The 2020 election is coming down to the wire and it’s closer than most would acknowledge. The polls say former vice president Joe Biden has a substantial lead over President Donald Trump, but as in 2016, there’s reason to believe the polls are wrong.
Call it a hunch based on more years of covering American politics than I’m comfortable acknowledging, but media-conducted public polls that match candidates head to head have grown increasingly unreliable even as they’ve grown in importance. The more of them there are, the less they can be relied upon, at least for their value in predicting outcomes.
There are many documented reasons for this, including the ways data are manipulated after being collected and the trend away from landlines to cell phones. All that is for later. The important thing for each candidate is how he closes the race, as it is likely to make the difference between victory and defeat.
For Donald Trump:
During the campaign, Trump has learned the truism that those who live by the sword also die by it. In 2016 he made former secretary of state Hillary Clinton‘s character a major issue—some would say the issue—and won. This time the Democrats have made his character the principal issue in their campaign and he’s been on the ropes because of it.
His response, which at times verges on whining, is unbecoming a president. Voters don’t like it. Those who voted for him in 2016 did so because they expected him to take on “the swamp.” He said he knew it would be tough. Maybe he didn’t realize how tough it would be. In the process, however, he’s delivered on many of the other promises he made, something the other swamp dwellers don’t like because it proves things can be changed if you’re willing to fight for them.
To close the campaign, Mr. Trump needs to take the focus off himself and turn it back on the country he promised to “make great again.” It was an effective message then and would be again now. In a recent Gallup survey, 56 percent of the respondents said they were better off now than they were four years ago. That suggests there are plenty of people out there who think the president did a lot of things right even though he’s been investigated, impeached and vilified by the major media more intensely than any president in recent memory—including Richard Nixon.
Instead of talking about Hunter Biden (though there is a lot to talk about), Donald Trump needs to sell the successes of his first term as a reason for the voters to give him a second. Talk about economic growth. Talk about tax cuts, about record employment for Black and Latino Americans, about the creation of millions of new jobs, the manufacturing renaissance, achieving energy independence, criminal justice reform, fighting sex trafficking more aggressively than any previous administration, brokering real deals to help bring peace to the Middle East and keeping America out of new wars.
The pieces are there, Mr. President. You just have to put them together for people. Because if you don’t, no one else will.
For Joe Biden:
The former vice president spent much of the campaign sequestered in his home in Delaware, communicating over the internet and through supporters. As a strategy, it worked. It kept him out of the limelight most of the time and allowed everyone to remain focused on the president, who daily found a way to remind people who didn’t vote for him why they don’t like him.
But being the anti-Trump is not enough to get him across the finish line first. Most late-deciding voters choose to stick with the devil they know rather than taking a chance on the one they don’t—and none of the Democrat’s proposals on taxes, jobs and the economy are compelling enough by themselves to persuade people to switch. Biden has to spend the last week telling people in more detail than he’s as yet put forward just what his presidency would do to bring America back from the COVID lockdown recession. And he has to be the one who does it—to show people he understands what he’s advocating and not just direct potential voters to a website.
This leads to another issue: Biden must address questions about his fitness for office head-on. The Republicans may have started the whisper campaign about his not being up to the job, but it’s seeped into the national conversation. Biden will need to campaign aggressively, out in the open, on his feet, as if it was his first run for U.S. Senate, to put an end to the growing buzz on both sides of the aisle that he’s just a placeholder for his running mate.
Finally, the Democratic nominee must get out in front of the stories about his son Hunter and their alleged corruption. The stories may not be true, but what the elder Biden has said thus far has not carried enough weight with voters still trying to make up their minds.
As Democrats have done with Trump, voters are equating Biden’s lack of candid answers about specific questions with possible guilt. It’s hard to face when it involves a family member, but Biden needs to put the country first—something he and other members of his party have repeatedly and from the start accused the president of failing to do.
If Biden has no doubt his son did nothing wrong, he should announce he will appoint a special counsel—on par with Robert Mueller‘s investigation of President Donald Trump—to investigate and clear up once and for all the questions about Hunter’s business dealings in China, Ukraine and elsewhere. If Biden can’t do all that, the president, who once wrote a book on the art of the “comeback,” will probably have an extra chapter to add to the next edition.
It’s a close election that will decide, more than at any time since 1980, the direction of the nation for decades to come. America will either move to the right or lurch to the left depending on which of the two men on the November ballot makes the better case to the electorate. How each of them finishes the race will likely determine which way the nation will go.
Newsweek contributing editor Peter Roff has written extensively about politics and the American experience for U.S. News and World Report, United Press International, and other publications. He can be reached by email at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.
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