America’s last presidential election campaign won't be easily forgotten. From leaked Access Hollywood tapes and spurious insults between the two contenders to incessant chants of “lock her up!”, Clinton vs Trump was something Americans simply hadn’t experienced before. It was ugly. But the 2016 election may turn out to be a walk in the park compared to the 2020 election—particularly if Joe Biden is the Democratic presidential nominee.
Of all the Democrats running for president today, Trump clearly sees Biden as the biggest threat to a second term. Nobody thinks for a moment that Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren or Beto O’Rourke can pick up white, non-college educated, working-class voters in the Midwest who switched parties to vote for Trump in 2016.
Biden, however, has a quintessential working-class persona. He has deep connections in the very same communities in the Rust Belt that Trump needs to pull off another term. Biden proudly boasts himself a “union man”. He rides the train to work; is originally from coal country; has already lined up endorsements from a big firefighters union; and is currently trouncing Trump in the polls in all of these areas.
Trump may downplay Biden as an old, career politician who is losing his mental capacity, but deep down he is highly concerned about facing Biden in a one-on-one matchup. Why else would the president be going after the former VP so brutally?
Before flying off on Air Force One this week, Trump eviscerated Biden on the White House lawn.“I’d rather run against, I think, Biden than anybody,” he said. “I think he’s the weakest mentally, and I like running against people that are weak mentally. I think Joe is the weakest up here.” That wasn’t all. “I have to tell you, [Biden's] a different guy,” Trump said. “He looks different than he used to. He acts different than he used to. He's even slower than he used to be.” Pick the insult—loser, sleep, creepy, low-IQ, dumb—and Trump has used it against Biden.
The former vice president is not one to keep quiet. He hasn’t kept quiet in his half century-long political career. And he definitely isn’t going to keep quiet for a guy like Trump, whom Biden believes shouldn’t even be in the White House to begin with.
Speaking to a group of Iowa farmers, Biden sought to paint Trump as a con-man who talks a good game about standing up for the average American but who is really just a guy who cares about himself. “How many sleepless nights do you think Trump has had over what he’s doing to America’s farmers?” Biden asked. “Here’s the answer: Just as many as he had when he stiffed the construction workers and electricians and plumbers who built his hotels and casinos. Zero.”
The insults are only the beginning. We are eight months away from the first balloting in the Democratic primary, so it would be silly to assume Biden will run away with the nomination. But—and it’s a big “but”—if Biden does capture the nomination, the 2020 general election has the potential to be a noisier, personal, divisive, and childish version of the last one. And the last one was pretty darn childish.
Americans are getting an early taste of what a hypothetical Trump vs. Biden cage match will look like. If the last week of punch-counterpunch is any guide to the future, they can expect two senior citizens provoking each other like kindergarteners in pursuit of the highest office in the land. There will be policy proposals rolled out too. But if Trump has his way, he is going to personalise a race against Biden just like he did against Clinton.