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6 Preelection Season Questions

The 2020 race in six questions

Can President Trump still triumph in 2020 despite his current poll position? Conversely, can Joe Biden cling to his lead? What must Trump do to convince the average American he is worthy of a second term? And what must Republicans do to sharpen their survival skills should Biden win the election?

 

1) DOES HISTORY FAVOR OR HINDER TRUMP?

In the last 100 years, American voters granted second terms to 10 of the 14 incumbent presidents who sought them. That means Americans chose to give their presidents a second term 70% of the time. In that sense, history favors Trump. However, the four incumbent presidents denied second terms fell into the same trap: a lousy economy. The Great Depression doomed Herbert Hoover. Gerald Ford (an unelected incumbent) couldn’t “whip inflation now” (WIN), even sporting a WIN button on his lapel. Double-digit interest rates did in the hapless Jimmy Carter. An unexpected recession relegated George H.W. Bush to a single term. Trump can’t be blamed for America’s wretched economy — it was humming along until it caught COVID-19 — but Trump must play the hand he’s been dealt. And it’s the same hand that dealt out the four one-term incumbents noted above.

2) CAN WE TRUST THE POLLS?

History is replete with presidential candidates who flourished in July and vanished in November. Remember Mike Dukakis? You can be forgiven for forgetting, but Dukakis blew a 17-point midsummer lead in 1988, with George H.W. Bush beating him by 8% in November. To gain some insight into this year’s RealClearPolitics (RCP) average poll showing Biden with a 7.4% lead over Trump at press time, I checked in with RCP’s senior political analyst Sean Trende to see if pollsters are making adjustments to account for the 40 states that permit early voting, or mail-in ballots, which gets underway in the third week of September. “Right now, no,” Trende says. “After people start voting, pollsters will start asking people if they have already voted to account for early voting. This probably makes polling more accurate, although there is potentially the problem of lying about whether you voted or not.”

Point to remember: Even the best of polls is only a snapshot in time, not a prediction.


3) DOES EARLY VOTING FAVOR ONE PARTY?

Politico speculated last week that after President Trump cast doubt on the legitimacy of early voting, many of Trump’s supporters may choose to show up to the polls, rather than mail in their ballots, which means the polls taken right after early voting begins could favor Biden even more. In the big picture, mail-in voting is nothing new. It’s been going on in America for 20 years and close to half of the world’s democracies allow some form of early voting. A group of Stanford University researchers published a report in late June in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that vote-by-mail has no impact on partisan turnout and only a marginal impact on percentage of turnout. But there’s one big caveat. They noted that as the issue of mail voting becomes increasingly partisan, Blue states may ramp up their programs faster than Red states. That being the case, as the Trump campaign revs up for the stretch run, they would be advised to find a way to encourage vote-by-mail so that it prods, rather than discourages, Republican turnout.

4) DOES TRUMP HAVE A PLAN FOR A SECOND TERM?

The president needs to articulate this better. When Sean Hannity of Fox News tossed the president this softball of question several weeks ago, the president gave a stream-of-consciousness reply focusing on his newfound familiarity with Washington. If the president meant that after four years of running against Washington, he’s at least willing to jog with it, that would be a positive, because there’s a lot of unfinished business that can’t be done singlehandedly by executive order. Trump has been a blessing for Israel, and perhaps his sanctions will topple the regimes in both Iran and Lebanon, but his efforts to broker Arab-Israeli peace are stuck in neutral, if not reverse. A trade deal with China looks distant. Neither North Korea nor Turkey has curbed their belligerence despite Trump’s diplomacy. Supreme Court picks don’t always vote the way one might expect. The US economy is battered, law and order is under assault, as are 400 years of American culture. Trump will never win over the anti-Trumpers, but he must assure his base that he has a battle plan for his second term.

5) WHO NEEDS SURVIVAL SKILLS FOR A BIDEN ADMINISTRATION?

Mainly Senate Republicans. The RCP average polls now show the GOP barely clinging to a one-seat advantage, and if you disregard the margin of error and assign winners to all the tossup states, RCP has the Democrats taking control of the senate 52–48. Again, it’s August, not November, but there is a chance that if Biden wins, his coattails will be long enough so Democrats sweep control of both the House and Senate. Biden has always been politically savvy enough to position himself at the center of the divide between the party’s left and moderate flanks, but as the Democratic party lurches leftward, so does Biden’s midpoint. A joint Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force basically lays out a Sanders agenda, even if the Biden campaign was careful not to affix its own logo to the plan . Its number one issue is — you guessed it — climate change! If the Republicans can hold the Senate, they can effectively filibuster much of Biden’s agenda, but as the number of progressive Democrats increases, so will the pressure for a tidal wave of progressive legislation.

6) HOW DOES A BIDEN ADMINISTRATION PLAY IN ISRAEL?

Many loyal Jewish Democrats note that the party’s progressive wing failed in its bid to significantly toughen anti-Israel language in the party’s platform. However, Biden himself believes that Jewish settlement in Yehuda and the Shomron is an obstacle to peace and he will restore funding that the Trump administration cut to the Palestinian Authority and the UN agency that has held Arab refugees captive as political pawns. Biden won’t cut US military aid to Israel. It was Biden’s old boss, Barack Obama, who renewed US military aid to Israel at $3.8 billion per year until 2028. And if one day some Democrat to his left does? Israel will survive. The $3.8 billion is 13 billion NIS at current exchange rates, or 2.7% of Israel’s overall state budget. The Netanyahu government just shuffled around some 10 billion NIS from the budget for stimulus grants to citizens and military aid to reinforce the northern border. The Bank of Israel has accumulated a stash of almost $150 billion through foreign currency purchases, available for national emergencies. What a Biden victory could conceivably do is energize Israel’s leftist elements, who have taken to the streets to destabilize Israel by mimicking America’s protest movement.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 822)

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