Spending the past week on the imperturbable island of Kauai has provided useful distance: distance from which to view Americans’ on-off panic about coronavirus; distance from which to watch former vice president Joe Biden nearly wrap up the Democratic nomination; and distance to observe Beltway chatter about both.

People are calm in Hawaii. Outside of broadcast studios and Twitter, Americans are generally calm. And the country will go calmly about responding to the virus and making its presidential selection.

We will, collectively, mitigate the virus by changing behavior and by so doing “flatten the curve” of the spread of infection. This should make the virus manageable. President Trump’s early imposition of restrictions on those traveling from China was a critical step in U.S. mitigation efforts. The vice president’s task force is overseeing in real time a complex and fast-changing set of global dynamics. Many people will get sick; most may be inconvenienced but not seriously ill. Some have died from the virus, and more will do so. It is tragic that China did not warn the world sooner. A pandemic ought not to be partisan, though many suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome have tried to make it so. The underlying economy is very strong. This is not 2008.

The coming election will be fought over four categories of comparison between the president and the former vice president: temperament, capacity, personnel and policies.

Each side of America’s divide thinks its opponent’s temperament is unfit for the White House. Biden’s heated exchange with a union worker over guns highlighted the center-right’s concern about the Demcratic front-runner’s temperament (watch the full, minute-plus exchange); the center-left points at the president’s Twitter feed. On capacity, Team Trump says, Look at what he has done. He’s a brawler but that is what we need, especially against China and America’s hard left. Team Biden says: Nothing to see here, move along, and by the way, how dare you raise the issues associated with being 78 on entering office!

We know Trump’s personnel, especially the big five: Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, Attorney General WIlliam P. Barr, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien. Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Mark Meadows, may bring that office a profile and power that it has lacked in an administration in which the president has performed those duties for himself.

Republican Tommy Blackwood of North Charleston, S.C. wants President Trump to stay in office, so he's trying to disrupt the Democratic primary race. (The Washington Post)

Biden’s people? That’s a scary prospect for conservatives. Back to the “Iran deal” and “Paris accords” folks of the Obama years? Back to the continual diminishment of American exceptionalism? More Beltway arrogance and 30-something staffers with, well, puny life experience yet who think themselves sages and philosopher kings?

The issue divide is where the election will genuinely be fought. Let’s focus on four: Trump’s military budgets vs. those likely from Biden; Trump’s originalist judges vs. those likely to be nominated by Biden; Trump’s war against the regulatory state vs. Biden’s all-but-certain empowerment of bureaucrats; Trump’s clarity regarding China vs. Biden’s confusion. The choice could hardly be more stark.

Trump believes in Fortress America. He has moved to replenish military stockpiles depleted during the Obama-Biden years of sequestration and refurbish the nuclear deterrent. Trump’s expansion of the fleet began slowly but is accelerating.

Trump’s two Supreme Court justices and 51 appeals court judges are the sort of judges that most Americans want: umpires, not activists. A second Trump term with scores more judicial appointees could guard against government by judicial decree for a generation.

Deregulation is the fuel behind U.S. economic vibrance and would allow rapid rebounding from the impact of coronavirus. The blue-collar boom will continue ... unless Biden wins. He’s a true believer in “big government.” In a Biden administration, legions of regulators and their thousands of rules would no doubt return.

Finally, Americans’ adversary in the century ahead is China. The regime in Beijing has been confused and “wrong-footed” by Trump again and again, as best demonstrated by Trump’s abrupt withdrawal from trade negotiations last year when Chinese negotiators attempted a late switch. Other U.S. adversaries have similarly confronted Trump’s unpredictability when they crossed his red lines. As Trump said during the 2016 campaign, he doesn’t like to telegraph his policies. Critics disparage Trump for this, but his tactics are preferable to predictability even when they fail to achieve instant results or none at all, and are especially preferable to appeasement of the sort that defined the “Iran deal.”

Also notable: Trump hasn’t hesitated to dispatch terrorists, whether they are independent operators or state-sponsored. He’s with Israel. He has drawn the brightest of red lines around Americans: Harm them and there will be hell to pay. China, especially, is on notice. It may be Trump’s most significant achievement to have reset the U.S.-China ground rules.

Democrats are confident they have the suburbs and that supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will shut up — and show up in November. Team Trump counts on an explosion of previously forgotten Americans who like this president, his style and his policies. We will see. I like Trump’s chances.

Opinion
Use the Post Opinions Simulator to pick a state and see what might happen in upcoming primaries and caucuses.

Read more: