For the first time in some four months, things seem to be looking up for Joseph Biden, the soon to be formal nominee of the Democratic Party for the November 3, 2020 showdown with the sitting incumbent Donald Trump.
Not only is Biden consistently posting over 50 per cent approval ratings in national polls versus Trump, he is ahead of anywhere between 5 and 14 points. And as for the Republican President, his approval rating according to a latest survey is 38 per cent, not the only low point of his Presidency but also along the same lines of two other predecessors who were seeking re-election—Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1992.
Much of Biden’s climbing the charts has not to do with what he has done, but what Trump has, and in the process bringing out the stark differences. Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic was pathetic enough—more than 110,000 Americans have lost their lives; about 2 million infected; states which were nudged into fully opening up economic activity are seeing initial signs of spike in infection. The infectious disease specialists, from including within the Trump advisory team, are saying the worst is yet to come and that America is in for the long haul.
The President’s loose lips only cost him political points: telling people that the antidotes to the COVID-19 could be in Clorox, Lysol and other disinfectants; and worse by making the point that one does not have to die on account of the virus—you could as well die driving to school or work.
The President was not even allowed the small luxury to enjoy a small piece of “good news”—that the American economy added 2.5 million jobs in the month of May and in the process bringing down the unemployment rate to about 13.3 per cent.
Even as the White House was opening the champagne bottles, it had to quickly put back the corks, no small thanks to George Floyd, an African American who was brutally downed after nearly a nine minute knee choke by a white police officer in Minneapolis. When racial protests broke out all across America that included instances of looting and arson, Trump’s tongue once again got the better of him.
Instead of going on prime time and appealing for calm and reason, the President lashed out at the protestors calling them thugs, looters, and terrorists and threatened to unleash vicious dogs. His rants continued for a few days even as his advisors and campaign managers were looking for ways to put out the political fire.
Even without realizing what they had done, the often ridiculed “Basement Biden” got out of his basement to deliver a stinging message, a message that not only fired up a dormant Democratic political base of his, but also made other Americans who were not formally aligned to him, have second thoughts of their support to Trump.
Apparently, even the Evangelical leader Pat Robertson is said to have conveyed a blunt message to the President on the topic of racial harmony. Presidential advisors know too well that once white Evangelicals and Catholics move away from Trump, that means trouble in capital letters.
If an opinion poll in March had shown Evangelical support to the President at 80 per cent, this number dropped to about 60 per cent by the first week of June, although this by itself does not mean that disgruntled Evangelicals are moving over to the Biden Camp. The racial unrest in America in the aftermath of the killing of Floyd, showed more than 75 per cent of American people saying that the country was not moving in the right direction.
At a time when there is outrage in the country on the tactics of the police in dealing with minorities and call far reaching reforms, Trump is seen standing solidly behind the Men in Blue and openly rebuking Mayors and Governors for not providing law enforcement officers enough ammunition to deal with looters and robbers. In fact, Trump went to the extent of saying that the visuals of a 75-year-old male protestor being shoved violently by white officers in Buffalo was “staged”.
By contrast, Biden in a virtual speech lit into Trump stressing that the killing of Floyd was a “wake up call” for the nation. “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.’ George Floyd’s last words. But they didn’t die with him. They’re still being heard. They’re echoing across this nation. They speak to a nation where too often just the color of your skin puts your life at risk.
They speak to a nation where more than 100,000 people have lost their lives to a virus and 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment — with a disproportionate number of these deaths and job losses concentrated in the black and minority communities,” Biden said adding, “And they speak to a nation where every day millions of people — not at the moment of losing their life — but in the course of living their life — are saying to themselves, ‘I can’t breathe.'”
The challenge before Biden is to keep his momentum going and that too on his own steam. The Democratic candidate has to project himself and his alternative policies, and take advantage of the fact that, Trump’s popularity or favorability even among Republicans and Independents is dropping, especially in battleground states.
The President’s standing with white Evangelical Protestants, White Protestants and White Catholics is also seen dropping; and a whopping 19 point drop among white non-college educated Americans, according to an exit poll of The New York Times. The one place where Trump seems to be holding on is with White college graduates, an area that Biden needs to work on.
The Trump campaign has for long working on a strategy of taunting Biden to come out of his “basement” on the premise the former Delaware Vice President is prone to making gaffes in public speeches. On the contrary, Biden has been sitting in his basement and watching the President putting his foot in the mouth on many occasions. But, with having wrapped up the requisite number of delegates, Biden cannot be hunkered down and seems comfortable with polling statistics.
Leading up to the President election of 2016, a raft of opinion polls showed Hillary Clinton as the favorite; and some believed that this over-confidence and perhaps even some arrogance did the Democratic candidate in. With an incumbent who would go to any extent to win, Biden would do well to keep in mind that five months is not something around the corner in elections. Or as the former Prime Minister of Britain put it, “A week is a long time in politics”.
(The writer was a former senior journalist in Washington D.C. covering North America and the United Nations.)