In most cases, prediction in politics is a mug’s game. Maybe that is why it is such a popular game. I forbear to speculate. But if you step back from the fray and ponder, I think you’ll agree that politics (like most human things) is so fraught with uncertainties that accurate prediction is well nigh impossible. Of course, you might be right in any given case. And if you make more than a couple of correct guesses, you can look forward to being hailed as a genius. But deep down you know that your predictions, whatever elaborate models you deployed to lend them an air of inevitability, remain but guesses. Luck, not rational probability, is the primary motor of your success. There are just too many future unknowns that can intrude and spoil your carefully reasoned calculations. The market might crash. A deep, dark secret might be leaked and spoil your candidate’s popularity. A natural, or a man-made, disaster might erupt and change the entire calculus of a race overnight.
Which is why I hesitate to leap from the Democratic and Republican conventions that just ended to the natural prediction that Donald Trump is likely to win in something approaching a landslide. Were the election held right now, today, I believe that he would win with a commanding margin, far beyond the margin of fraud or (as a lawyer friend likes to put it) beyond any margin of litigation. But November 3 is still some 60 days off. And the party that brought us the Robert Mueller entertainment, the Ukrainian telephone call distraction, the party that managed to weaponize a novel virus developed by China and deploy it against President Trump, and then encourage its proxies to riot and scream that everyone (except themselves) was racist — well, such a party is essentially unaccountable. Who knows what they will do next? Lincoln’s words, quoted by Ben Carson in his masterly speech last night, are to the point. ‘Your purpose,’ said Lincoln in 1860, ‘is that you will destroy the government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events.’ Now as then, the opponents of the President are not engaged in politics but the sedition that follows when politics fails.
Many commentators (including myself) have dilated on the striking difference in tone between the two conventions: according to the Democrats, America is steeped in ‘systemic racism’ and the ideology of ‘white supremacism’. Far from being the land of opportunity, it is the land of capitalist exploitation where blacks and other so-called ‘people of color’ are treated as second-class citizens, where the environment is ravaged, women are discriminated against, and the police are violent thugs.
The Republicans, by contrast, presented America as a land of hope. Its guiding themes were promise, opportunity, heroes and national greatness. The Dems invite us to wallow in rancorous resentment, feeling good by feeling bad, while the Republicans celebrated the ‘better angels of our nature’ (Lincoln again), embracing life, prosperity, second-chances, and forgiveness.
From a purely technical or logistical perspective, the differences between the two conventions was just as stark. Though the Democratic convention was stuffed with Hollywood celebrities, or at least near celebrities, the four-day event was almost embarrassingly amateurish. (Let me take back that ‘almost’.) The GOP event, by contrast, was lively, warm, human, and meticulously professional. Indeed, it is slick without being kitschy. There was much personal tragedy on view — Ann Marie Dorn’s memorial for her husband, David, for example, who was murdered by rioters in St Louis in June, was heart-breaking, as was the commemoration by Marsha and Carl Mueller of their daughter Kayla, who had been brutally tortured and murdered by Isis. But while there were tears, there was no whining.
Naturally, both conventions culminated in the speeches of their candidates for president. The world held its breath before Biden’s brief acceptance speech. Would the doddering old man be able to pull it off? He did, though as Michael Goodwin noted, it was a low bar that he passed, and having emerged from his basement he would not be allowed to slink back. In general, notwithstanding the usual partisan fluff, most people regarded Biden’s performance as Dr Johnson did the spectacle of lady preachers. It is watching a dog walk on its hind legs. It’s not that they do it well, but you are impressed that they can do it at all.
Trump’s speech, more than twice as long as Biden’s, was vigorous though, for Trump, circumspect. He got off some good lines. I think that his observation that ‘For 47 years, Joe Biden took the donations of blue-collar workers, gave them hugs, and even kisses’ was the biggest crowd pleaser — Trump’s delivery of the word ‘kisses’ was priceless — but the serious part came right after that when he noted that Biden then ‘flew back to Washington and voted to ship our jobs to China and many other distant lands’. The noted Trump opponent Chris Wallace called the speech ‘flat’. I’d say it was commandingly presidential. It included a litany of accomplishments, as is de rigueur, in such performances, likewise the criticism of the other side. His comment that ‘Biden is a Trojan horse for socialism’ really said all that needs to be said. It’s true, as was Trump’s comment that ‘if Joe Biden doesn’t have the strength to stand up to wild eyed Marxists like Bernie Sanders and his fellow radicals…then how is he ever going to stand up for you? He’s not.’
In a way, Trump’s observation that ‘Americans build their future, we don’t tear down our past’ epitomized the essential difference between Trump’s vision and that of the Democrats. As I say, political prediction is a mug’s game, and I won’t venture one now. I will say, however, that this election will be, and will be seen to be, between two sharply different ideas of America. One sees America as the sinful impediment to human flourishing whose only hope, as Joe Biden (echoing Barack Obama) put it, lies in being ‘fundamentally transformed’. The other holds up the country as a land of hope and opportunity, ‘the last best hope of earth’ (Lincoln one final time). My sense is that an overwhelming majority of people prefer the latter to the former, especially as the Democrats have been courteous enough to demonstrate what ‘fundamental transformation’ is likely to look like on the streets of Portland, Chicago, Minneapolis, Kenosha, DC, St Louis and elsewhere across the country. The Democrats own the anarchy they have unleashed and abetted. People almost never embrace anarchy. Ergo, Donald Trump is likely to win. I offer that not as a prediction, merely a confidence.