Thursday, August 8, 2019

Why Joe Biden might not overcome Trump's 'outrageous advantage'

Every poll that I’ve seen or heard of (save one that I don’t remember) has Joe Biden winning the Democratic nomination. But he may not be the candidate who can Dump Trump.

Frank Bruni (NY Times) posts this scary prediction: Donald Trump’s Outrageous 2020 Advantage. And scary is how Roving Reporter Sherry described it.

In the 2020 presidential race, President Trump has several legs up. The most obvious is incumbency. Most of the American presidents who sought re-election since 1900 — including all but George H.W. Bush in the last 35 years — won a second term. Those are good odds, which become even better if Trump avoids a recession between now and Election Day.

Then there’s the Electoral College. Despite the president’s repeated claims that it favors Democrats, the results in 2016, when Hillary Clinton won nearly three million more votes than he did but nonetheless lost, show otherwise. And according to a recent analysis by The Times’s Nate Cohn, Trump’s edge in the Electoral College, relative to the national popular vote, is shaping up to be even larger than it was then.

And there remains the possibility of interference along the lines of what Russia did in 2016. If you’re a foreign actor with a rooting interest, aren’t you more likely to exercise it on behalf of the guy who has shrugged his shoulders about such machinations?

But those three advantages may matter less than a fourth one, which I found myself mulling after reading and contributing to the coverage of the second round of Democratic primary debates last week. Dozens if not scores of journalists, including me, picked apart Joe Biden’s closing statement, in which he badly bungled what were supposed to be instructions to send a text message of his name to a certain phone number.

Some also noted that he rued the possibility of “eight more years” of Trump rather than “eight years,” which was obviously what he meant. Fact checkers additionally took Biden to task for exaggerated claims about both his health care plan and his role in withdrawing American troops from Iraq.

Finally, there was widespread concern about his fuzziness. As I wrote in my quickie debate appraisal, there’s “that way in which he trails off at the end of a sentence or an argument, all the little hiccups en route, the messy seams connecting one thought to the next, the demeanor that falls into a maddening gray area between engaged and fully animated.” I noted that if Cory Booker and Bill de Blasio “traffic in too many exclamation points, Biden traffics in too many ellipses.”

All of these complaints, I think, were accurate and fair. But they’re also picayune in the context of what Trump bungles, exaggerates and invents all the time. In the days immediately leading up to and following the debates, he bragged about frequent visits to ground zero after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that he never made, falsely claimed that he had tried to get his rally audience in North Carolina last month to stop chanting “Send her back” about Representative Ilhan Omar and more.

As for verbal precision and phonetic crispness, remember when Trump implored journalists to look into the “oranges” of Robert Mueller’s investigation? That was in the same stretch of remarks where he bizarrely unfurled the fable that his father was “born in a very wonderful place in Germany.”

The truth is that any week — maybe even any day — of Trump’s presidency contains enough gaffes, crassness and fiction to sink any one of the Democratic candidates for president. And those candidates suffer for their worst moments in a way that he doesn’t for much worse ones.

That’s not because we in the media have stopped scrutinizing him and chronicling his errors and outrages. It’s because there are so many that they blur. It’s because they’re baked into the Trump brand. They’re part of the deal that his supporters have made. This is the Trump they bought. This is the Trump they’ll keep.

Whether by design or lucky accident, he has given himself a singular armor, a special inoculation, which is that no one expects more from him. After all, he never managed or earnestly promised to be any better. There’s no shock factor. He’s caught on tape bragging about the unwanted touching of women and much of the electorate’s reaction is: Yeah, sounds about right.

None of the Democratic candidates enjoy this perverse protection because none of them sought it. None wagered that the road to the White House was paved with gratuitous offense, a disregard for pesky facts and the determination never to say you’re sorry. Trump made that bet, which few observers thought was a wise or winning one.

And he prevailed. Now he reaps the rewards.

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