The terms of this tumultuous moment define a contest in which Joe Biden seems to have everything going for him, except all of his mental faculties.
Do you know what SMAGA is? It stands for “Secret Make America Great Again.” That is, the silent or secret army that, like in 2016, didn’t show up in the polls, but pulled the levers on Election Day for Donald Trump.
Only 96 days remain until the Nov. 3 election, with COVID-19 blowing up and both candidates’ teams trying to exploit all their adversary’s weaknesses.
The acronym SMAGA and the idea behind it are comical, but they reflect the high anxiety ongoing in the Trump campaign — which recently swapped in a new campaign manager.
With polls consistently showing a 4%-12% advantage for Biden, the Trump campaign’s attempt to discredit the polls reeks of desperation. If the polls were in favor of Trump, of course they would be touted as the truth.
Without the roaring pre-COVID-19 economy, and with 150,000 deaths from the disease, it’s as if Trump has entered into the election campaign with both arms tied behind his back.
Except for the near unanimous support of Republican politicians, of their own will or under pressure from their grassroots supporters, Trump, much like he was in 2016, is faced with three decisive months of campaigning against everything and against everyone. And considering the many self-sabotaging explosions in Twitter and at live events, he is at times even against himself.
As for Biden, his battle is against the sentiment that that the election is in the bag.
Everyone knows that in 2016, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by edging her out in battleground states by just 80,000 votes, giving him the Electoral College victory despite receiving fewer votes in the overall popular vote.
Now, everyone knows that up to the last minute, Clinton was considered the clear favorite to win, with a victory speech and cabinet appointments ready in her pantsuit pocket.
Could the same polls that were wrong in 2016 be right in 2020?
Many Republicans allege that the sampling used in current polls is skewed to include more loyal Democratic voters to the exclusion of a reasonably large group of undecided voters. This refers to the “SMAGA group,” the voters who feel excluded and looked down on by the elite because they like Trump.
The certainty of Biden’s victory is so strong that he is giving himself the luxury of picking a vice presidential running mate who is more “political” and less “electoral,” as a way to win over the far left — like a Black woman aligned with the radicalism of the current protests — effectively dispensing with the idea of using a vice presidential pick to moderate the ticket.
Biden played this moderating role himself when Barack Obama tapped him to be the vice presidential candidate: a centrist senator capable of appealing to Democrats who harbored suspicions of a candidate who could go on to become the first Black president as well as the most left.
Well, Biden is not Obama. He does not have the charisma, the brilliance and the novelty of the ex-president. Not to mention, Obama was 47 years old during his first presidential election. Biden is 77.
An ex-manager of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, Nina Turner, recently made a scatological comparison for what Biden represents to the socialist senator’s supporters, a comparison which is currently setting fire to the street and strongly supporting “peaceful violence” — another popular expression being used to mock journalists and politicians who always speak of peaceful protests despite acts of mob aggression. “It’s like saying to somebody, ‘You have a bowl of shit in front of you, and all you’ve got to do is eat half of it instead of the whole thing,” Turner said.
Age and the constant verbal slip-ups from Biden, who has introduced his sister as his wife and who said that 100 million Americans had died of COVID-19, initially raised the topic of “cognitive ability” with respect to the presidential contest.
Although Trump at 74 is no spring chicken, he boasts of having full command of his mental faculties. And he has challenged Biden to present a medical exam proving the same.
Ideally, the campaign managers would keep Biden locked in the basement where he’s been isolating, communicating only through interviews with sympathetic journalists willing to boost his standings rather than entering a real clash.
As this is impossible, the candidate will need to put himself out there more. And the first debate is already scheduled: Aug. 24* in Cleveland, Ohio.
The debates could bring out the best — and also the worst — of each candidate.
In one of the more memorable moments in presidential debate history, Ronald Reagan, then 73, said in 1984 to his Democratic opponent Walter Mondale, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
Everyone laughed, including Mondale, who was decisively beaten when the final votes were tallied.
Biden’s team should be prepared with dozens of responses just as good as Reagan’s when it comes to the topic of age.
He’ll just need to be sure to remember them.
*Translator’s note: The first debate is scheduled for Sept. 29.