In May, I wrote an article in which I argued that Joe Biden needed to be more vocal in criticising President Trump and make his case more effectively why people should pick him over the incumbent in November.
I wrote: ‘In comparison to his rival Trump, who is able to broadcast to the world’s press via the White House press briefing room, Biden’s scope is limited, and he is at a disadvantage because of it’. I was wrong about the effectiveness of Biden’s strategy. Remaining quiet and letting Trump self implode has arguably been Biden’s best decision he has made this electoral campaign. Let’s examine why.
Firstly, Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been heavily criticised in recent months, which has likely hindered his re-election chances. Biden didn’t attend rallies or grandstand on cable news talk shows criticising Trump and his performance because he simply didn’t need to. Trump made his own negative press attention through his own ridiculous actions. From declaring that a potential treatment could be by ingesting bleach to initially dismissing the benefits of wearing a mask, Trump’s ineptitude has been on full display in the last few months.
This view is supported by recent polling too. Three and a half months ago, Trump and Biden were virtually tied in the public’s approval of how each would handle the pandemic. Today, Biden leads Trump on the issue by 20 points, suggesting that the public are unhappy with Trump’s inadequate response to the pandemic and would favour a change in leadership at the White House.
The pandemic has affected the American economy too. James Carville, Bill Clinton’s 1992 strategist, famously said ‘it’s the economy stupid’, and the US economy has been on the downturn as a result of job closures due to the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Whilst Trump cannot be blamed solely for the economic downturn as regression is inevitable following a global pandemic, the president is seen by many to responsible for managing the economy of the nation, and Trump’s economic strategy is seen by many to be insufficient.
When it comes to the polling, again it is a similar story. Trump and the Republicans are generally seen by the voters to be more trustworthy on economic policy, yet now it is near a tie, with Biden seen by the public as more capable at managing the economy by a narrow 1 point, according to a new Fox News poll. With the economy bound to get worse before it gets better, these figures could get even worse before November.
In an interview with Chris Matthews on Fox News at the weekend, President Trump took shots at Biden for ‘never speaking’ and ‘reading from a teleprompter and then going back in his basement’. As we have seen in the polling, the numbers seem to show that the public would rather vote for the person that doesn’t speak as often than the person that tends to exacerbate every problem when he opens his mouth.
In the same remarkable interview, when asked about the current poll numbers that put him behind Biden nationally, Trump rebuffed the question by claiming that the polls were fake and stated that ‘the polls were much worse in 2016’. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, the polls are much worse for him today than when he was the outsider running in 2016. A national ABC/Washington Post poll in July of 2016 had Hillary Clinton at 4 percent points ahead. That same poll conducted in July of 2020 had Biden 15 points ahead. While critics can argue it is just one poll and an outlier compared to others, it is conducted by the same organisation using the same methodology as they did in 2016.
Moreover, according to Real Clear Politics, the polling average, that is the average polls of all major polls conducted, has Biden up a solid 8 points. That is a healthy and fairly comfortable lead and is a much greater lead than Hillary had over Trump in 2016, where the average polling lead was around 2-3 points.
Trump also currently has an unimpressive 39% approval rating. Though some would point out the fact that Trump won in 2016 with low approval rating, it is worth noting that this is because he was running against an opponent that was almost as disliked as him. Biden is more popular than Hillary and isn’t seen by voters to be as ‘crooked’ and part of the establishment, whilst Donald Trump seems to be less popular today than he was when he was running in 2016. With an election less than four months away, these poll numbers seem disastrous for the president.
During a normal electoral cycle, without the economic downturn and coronavirus pandemic, Trump’s public feuds and family fallouts may have impacted his chances. John Bolton, Trump’s former National Security Advisor and a prominent figure on the American right, released a damaging book about his time in the Trump administration, in which he labelled the president ‘not fit for office’ on his press tour. In June, during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, Trump ordered the dispersal of protesters in Washington DC so he could use St John’s church as a photo opportunity for himself, the Bible clutched tightly in his hand. In recent weeks too, his niece Mary Trump has released an unflattering memoir about her uncle. She has gone on to say that he is ‘not going to get better and is without question going to get worse’. In any other election year, these events could possibly be politically damaging for any incumbent. Currently, they simply feel like a side effect of 2020. They are memorable for a few days and then another shocking story comes into the news cycle, displacing the previous one before you have a chance to digest it.
Unfortunately for Trump though, you can’t override a pandemic and an economic depression which is what he is trying to do through force of will. By going on outbursts that present him as not fit for office and for failing to manage the coronavirus pandemic effectively, it seems more likely than ever that he will lose the election in November.