The great ceremonial game of poll dancing is gearing up for its quadrennial orgy. Headlines across the fruited plain bark out numbers and percentages in mystic confabulation. Votaries sway back and forth as the modern magi of the press repeat the results of this contemporary incarnation of taking the auspices.
Was any medieval or ancient devotee of numerology more besotted by the task of squeezing significance out of numbers than our pollsters and their marks, or clients, are today? I doubt it.
During the First Punic War at the naval battle of Drepana in 249 bc, the commander Publius Claudius Pulcher grew impatient when the sacred chickens failed to signal divine approval for the battle by refusing the grain they were offered. ‘Bibant,’ shouted Pulcher, tossing the fastidious birds into the sea, ‘quoniam esse nolunt’: ‘Let them drink since they do not want to eat.’ Pulcher went on to a devastating defeat at the hands of the Carthaginians. Should we therefore endorse the predictive significance inherent in the feeding habits of fowl? If you said yes, then you might have a future as a poll dancer.
All of the polls I’ve seen so far place Donald Trump, the incumbent, behind all 867 Democratic aspirants. In July 2015, Trump trailed the Anointed One, Hillary Clinton, by 20 points in the polls. He continued trailing the ‘inevitable’ winner until the impossible became actual in the wee hours of 9 November 2016.
How did that happen? Never mind. People have short memories. And half the fun of politics is pretending that your chap has a chance. So the news is now full of tales of resurgent Democratic potency. Leading the pack is the aging wonder Joe Biden. He first ran for president back in 1988, long before Al Gore invented the internet and when twitter was still something only birds did.
Biden has two great advantages. One is name recognition. Since he was Barack Obama’s vice-president for eight years, people know who he is, especially the young women he has encountered. Some have remarked that he has nice hands.
The second advantage is that, despite being 76, Biden is not obviously insane, a qualification of which other Democratic candidates cannot necessarily boast. Biden’s nearest competitor is his fellow geriatric and avowed socialist Bernie Sanders. A lot of millennials in the US are said to favour socialism. I suspect that is because they confuse ‘socialism’ with ‘social media’ and believe it has something to do with selfies or other modes of narcissistic recreation. No one has yet broken it to them that the two planks of socialism are 1) abolition of private property and 2) equalisation of wealth.
Bernie Sanders is eager to teach them that lesson. Absent the corrupt intervention of Hillary Clinton and her minions in the Democratic National Committee, he might well have been the Democratic nominee in 2016. He would have lost then, just as he will lose in 2020 should he somehow finagle the nomination, which he won’t.
Behind Bernie are the assorted throng of faux injuns, rainbow candidates and hectoring scolds who unite in disliking the United States, its history, and the institutions that made it the freest, most secure, and most prosperous country in the world.
They all promise to fix all that, and I believe they would, given the chance. Biden said that the first thing he’d do as president is raise taxes. As one wit observed, president Walter Mondale was unavailable for comment. Other wits wonder whether Biden intends to engage Neil Kinnock as a paid speechwriter or whether he will simply filch what he needs for the campaign trail.
This week, Donald Trump officially launched his re-election campaign, an event marked by a huge (yuge!) rally in Orlando, Florida. I say ‘officially’ because the truth is that Trump really began his re-election campaign on 20 January 2017, shortly after noon, when he took the oath of office for the first time. Since then he has held 61 campaign rallies.
But the rallies are just the Geiger counter of the Trump campaign. They register the enthusiasm. What causes the enthusiasm in the first place? I’d say it can be summed up in one word: accomplishment. Ever following the injunction of Matthew 5:15, Trump is not hiding his light under a bushel. ‘I think I’ve done more than any other first-term president ever,’ he recently said.
He has, too. Has any president kept more of his campaign promises than Trump? He promised to nominate judges and justices who were constitutionalists of the stripe of Antonin Scalia. He has done so. He promised to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. He did that, too. Barack Obama joined many sages in saying that 3 per cent growth was ‘impossible’ for a mature economy like the United States. Here, too, Trump transformed the impossible into the actual. First quarter growth this year was 3.2 per cent. Unemployment is at historic lows, especially black and Hispanic unemployment.
Paul Krugman, an economist for the New York Times, said on election night 2016 that the stock market would ‘probably never’ recover from the assault of Trump’s election. The Dow Jones index then stood at 18,000 and change. As I write it is over 26,000. Trump’s energy policies have made the United States the largest energy producer in the world. His ‘America first’ trade policies have sparked a renaissance in American manufacturing. Wages are rising. Conscious of the old adage ‘si vis pacem, para bellum’ — ‘if you want peace, prepare for war’—he has revitalised the American military and made it clear to rivals that his policy is to lead, not lead from behind.
True, Donald Trump continues to tweet and say rude things about rivals and people who attack him. He makes fun of his opponents. He refuses to bow to political correctness. Will those be disqualifying liabilities? No. The popular radio commentator Rush Limbaugh has it right: ‘Donald Trump will trail in the polls until November 2020, just like before. It doesn’t matter who Democrats run — this will be the case. Just watch.’