Joe Biden will win the presidential election on November 3 and become the 46th President of the United States. There has been some skepticism offered on this question on social media and from various talking heads and opinion columnists. Many point to the cautionary tale of 2016, and boy, it is a whopper of a cautionary tale. But that history won’t repeat itself this fall, and Donald, his family, and his current cast of cohorts should be actively planning their next wonderful iteration of exemplary service to American life.
There are many reasons Trump will lose, but here are the four key ones that I believe solidifies his impending defeat:
Trump’s Coronavirus Disaster
As recently as January it was looking like Americans may have dodged a bullet with the Reality TV President in terms of him not pursuing anything massively foolhardy (like going to war with Iran), and how he may be a difficult incumbent to dislodge given the strength of the economy through the course of his first term. Admittedly, the COVID-curveball that was soon to hit was unluckily for Trump one no U.S. president has had to deal with in more than 100 years. This was not the likes of dealing with a devastating hurricane or an extramarital affair, or some foreign-policy flare-up. Nevertheless, fate delivered Trump this doozy of a hand at the cosmic poker table, and faced with this historic and massive challenge, his response was a solid F-minus.
Trump’s approach to the COVID pandemic exposed him, once and for all, as being much more of a confidence man than a leader. His playbook of dividing Americans along lines of race, class and culture with inflammatory rhetoric, and admittedly, a good dose of complete nonsense, will only take you so far in dealing with a deadly, highly contagious pathogen. Yes, as Trump’s promoters will tell you, he did restrict air travel from China early on, which was surely the right move. What followed in the months after was a mix of denialism, kooky advice, contradicting his own public health officials, and never promoting and pursuing the right policies — such as masking — to help get the virus under control. In fact, he was at times openly hostile to certain states that were doing their best to keep COVID in check.
More than 180,000 dead and 6 million infections later and the U.S. is seen on the world stage as a massive failure in the fight against COVID. The pain within the U.S. has not been evenly spread in terms of timeline or devastation. Governors who came up with a plan to corral the virus and stuck with it have seen generally positive approval ratings, including in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, which suffered greatly in March and April. Governors who rushed to reopen their economies and saw a subsequent spike in virus cases have seen their approval ratings sink in the summer months.
This ratings game plays out on a global scale as well. Summarizing recent data from the Pew Research Center, Nate Cohen writes: “Majorities of people — even in Sweden! Italy! — think their countries did a good job handling COVID in all countries but the UK and the US. Would seem to suggest an even halfway competent and empathetic response could have been a boon to Trump’s re-election.”
Alas, Trump’s completely incompetent response to the virus has led to a horrific amount of both human and economic carnage, which leads us to the next point:
It’s the Economy Stupid
Particularly when it comes to U.S. presidential elections, there is a pretty strong historic body of evidence that Americans vote with their pocketbook. Unemployment is the highest it’s been in a decade, but this does not reflect the real damage to the U.S. economy, with many businesses gone for good or on the brink of disaster. The U.S. saw the biggest contraction of its GDP in the second quarter of this year (32.9 percent) since World War 2. George H. W. Bush and Jimmy Carter lost their elections in part due to a sagging economy. Arguably, no sitting U.S. president has survived significant economic malaise in their first term since Harry Truman.
Trump appears to be making law and order a major theme for his campaign for the final two months of the campaign. I’m guessing you would be hard-pressed to find too many presidential historians or political scientists who would be willing to make a large wager that this gambit will overcome the current recession and subsequent massive disruptions to American life that are happening during the greatly mismanaged pandemic. Countries in East Asia and Europe showed that with a competent and coordinated response economic damage from COVID could be blunted. Trump did not follow this path.
Democratic Enthusiasm Is High
Before I crow about Democratic voter enthusiasm let me complain about it. The Obama midterm elections of 2010 and 2014 were, generally speaking, a disaster for Democrats, and a big factor was anemic voter turnout. As a proud Democrat, it would be nice to see robust voter turnout in every election, not just those where the country is in a deeply troubled state, with four more years of Trump projecting difficult-to-imagine levels of bad. But so it is, and Democratic voters seem to have taken notice.
Here in my home county of Travis (home to Austin) we just had a runoff election while COVID numbers were spiking. There was some thought this would depress voting (Texas does not offer vote by mail for those under the age of 65), but Democratic turnout was in fact through the roof, more than doubling what was already a very high turnout for a runoff election in 2018. Part of the dynamic in Travis County was that the racial justice movement spurred by the death of George Floyd also seems to have truly galvanized young voters, who made up a significant portion of the electorate. Nationwide, many more millions of Democrats cast their vote in a primary election this year, over and above 2016. That trend will continue in October and November.
Hillary Clinton Was A Flawed Candidate — And She Got Screwed — And She Very Nearly Won
While this has been rehashed ad nauseam, it does bear repeating when taking a look at 2020 that, well, Donald Trump won by the narrowest of margins in 2016 to, many would argue, a flawed candidate who got politically screwed very late in the game. Hillary Clinton was a punching bag for the GOP for years and had high negatives heading into the 2016 race. She was also under an active FBI investigation, which should not have figured as heavily into the race as it did, but it allowed a window of opportunity for a gigantic wrench to be thrown into the works some 11 days before the election. James Comey’s letter to Congress re-hashing Hillary’s use of a private email server is one of the worst acts by an unelected public servant I have seen in my lifetime in terms of inappropriate interference with an election. It was almost completely unwarranted, and undoubtedly influenced the outcome of the race to a not-insignificant degree.
All of that said, Hillary won the popular vote by almost 3 million votes, and lost the electoral college by the slimmest margins over three states. More people fit in the University of Texas football stadium than was the combined margin of Hillary’s loss in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, where Trump won the race.
Some may point out at this juncture that Biden has been no sure thing in running for president, having failed to even secure his party’s nomination in 1988 and 2008. So be it, but even for someone like Joe Biden, who has been in public life for more than half a century, timing, for better or worse, means a lot in elections. There is no recovering for Trump from his egregious handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent economic fallout. He’ll surely make a lot of ugly noise in the next two months trying to overcome his shortcomings there, but it will be too little too late, and on election day record numbers of fired-up voters will show him the door.
David Weinberg is a political consultant who lives in Austin, Texas.
Photo: Steven Ryan/Getty Images