Scenarios for a Biden debacle are increasingly unlikely.
With three weeks left until the United States presidential election, Donald Trump needs an unlikely turnaround. His disadvantage in national surveys is notable. Four years ago at an equivalent time in the campaign, Hillary Clinton surpassed Trump by five percentage points. On average, the difference between Biden and Trump is 10 points. The key swing states do not paint a better picture for Trump; Biden has a solid advantage in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. In all three, the Democratic candidate’s margin is almost six points, far above the margin of error. The story is similar in Florida, Arizona and North Carolina: although Biden has less of an advantage in these states, it is still important. According to survey experts, even if the polls are as wrong as they were in 2016, Biden would win.
In such a precarious situation, one would think that Trump would tread carefully to try to close the gap that clearly separates him from his rival. To start, it could be imagined that Trump would take advantage of any opportunity to debate Biden on whatever stage or in whatever format. The campaign surely has some surprises left, but only a few previously scheduled opportunities that could be turning points remain. The presidential debates are (were?) the most important. At the end of last week, the independent Commission on Presidential Debates—whose integrity is impeccable, no matter what Trump says—announced that the second encounter between the candidates would be in a virtual format as a precaution after Trump’s infection. Although it wasn’t ideal, the decision made sense, especially since the format would be a get-together with voters asking questions. Faced with the decision of the commission—which is, I insist, fully independent and has been respected for decades—Trump opted to throw an absurd tantrum. He said he would not be present at a virtual meeting and that’s that—a decision that led to the cancellation of the second debate. Given his disadvantage and the little amount of time remaining to reverse it, his behavior is incomprehensible.
What remains for Trump, then? Very little. Until now, all of the campaign’s home stretch surprises have conspired against him. The most important, of course, was his contracting COVID-19. Although Trump has tried to turn it around in a myriad of ways, the truth is that his infection and its details (not only Trump contracted it, but also a good portion of his inner circle, starting with his wife) have left him open to ridicule. It’s difficult to imagine a situation more openly embarrassing for a man who has dedicated himself to minimizing the pandemic’s risk for months. Nothing Trump does can take the virus off center stage when he needs the opposite. The more the virus is talked about and the less, for example, the economy is talked about, the worse for Trump’s chances.
We return to the following question, then: What remains for him? The answer is in the unpredictable nature of 2020. Four years ago, the campaign changed course during its final days following the sudden FBI intervention of James Comey over the matter of Clinton’s emails. Comey’s revelations about Clinton’s supposed improper use of emails reinforced Trump’s narrative (“Clinton is corrupt”) and served to hand him the election victory by a tiny margin. Could something similar occur this time? Nothing is impossible, but it’s improbable. Biden is not Clinton. To start with, Biden is a much loved and much less controversial public figure. It’s not an accident that Trump hasn’t managed to demolish Biden’s merits. Although anything can happen in 2020, it seems unlikely that Trump will find the key to knocking down Biden’s prestige with only 20 days left. Biden, on his part, has conducted a careful campaign, avoiding risks. He says what is necessary and nothing more. His campaign has adapted to the times we are living in, and the times we are living in have helped Biden, who tends to speak too much or make unnecessary mistakes. If Biden continues down this path and closes the door to Trump’s manipulations, scenarios for a Biden debacle are increasingly unlikely. It doesn’t help Trump either that in 2020 the number of undecided voters is less than it was four years ago.
Of course, nothing is set in stone. As incredible as it seems, President Trump’s approval rating has increased a bit, almost to 45%. The number is still very low (Obama won reelection with almost 50% approval), but if it continues increasing in the next three weeks, the election might be over with. 2020 won’t let us breathe for even a moment.
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