To take nothing away from Biden’s agenda and campaign organization, Biden’s biggest advantage is in being Biden and letting Trump be Trump. Trump must now defend pleading for the Supreme Court to wipe out the Affordable Care Act in its entirety; failing to respond to a Russian security operation to reward militants for killing our troops in Afghanistan; the recent surge in coronavirus cases, especially in states with governors who followed Trump’s reckless advice to open prematurely; the corruption of the Justice Department (which increasingly resembles a mob boss’s law firm); 14 consecutive weeks with more than a million new unemployment claims filed; and a failure to respond to calls for racial justice from a supermajority of Americans in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Even a skilled, likable and self-aware candidate would be daunted in responding to all that; for Trump, the task borders on impossible.
Moreover, matters may get even worse for Trump, given:
- Senate Republicans are unlikely to pass a police reform measure;
- More revelations concerning Trump’s dereliction of duty regarding Russia will likely emerge;
- The soaring coronavirus caseload will likely hike the death toll and delay hopes of an economic recovery;
- Trump lacks a second-term agenda; and
- International relations are worsening (as we saw in the European Union’s announcement it may ban U.S. travelers after July 1).
Meanwhile, Biden has endured weeks of back-seat driving from pundits annoyed he is not getting out enough. In fact, strategically scheduled events combined with more TV interviews and searing ads (in particular, from the Lincoln Project ad gurus) allow him to remain a steady presence and serene alternative to the chaos-spreading president. Biden’s responses to Trump’s debacles are far more presidential than Trump’s. (On the Russian bounty story, for example, he declared, “It’s betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation to protect and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way. It’s a betrayal of every single American family with a loved one serving in Afghanistan or anywhere overseas.”)
It should hardly be surprising that with one candidate in a self-destructive spiral of failure and the other operating without controversy and a huge reservoir of good will, the race does not even appear competitive at this point. In FiveThirtyEight’s national average, Biden leads by more than nine points while he is significantly ahead in Michigan (10.7), Pennsylvania (8.1) and Wisconsin (9.6). He has smaller but not insubstantial leads in Florida and Arizona. If these numbers hold, Biden will have multiple paths to 270 electoral votes.
Here is where the caveats come: It’s too early. (Even though no incumbent president save Harry Truman won after trailing this badly.) No one thought Trump could win in 2016. (A surprise last time does not affect the odds of a surprise this time.) Democrats may find a way to blow it. (Irrational, albeit understandable.) Biden could falter in the debates. (Against a candidate who cannot explain what he will do in a second term?) Let’s put it this way: For Trump to win, he would have to stop being Trump and Biden would have to stop being Biden.