Here I must insert the standard warning against taking anything for granted — not that anyone possibly could, after 2016. There will be constant worrying, fretting, handwringing and second-guessing until Election Day, because that’s what Democrats do. But the objective reality, near as anyone can tell, is that Trump looks very likely to lose to Joe Biden and that Republicans may well lose the Senate as well.
Polling out this weekend was uniformly alarming for the president. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal national poll showed Biden beating Trump by seven points, 49 percent to 42 percent. A CNN poll showed nothing less than a blowout, with Biden ahead nationally by 14 points, 55 percent to 41 percent. The RealClearPolitics average of all recent polls has Biden up by 8 points — a massive lead given the closeness of our recent elections.
But the worst number for Trump came from the NBC survey: Fully 80 percent of voters believe that things are out of control. My only question: What’s the deal with the other 20 percent? Have they spent the past three years in their bedrooms, lights out and curtains closed, hiding under the covers?
The man Jeb Bush predicted would become a “chaos president” has been just that. The nation is convulsed by three mutually reinforcing crises, all of which Trump has either mishandled or actively made worse: the covid-19 pandemic; the resulting economic devastation; and massive demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd, police violence against African Americans and the systemic racism that poisons our society. How unprecedented is this moment? Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), as rock-ribbed a Republican as walks this Earth, joined a protest march Sunday in Washington “to stand up and say black lives matter.”
This country has not experienced such generalized upheaval since 1968, and we know how that election year worked out: Democratic incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson decided not to run, and the nation voted for change, electing Richard M. Nixon.
In his tweets, Trump has tried echoing Nixon’s language by calling for “LAW & ORDER!” and appealing to the “silent majority.” Trump’s appalling and feckless attempt to crack down on the protests just made them bigger, however; and most Americans, to draw inferences from the NBC poll, are not so much silent as fed up and exhausted.
An adroit politician would try to calm the waters with a call for unity, compassion and mutual understanding. He or she would deliver a heartfelt address to the nation like, say, the powerful speech Biden gave last week. But Trump is not an adroit politician; he is a human cleaver who knows only how to inflame and divide. He apparently sees his only play as whipping his loyal base into a frenzy while trying his best to discourage — or actually prevent — those who oppose him from casting ballots.
So expect his rhetoric to become ever more vicious, his lies ever more outrageous, his racist dog-whistling ever more like the blaring of a klaxon. Biden and the Democrats shouldn’t waste time and energy worrying about all of that. Their focus has to be twofold: channeling the passion of this moment into political action; and ensuring that all Americans who want to vote in November can do so safely.
Some of the protests against police violence have been turned into voter-registration drives; all of them should be. If young people can be motivated to turn out to vote the way they have come out to march, Trump and the Republicans — who can’t bring themselves to utter the phrase “social justice,” much less act on it — will be toast.
Even more important, perhaps, is ensuring the right to vote. This is a battle that Democrats must fight at every level — defending the right to cast mail-in ballots, ensuring there are enough safe polling places for same-day voting, using the federal courts to ensure that state-level and local efforts to suppress voters fail.
Stop worrying about potential ways you could lose, Democrats. Start registering new voters, building a massive get-out-the-vote machine and hiring top-shelf lawyers. Focus on the ways you are very likely to win.