This is a presidential election year, but you’d hardly know it. Where are the primaries? Gone. Where are the debates? Gone. Where are the campaign trail stump speeches and public appearances at county fairs? Gone. Where are the arena-filling raucous Trump rallies? Gone.
What we have left is the challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, campaigning awkwardly from his home and making only very rare public appearances, such as his masked Memorial Day outing. How then, can any of the public polling be meaningful at this point in the race?
It’s conventional wisdom that Biden is simply running away with the vote garnering widespread support, but where, exactly, is this race taking place? Perhaps Biden’s national poll numbers, usually showing a five to ten-point lead, depending on the poll, are a reaction to President Trump and Biden is winning the “anyone but Trump” vote right now.
Sometimes the numbers do tighten, such as the latest from Reuters/Ipsos, via Newsweek:
The latest survey by Reuters and Ipsos found that Biden led Trump by six points among registered voters, with 45 percent backing the challenger and 39 percent favoring the incumbent.
The former vice president also had a four-point lead among Independent voters. A third of the group (33 percent) said they would back Biden, while 29 percent said the same of Trump.
When the same poll was published last week, the presumptive Democratic nominee had a nine-point lead on the president, with 47 percent of polled voters saying they would back Biden as only 38 percent opted for Trump.
The former vice president also had a stronger eight-point lead among Independent voters polled last week.
Biden, frequently known as a gaffe-machine, hasn’t disappointed in that department, yet he somehow manages to maintain these top-line numbers. Just days ago, Biden apologized for saying that any African-American voter considering a vote for Donald Trump “ain’t black:”
One of Joe Biden’s key congressional endorsers said Tuesday he “cringed” at the former vice president’s walked-back assertion that if black voters “have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black” — but House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn nevertheless reaffirmed his support for the presumptive Demoratic presidential nominee.
“I cringed, no question about that,” the South Carolina congressman said of Biden in an interview on “The View.”
Note that James Clyburn “cringed,” but won’t be reconsidering his support for Biden. If just about any other politician said something even remotely similar, let alone President Trump, the story would almost derail their entire political career.
The “you ain’t black” comments hearken back to one of Biden’s debate lines where he said inner-city black folks need to be taught to play music on their record player for young children.
Writing in the Washington Post, Paul Waldman says that Biden’s choice to stay home will resonate with voters more than Trump’s decision to stay public:
Biden may be stuck in his basement, but the contrast here may be very compelling: Biden is personally acting out what countless of Americans are going through and sticking to what the scientists are recommending — for the good of others, for the good of the country — even if it inconveniences him.
Meanwhile, Trump is jetting around without a mask, demonstrating his privileged enjoyment of safety and protections that ordinary Americans lack, and failing to set the example that large majorities want to see.
If that true, though? Do voters see Biden broadcasting from home and think, “he’s just as stuck as I am.” Or, do they see President Trump and his decision to remain public and mobile as one of strength over fear? Hard to say, and only time will flesh that question out. It’s probably safe to bet that the respective bases of each candidate see what they want to see.
For the majority of voters, however, there just doesn’t seem to be a focus on the presidential election. Yet.
The campaign will likely remain on the back burner for the duration of the summer until the conventions hit in August. Many Americans are about to bust out and head to the beach, the last thing they will be concerned with is the Biden vs. Trump battle. There will be time for that in the fall.
In the meantime, however, Biden remains quarantined in his home doing remote interviews and web videos. Until the current state of affairs changes, we barely have a race to cover.
That hasn’t stopped some of Trump’s campaign aides from getting restless over Biden’s poll position. Per Politico, some advisors want swifter action starting now to establish an early narrative:
David Bossie and Corey Lewandowski, two key allies and former political advisers to Donald Trump, went to the White House last week to issue him a warning: The president was slipping badly in swing states, and he needed to do something to fix it.
Three days later, the Trump campaign’s political directors in Arizona and Florida — states the president won in 2016 but where surveys show him lagging — were summoned to the White House Roosevelt Room. The officials offered a detailed rundown of his organization in the battlegrounds and tried to reassure the president that he was on firm ground.
After his May 18 meeting with Bossie and Lewandowski, Trump called his top campaign lieutenants to vent his frustration about his political standing.
There is a lot of material for the Trump campaign to use against Biden, and vice-versa. The question is deciding how to use and what narrative to create. In 2012, for example, the Obama campaign had painted Republican Mitt Romney into a corner of being an out-of-touch millionaire who caused cancer and hated animals.
It’s a cliche to say that the “race hasn’t even started yet,” but in these times of global pandemics and stay-at-home orders, there’s some truth to it. Biden is winning the default support right now of voters angry with Trump and getting the day-to-day feed of unrest in the country.
Biden fans can take heart, though, that he seems to brush off his own gaffes and criticism because most people expect it and forgive it. Trump fans can take heart because the true presidential race continues muddied in the backdrop of Covid-19 and quarantines, and the economy might not be as tanked for as long as feared.
As the pandemic recedes, and life resumes some kind of normalcy, voters will get a fresh new set of eyes to look at the race, and that’s when the contest will start to get interesting.