E minus 141: Preparations for this year’s elections have been underway for some time now, in fact the first debate for Democratic presidential candidates took place nearly a year ago. SAFE didn’t initiate coverage of the action with high expectations, as suggested by this excerpt from our initial report. Miami debates foreshadow hyper-partisan presidential campaign, 7/1/19.
Although Joe Biden may rebound from a poor debate performance, it seems unlikely that he will wind up as a candidate who appeals to moderate Republicans and independents as well as to his own party. The current energy in the Democratic Party is decidedly left-leaning, and Mr. Biden will need to get in step in order to survive.
Whatever the outcome of the 2020 presidential campaign, it’s hard to see it sparking an instructive debate of policy issues or a lessening of partisan gridlock in DC. At least that's our prediction - we would be delighted to be proven wrong!
We did see some hope, however, for a debate on fixing the fiscal problem (i.e., balancing the budget) during the campaign. After all, there had been such a debate during the 1992 campaign, thanks primarily to the efforts of third party candidate Ross Perot, and some discussion of fiscal policy ideas (after David Walker et al. barnstormed the country in a Fiscal Wakeup Tour) during the 2008 campaign. Why not dedicate one of the three presidential debates to this topic in the fall of 2020? Top 2020 issue should be national debt, News Journal, 5/28/19.
Long story short, SAFE’s suggestion didn’t go anywhere because no one seemed to be interested in spending discipline. And the problem was compounded by the enactment of massive economic relief measures in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. SAFE and like-minded conservatives have been reduced to opposing further economic relief bills, notably the $3 trillion HEROES Act that the House of Representatives passed last month. House Democrats offer a mess of pottage, 5/18/20.
Members of Congress from Delaware were apprised of this entry. Letter to DE members, 5/26/20 (scroll down for a response by Sen. Chris Coons). Although acknowledging that the HEROES Act was “not perfect,” Senator Coons faulted Senate Republicans for shelving it for the time being versus immediately sitting down to negotiate a bipartisan spending package that both sides would support. The possibility that the government couldn’t responsibly spend $3 trillion more right now wasn’t mentioned.
The lack of meaningful debate has been notable in other policy areas as well. It’s as though all the oxygen was sucked out of the room by a presidential impeachment proceeding, the coronavirus pandemic, and most recently a nationwide explosion of social justice protests in the wake of the shocking death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The clock continues to run, however, with elections scheduled for November 3 (and lots of early voting before that). Here’s a rundown on some things to watch for as the action unfolds.
1. Negative coverage – Left-leaning media coverage is hardly a recent development, but there used to be some semblance of restraint. News coverage was supposed to be objective, permitting readers to draw their own conclusions. Commentary could favor one side or the other on an issue, but both side’s views were supposed to be accurately characterized.
Now self-restraint seems to be evaporating. Here’s a recent example. Defund the GOP, and join Romney to try to save it, USA Today editorial, News Journal, 6/12/20.
In a nutshell, the editors are praising Sen. Romney for defying the president – who they view as a petty would-be tyrant – while continuing to support conservative ideas that were once espoused by “the GOP’s last great president, Ronald Reagan.” Other Republican senators should follow in Romney’s footsteps, they suggest, presumably for the purpose of making President Trump’s life as difficult as possible and ensuring his swift political demise.
It would be easy to take exception to the specific charges lodged against the president, and some conservatives have gone so far as to suggest that his political opponents are actually the ones employing radical tactics. Victimhood – demonization – a cause to believe in (leftism in place of “God and country”) – lies. The four horsemen of America’s apocalypse, Dennis Prager, 6/11/20.
The most clear-cut flaw in USA Today’s argument, however, is a question that is ignored: Why should Americans believe that former Vice President Joe Biden (the expected Democratic presidential candidate) would do a better job than the current president? Given that Biden is 77 years old and has been out of office for 4 years, assuming the answer without discussion simply doesn’t make sense.
2. Personal attacks – The president has received lots of criticism for attacking people he doesn’t like, including political foes, recalcitrant administrators, hostile reporters, purported experts, etc. Accordingly, it can be argued that he has only himself to blame for the notable coarsening of public discourse that has occurred in recent years – and would do well to rein in some of his tweets and other off-the-cuff comments. Trump is beating Trump, Kimberly Strassel, Wall Street Journal, 6/11/20. The prospect of a turnaround rests on Mr. Trump’s ability to do more than taunt his competitor as “Sleepy Joe” and rail against the “RADICAL LEFT!!” With an economy in tatters, Mr. Trump has an opening to redefine the election as a choice. Americans can vote again for the policies that revived the economy after the moribund Obama-Biden years and continue transforming the judiciary. Or they can take a chance on a Democrat who has promised to raise taxes on 90% of Americans, kill blue-collar fossil-fuel jobs and ban guns, and a party that is considering demands to “defund the police.”
On the other hand, Republicans seemed to have developed a habit of not taking issue with unwarranted attacks. Beyond a certain point, this isn’t a winning strategy. Republicans decide to take a knee and wash Pelosi’s feet, Daniel Horowitz, Conservative Review, 6/11/20. One would expect Republicans to push an agenda addressing the spike in crime and the takeover of our streets with as much passion as Democrats are pushing legislation to try to relitigate the Civil War and make an entire generation guilty for one act of police brutality. At the core, this is why Trump was elected – to stop the vicious cycle of GOP kneeling and genuflecting to the Left.
