In late August, I posted about the Trump and Biden campaign narratives, and outlined six factors (the debates, the pandemic, Trump’s taxes, never-Trump Republicans, foreign policy, domestic violence) that had the potential to disrupt their narratives. Eight weeks later – and with three weeks left in the campaign – it is useful to look back at the disruptive events that have occurred. There have been many. (I think of political events in the same way that stock market analysts think of business events such as bankruptcies, defaults, and extreme weather as have the potential to disrupt markets leading to either higher or lower asset values.) When political events happen, each side tries to interpret them in a way that supports its message. In some cases, little interpretation is needed; in others, interpretation becomes damage control. Here is a review of the factors, and the candidate it appears to have favored.
In the one debate held so far, Trump’s attempts to “dominate” came across as bullying and rudeness and Biden held his own. Advantage, Biden.
Bob Woodward’s book portrayed Trump as informed about the virus – right from the start – but entirely uncaring. The case count is starting to increase again and the death toll steadily rises. Trump contracted the virus with little transparency about the severity of his case. The celebratory “nomination ceremony” for Judge Barrett became a super-spreader event. A vaccine will almost certainly not be announced before the election. Dr. Fauci has complained that a Trump commercial quoted him out of context.
Biden’s argument has been that Trump mishandled the virus from day one, and Americans are dying and suffering as a result. Trump argues that things could have been much worse and that his personal recovery presages a national recover. The polls suggest most voters see Trump’s illness as the result of his own carelessness and are accepting Biden’s argument.
The leaking of Trump’s tax returns, which I considered a distinct possibility, has happened and has portrayed Trump as a tax evader, unsuccessful business, and mega-debtor to anonymous lenders. Trump, of course, calls the leaks lies and points to the amount of tax his businesses have paid over the years, but doesn’t dispute how little he has paid in personal income tax. Advantage Biden.
The list of never-Trump Republicans continues to grow. Lincoln Project ads are running up millions of views as soon as they appear. It may not be widely recognized, but the Lincoln Project and other never-Trump Republicans are doing Biden an immense service in producing the attack ads that allow him to keep to the high road. But George W. Bush hasn’t yet broken his silence. Advantage Biden.
Trump’s brokering of diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE and between Israel and Bahrain is clearly an advantage. But the bigger deal – diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia – hasn’t happened. I think it is unlikely because both parties would be reluctant to make a deal brokered by a President who is likely to be defeated. Trump has also threatened military action against Iran, but this is increasingly unlikely as we near the election. The military leadership resented being used a props for photo-ops and would find ways to delay implementing an order given only to gain political advantage.
Domestic Violence (as Opposed to Tranquility)
Demonstrations and confrontations have de-escalated from the level in the summer. The FBI’s discovery of the plot by right-wing terrorists to kidnap Governor Whitmer is unnerving, but advantages Biden. Events do not appear to have given Trump the advantage on this issue that he has hoped for.
Supreme Court Appointment
The one category of events I had not anticipated was the opportunity for Trump to nominate a Supreme Court justice. Judge Barrett’s likely appointment will ramp up both Trump’s base and Democratic opponents. It isn’t clear who has the advantage.
To sum up, the events have advantaged Biden more than Trump, contributing to the double-digit lead Biden has in the polls, and the 86 % chance he has of winning, at least as of 1430 EDT on October 12.
One week is considered a long time in politics, so three weeks is a very long time. What events can we expect? As mentioned above, some events, such as a vaccine announcement, seem to be off the table. Another debate is a certainty, but who will be considered the winner? A change in Trump’s health? Will the State Department’s release of the Clinton emails turn up anything that can disadvantage Biden or will it be seen as old news?
While I will be following disruptive political events, I will also turn to political messaging on the part of the two campaigns as well as influential outside players, such as the never-Trump Republicans.