Give Donald Trump credit for waging a shrewd reelection campaign in the face of the pandemic, a tanking economy and racial strife. But does this mean that he’s a lock to win the presidency itself? Not a chance.
Prognostications that Joe Biden would earn a crushing victory proved to be quite wrong and, for what it’s worth, I’m eating a good slice of humble pie. But the election has not yet been won by Trump. Quite the contrary. Biden may well win. The reason will be that while Trump ran a good campaign, Biden ran an even better one. Democratic bed wetters, and they are legion, needed to install extra plastic sheets last night, but it’s starting to look like Biden is on a roll.
Here’s why. Biden kept his cool. He didn’t travel to Texas. He flipped Arizona. And he focused relentlessly on restoring the blue wall that Trump breached in 2016. Biden may have entertained visions of winning a landslide victory but he never succumbed to them. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, did. It looks as though Biden has captured Michigan and Wisconsin. Trump’s lead in Pennsylvania is narrow.
Trump was his usual blustering self last night in the East Room of the White House, stating that he wants any further ballot counting to be declared null and void. Despite Trump’s snit, however, the ballots, which are likely to be heavily tinged by blue, are being steadily counted. Michigan, for instance, appears to have tipped into the Biden column. But Trump’s aim, as Susan Glasser notes in a discerning column, isn’t so much to try and stop the vote as to discredit it. He’s been declaring the election rigged almost before it even began.
The truth is that he needs an exit strategy that preserves his amour propre. Trump is a master at the self-esteem game. His estimation of his own abilities is infinite. He can sit in cosseted exile at Mar-a-Lago, sulking about his loss to Biden and issuing frenetic tweets about what an abysmal job his successor is doing. To underscore that the election was a fraud, he will most likely boycott a Biden inaugural and stage his own rally the very same hour.
One way or another, Trump usually finds a way to extract silver linings from his setbacks, which are never allowed to be called defeats. This could be no exception. The GOP did not go under in a landslide defeat on his watch. It may continue to control the Senate, hamstringing Biden’s presidency before it even begins. Trump will speculate about running again in 2024. Meanwhile, Biden will seek to woo a few moderate Republican senators, but his success rate is apt to be low indeed. If Biden wins the presidency, the midterms for the Democrats are likely to be a shellacking. There won’t be any incentive for Republicans to cooperate with him.
In a sense, Trump gets off scot-free if he loses. If he wins it’s trouble all around. House Democrats won’t be inclined to pass any legislation that might bolster Trump. The economy is going nowhere fast. The pandemic is spreading. The best thing that could happen to Trump may be to abandon Washington and start the next con.