The battle for the presidency that Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden were launching promised to be wild. But the coronavirus pandemic, which has already killed nearly 90,000 Americans, was unleashed and the picture changed.
With less than six months to go before the election, neither candidate can campaign normally, and Trump faces a sort of plebiscite on his handling of the current crisis.
“We really don’t know how this will unfold,” Christopher Arterton, a professor of political science at George Washington University, told AFP.RELATED
Four months before the pandemic, the narratives of both parties seemed clear. The president relied on the good performance of the economy and historically low unemployment, proposing four more years in the same direction and emphasizing his profile as a successful businessman.
For his part, Biden promised to end the scandals, polarization and the “reality show” style of management of the Republican magnate, appealing to voters to recall the years of his vice presidency under the mandate of Barack Obama and aiming to restore ” the soul of America. “
Biden, 77, was leading the polls, but many believed that Trump, 73, would take the lead on November 3.
The last president-in-office to lose a reelection was George Bush, in 1992. In general, those who govern in periods of strong economic growth seem practically unbeatable.
Trump toured the country multiplying acts in which he satisfied his traditional, conservative and macho base, with a simple message: an exacerbated nationalism and the relocation in the United States of companies that had left the country with their jobs in tow. Trump then openly wondered how he could do “Sleepy Joe” (“Sleepy Joe”, the nickname he mockingly baptized Biden) to defeat him.
But the coronavirus changed everything. “This election will primarily be a referendum on President Trump,” said Allan Lichtman, a historian at American University, renowned for his accurate predictions about previous elections.
The COVID-19 crisis poses challenges to political leaders as important as or greater than the attacks of September 11, 2001 or the 2008 crisis.
Trump believes he has already passed the test: “I would rate him 10,” he once replied when asked how he would assess his performance.
But many disagree. His confrontational political style, his few demonstrations of empathy and his management of federal resources during the pandemic have earned him strong criticism. According to the latest CBS poll, 57% of Americans think Trump has done a “bad job”, up from 47% in March.
Everything would give to think that Biden has a golden opportunity. However, like millions of Americans, the likely Democratic candidate has spent the past two months locked up in his home.
Although Trump has had to give up the public acts he cherishes so much, he still occasionally appears on Air Force One and frequently dominates late-night news broadcasts from the White House.
Biden, by contrast, has gone no further than his Delaware home garden, and must confine himself to digital platforms to communicate.
Still, being in the limelight does not ensure supremacy. Trump’s use of the media infuriates half the country.
“He has exposed all his flaws, which were evident throughout his presidency, but which now affect the lives of Americans in the immediate future,” said Biden spokesman Michael Gwin. “There is an old saying,” Lichtman recalled: “‘Never interrupt an opponent when he is making a mistake.'”
Most days, Biden criticizes the president on Twitter, as he did Thursday, when he maintained that Trump “failed the American people on all fronts.” But Gwin stressed that attacking is not enough. “We need to present a better alternative,” he said.
While the latest polls show that Biden is ahead nationally in voter preferences, in the United States presidential elections are decided by electoral college – and not by popular vote – meaning that the result will likely be played in a handful of hinge states like Florida and Wisconsin.
Trump could retain the presidency with even fewer votes than Biden across the country, as happened in 2016 when he defeated Hillary Clinton.
Only half a dozen wildcards could make a difference.
Will the economic recovery begin in the third quarter, as Trump predicts, allowing you to sell a powerful message of renewal?
– Will there be a dramatic event in foreign policy, perhaps a confrontation over North Korea’s nuclear arsenal or a conflict with Iran?
– What role will Russia play after sowing discord and disinformation in 2016?
– Will the tension with China, which Trump blames for the coronavirus crisis, trigger a devastating new trade war?
But the most important letter, almost certainly, will be Trump himself: How far will he go in his attacks?
Last year, the Republican was indicted, though not convicted, in Congress for abusing his power to try to provoke a scandal surrounding Biden in Ukraine.
Now he is pushing a new conspiracy theory, claiming that there was a plot to overthrow him in which Biden would be involved and whom he named “Obamagate.”
In this climate, six months will be an eternity. Ultimately, it all depends on the answer to a simple question, according to Arterton: how many are those who hate and how many are those who love this ultrapolarizing president?
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