5 questions about how coronavirus will affect the 2020 election
Say what you want about the pandemic, but one upside of it has been an almost universal lack of interest in all things 2020. The NFL draft still matters to people. So does a show about a psychotic zookeeper. But the 2020 presidential election is a nightmare from which we have actually managed to awaken, at least temporarily.
It won't last forever, though. Sooner or later we are going to start talking in earnest about November again. Here are a few questions worth asking now about where the race is headed.
1. Will there actually be a Democratic presidential convention?
This is a serious issue for the party. Without pledged delegates (who themselves must be elected in state primaries, many of which have been delayed or canceled) formally selecting Biden at an actual convention, there is simply no formal mechanism for making him or anyone else the nominee. Will Milwaukee be open again by August for (no doubt) masked convention-goers from all across the country? Will the convention be held remotely, in the world's largest and loudest Google Hangout, something that would probably require bylaw changes in 50 states, to say nothing of at the national level? Or will the DNC could just agree to change the rules and make Biden the nominee by fiat, citing emergency circumstances? This would probably mean lawsuits from Bernie Sanders supporters, but something tells me Democratic elites are not terribly concerned about drawing their ire.
2. Will Trump's base turn out?
Never mind the swing voters from 2016 Trump needs to carry again in states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. What about reliable GOP voters in those states and, especially, in the South? While I will be the first to point out that Trump is likelier than any candidate in my lifetime to benefit from the shy Tory effect, at present things are looking very grim for him indeed, polling-wise. Not a single one of the economic arguments he had planned on making will be applicable in November. Instead, he will take credit for relief measures, like the recent cash bill that gave taxpayers (subject to income limits) $1200. Most experts would agree that incumbent presidents governing with good economic numbers are unlikely to lose re-election. Trump's best hope now is that both the GOP base and a small but crucial number of Democrats and independents in the Midwest vote the way Americans did after the attacks of September 11, 2001, namely, for the guy already in charge.
3. How is Trump going to frame the lockdowns?
In some ways this is the most important question of all because it will also affect how Biden ends up campaigning. One disadvantage Trump would seem to face in a health vs. wealth election is that the GOP skews older. The most reliable Republican voters are far more likely than the average American to be at risk for the coronavirus. Public polling suggests that they are broadly in favor of lockdowns and happy to abide by them. The question is whether they and the rest of the American people will feel the same way months from now, in the middle of an economic depression? Voters are not rational. It is entirely possible that the same people who now say they support various state-imposed social distancing measures will be insisting months from now that the lockdowns were folly from which Emperor Donald I would have delivered them had it not been for the perfidy of liberals and the deep state. Will Trump position himself as the heroic savior of the nation who carried us through the plague, or will he insist that only the advice of public health officials prevented him liberating the nation back in March? I think he will try to suggest that both things are true simultaneously and that many voters will accept it.
4. What about impeachment?
Of all the names to have appeared recently in headlines, Michael Flynn's was easily the most surprising. It was like a beloved minor character from the first season of a long-running television program making a cameo four years later. At the beginning of February, I and many other observers would have suggested that Trump planned on making impeachment — which was not wildly popular in purple states even among those who did not consider themselves supporters of the president — one of the central issues in this campaign. Will he still attempt to argue that three years of relentless scandal mongering and showboating investigations hampered his ability to prepare for the pandemic? This seems to me a pretty safe bet.
5. Will Biden actually remain in the race?
If there were ever any doubts about whether the Democratic establishment would take Tara Reade's accusations of sexual assault seriously, they have now been dispelled. From Nancy Pelosi on down, not a single prominent member of the party has come out in support of Reade, much less suggested that the allegations should keep Biden off the ticket. This does not mean there are no other issues here. Even with the pandemic keeping him mostly out of the public eye, his public pronouncements continue to be embarrassing even under the most favorable and controlled circumstances. This is to say nothing of the enthusiasm that dropping him in favor of a younger governor like Andrew Cuomo of New York or Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan would be met with in certain circles. If I were Biden, I would try to get that "I'm the Democratic presidential nominee for 2020" thing in writing.
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