Also, top-ranking Democrats have often indulged in rhetorical excesses of their own. Consider, for example, Joe Biden’s recent speculation that (a) President Trump will try to steal the upcoming election, and (b) if the president loses he may not willingly vacate the White House. Biden says military will escort Trump from the White House if he loses and refuses to leave, Justin Wise, thehill.com, 6/11/20. Sorry, but we don’t think the Democratic standard bearer should be responding to hypothetical questions like these. To do so erodes public confidence in our electoral system and the tradition of peaceful transitions of power, with no apparent benefit to his own cause. Why aren’t more stories being written about how Mr. Biden seems to be losing his grip?
What about the purported justification for this attack, namely false claims (lies) by the president and his supporters about the threat posed by the proposed expansion of current policies permitting voting by mail, etc.?
"This president is going to try to steal this election. This is a guy who said that all mail-in ballots are fraudulent."
Actually, the push for more early voting, voting by mail, etc. began long before the coronavirus pandemic, and there isn’t much doubt that these features may have adverse effects. In the interests of true election reform, we believe voters should be encouraged to come to the polls in person (which could be facilitated by making election day a national holiday) rather than devising more and more workarounds. Voting fraud is all too real, 11/3/14.
The advantages of in-person voting include validating the importance of election campaigns by not having a lot of votes cast before said campaigns are over, minimizing opportunities for voter fraud or legalized “ballot harvesting,” and ensuring that election results can be quickly determined so that – in most cases at least – the presidential winner can be determined within hours after the polls close.
A series of events in the 2016 election underscored the importance of that last point. It began in the third presidential debate, when Donald Trump was asked whether he would concede defeat if he lost the election and declined to make a commitment. His opponent and moderator Chris Wallace expressed shock at this answer, but ironically the shoe would turn out to be on the other foot. The US electoral system is faltering, Section 1, 12/10/18.
If mail-in voting was greatly expanded this year and the election results turned out to be close, one can readily imagine a situation in which half a dozen “battleground” states would still be attempting to verify and count ballots days if not weeks after election day. Recalling the trauma in the 2000 election, when the victory of President George W. Bush wasn’t sealed until the US Supreme Court put a stop to the counting and recounting of votes in Florida, such a situation could be extremely disruptive.
As a small taste of what may be on tap, consider that mail-in votes were still being counted in Philadelphia two weeks after a recent primary election. Maybe better results can be achieved in November, Allegheny County at the west end of the Keystone State reportedly did a far better job using scanners, but ad hoc experimentation with the electoral system seems risky in what is already shaping up as a difficult year. Pennsylvania’s primary snafus could spell trouble in November, Salena Zito, Wall Street Journal, 6/12/20. So no, concerns about expanding voting by mail are well taken and hardly justified Mr. Biden’s remarks. 3. Rallies – Political rallies are one of the president’s most effective messaging venues, and it pained him to suspend them due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. With the example of nationwide demonstrations for social justice fresh in everyone’s minds, he is now preparing to restart this activity. The first of these celebrations will be in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 20.
Knowing that Biden rallies aren’t likely to be nearly as effective, Democrats are showing their supposed concern for Trump supporters (who Hillary Clinton labeled “deplorables” in 2016) by arguing that the Trump rallies pose a public health danger and the planned waivers of liability won’t be legally effective. Democrats charge Trump rally could harm his supporters, Katherine Doyle, Washington Examiner, 6/13/20. 4. Conventions – The Republican convention was originally sited in Charlotte, North Carolina, but Governor Roy Cooper wasn’t willing to grant a blanket waiver of coronavirus restrictions so the main event (nomination and acceptance) will take place in Jacksonville, Florida during the last week of August (the president’s acceptance speech is scheduled for August 27).
Certain portions of the GOP convention, notably adoption of the party platform, will take place in North Carolina pursuant to contract commitments. For whatever reason, the executive committee of the Republican National Committee recently voted to keep the party platform adopted in 2016 in effect until 2024, even though some of the language (notably references to the then sitting president, Barack Obama) is obviously out of date. At the president’s request, this decision will be revisited. Trump calls for RNC to approve “new and updated platform,” Max Greenwood, thehill.com, 6/12/20.
Originally scheduled for July, the Democratic convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was pushed back until the week of August 17 a few weeks ago. It’s unclear at this point whether a full-scale event is planned or some of the action will be virtual due to coronavirus concerns.
5. If not now, when – One observer suggests that presidential elections aren’t about the issues anyway, so one might as well face the fact that the results won’t truly be accepted by the losers. Voters won’t accept the 2020 election results – no matter who wins, Matthew Walther, theweek.com, 6/13/20.
[Presidential campaigns in this country] are not quadrennial contests between two parties offering competing sets of prudential solutions to the nation’s problems: They are spiritual wars in which the righteousness of one side and the iniquity of the other are both blindingly obvious to all persons of good will.
If this view is valid, and it does seems consistent with the events of recent years, the best one can hope for is that the discord between winners and losers won’t come to blows.
Also, how and when will the policies in effect be revisited if this doesn’t occur during election campaigns?