It’s easy to turn on CNN or take a quick glimpse at the polls and just assume that Donald Trump is destined to become the first one-term president in nearly three decades. Some of my proud Democrat friends keep insisting to me that the former vice president Joe Biden will humiliate Trump with a margin of victory past presidential aspirants only dreamt of. Democratic strategists are confident of regime change in Washington DC — so confident, in fact, that they are starting to discuss possible candidates for key posts in a future Biden administration.
You can’t blame them for believing the Trump era is irrepressibly doomed. Public surveys show Trump barely holding water in states that are traditionally considered strongholds for the Republican party. A Democratic presidential candidate hasn’t won Georgia since a young Bill Clinton took the state in 1992. Arizona has voted for a Democratic president only once over the last 70 years. Yet it’s more than plausible that Biden could claim both states next week, breaking the GOP lock on two areas of the country that are critical to the party’s future presidential prospects. None of this even mentions the down-ballot races, where at least a half-dozen Republican Senate incumbents are struggling to hold off Democratic challengers flush with cash and poised to exploit Trump’s poor popularity to end GOP control of the upper chamber.
And yet despite all of the positivity for Democrats who would rather move to Canada than endure another four years of Trump, they would be making a major miscalculation by assuming this election is in the bag. Trump’s approval ratings may be consistently unimpressive, but the man has a knack for shocking people. All of the gloating from Democrats right now is very similar to the confident projections four years ago about an imminent Hillary Clinton victory. We all know how those projections turned out. The pollsters and pundits got it wrong the last time around — after that experience, none us should assume anything ever again.
Yes, the pollsters have gone through their notes in the years since and corrected some of the anomalies. There is also a danger of overcorrecting and reading too much into the 2016 presidential election; just because Hillary Clinton took the Midwest for granted doesn’t mean Joe Biden will. Indeed, Biden has spent a lot of time in Pennsylvania over the last few days and even made a stop in Minnesota, a state that has voted Democrat at the presidential level every year since 1972.
However, there is something about Trump that is almost unexplainable. Here is a president who has gone through scandal after scandal and controversy after controversy — many of his own making — and yet has survived all of them. Besides tax cuts, fewer regulations and a few hundred miles of wall along the US-Mexico border, Trump doesn’t have much to run on. The ever-worsening coronavirus pandemic continues to dog him. The economy he claims to have grown was essentially wiped out thanks to the virus. Taking this parade of horribles into account, logic would suggest that Trump should be down 15 or 20 points and possibly set to lose the election in the worst defeat since Walter Mondale in 1984.
Yet a landslide is highly unlikely — Trump has built a strong personality cult. His supporters will trudge through rain, sleet, snow, or even a tornado to vote for their man.
The 2020 election, of course, won’t be decided in the red states, but rather by the suburbs in places like North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. The assumption this year is that suburbia is getting tired of Trump’s helter-skelter routine, his carelessness about Covid-19 and his overall divisiveness. But there are just as many people in the suburbs who are concerned about high taxes, the overall state of the economy, and the possibility of crime in the cities impacting their own neighbourhoods (Trump has been hitting the tough-on-crime message incessantly since the summer). There may be more voters leaning one way or the other, but it would be shortsighted to assume the suburbs still aren’t competitive. Presidential elections have a habit of bringing supporters of both parties out in droves.
None of this is to discount a Joe Biden victory on Tuesday. Far from it — a Democratic wave across America is certainly on the table. The enthusiasm within the Democratic party right now is as high — maybe even higher — than it was during Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Except instead of Democrats voting for hope and change, they are voting for healing the soul of the nation.
But a word of caution is in order: this election is likely to be much closer than many of the election watchers think. In politics, nothing is impossible.