a group are not a message. Nor are ads a substitute for one.

Mr. Biden’s spots are omnipresent on television in battleground states, the result of a fundraising machine that generates money almost as fast a Democratic Congress would spend it. Team Biden has bought far more 60-second ads than any presidential campaign in history, evidence it has more money than it knows what to do with. Minute-long ads cost much more than twice as much as 30-second spots.

The ads consist mostly of gauzy footage of Mr. Biden promising normalcy or attacks on Mr. Trump that are often fanciful or have been awarded “Four Pinocchios” by liberal newspaper fact-checkers.

Despite Sen. Bernie Sanders’s comment that Mr. Biden will be “the most progressive president since FDR,” there’s little pretense that the Democratic nominee is running on an agenda. He’s running on a mood. That may be enough to win, and even win big. But if he’s elected, Mr. Biden would not have much of a mandate to do anything except not be Donald Trump. If Mr. Biden moves to fulfill the Democratic Party platform and the “Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force Recommendations,” expect Americans to rebuke the party’s leftward lurch in a 2022 rout that makes the 2010 GOP midterm victory look modest.

But first things first. The election is less than three weeks away. The RealClearPolitics average has Mr. Biden up nearly 10 points nationally and ahead in all but a few battlegrounds, though Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina and Ohio are within the margin of error. The Democratic nominee’s favorables have also gone up. He’s in the catbird seat. Of course, so was Hillary Clinton around this time in 2016.


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