We sure live in exciting times. We are only a matter weeks away from the collective purgative experience that will overtake all of our bowels the moment the Mueller report becomes public. Sure, Twitter will be abnormally feculent as our new cultural pastime of partisan conspiracy theorising collides with good old boring reality, but I’ll be the first to admit it has been fun at times to speculate on presidential golden showers. And with all of that behind us we can discuss this presidential election with at least the visage or form of a normal race.
Although, it is worth stating that normalcy is not necessarily something to strive for with too much eagerness in the electoral arena: I for one have never been satisfied with the way the conventional, establishment political horse-race plays out, and I’m quite sure plenty of people share that dissatisfaction.
Approximately once a fortnight (or thereabouts) a seemingly arbitrarily chosen candidate will make a small splash among insiders’ social circles (usually among journalists’ Twitters), and then that same candidate will consequently eat up some of the spare coverage laying around on slow news days. Unsurprisingly, this gives them a marginal boost in the polls as they are briefly lifted from being completely unknown to a position of minimal acknowledgement by the public. Journalists then characteristically misinterpret this minuscule movement in the polls (usually within the margin of error) as a signal of grassroots momentum caused by the campaign, and then cover this “poll bump” as though it is news in its own right.
This rotating cycle of consensus building usually keeps the media entertained during an otherwise meaningless period of campaigning before primary season is even on the calendar. But in doing so, journalists lead the public along with their mistaken notion that the ability of candidates to generate damply positive coverage in a low stakes false campaign represents strong fundamentals that will carry over into the blood sports war that is an election.
This is why I’d like to take a break from the Mueller cycle to remind everyone that of the immensely significant fact that as long as the Democrats’ continue to miss their opportunity to crystallise a coherent vision of a post-Trump world—or if they fail to find a candidate that can articulate their vision boldly—many signs point to the significant possibility of Trump winning reelection. Of course you wouldn’t know that with the fawning way the media covers his opponents.
To be fair to the inevitable rebuttal, Trump is behind on most head-to-head polls. But the media is, true to brand, thoroughly incapable of making sense of these polls usefully.
Trump is not losing to the unelectable Elizabeth Warren in head-to-head polls because she actually has the energetic base to topple an incumbent president were the general election held today. Trump is losing precisely because polls do not in any way resemble an actual election. In a real election there are protest votes and there are last-minute changes of mind made under the anonymity afforded by democracy. People stay home—or more likely, go to work. And most importantly, a general election exposes non-incumbent candidates to whole new leagues of criticism and exposure.
This is what sank Hillary Clinton. You could have (and had) hundreds of polls confirming that Americans preferred Clinton head-to-head over Trump if it was as easy to saying so to a pollster. They were even saying it in all the States she needed to get over the line. But this only served to disguise an epidemic of unenthusiasm which was crippling her campaign. A climate of criticism and spotlight only served as toxic anathema for the wife of the most scandalised president of a generation. (At least, prior to our dear number forty-five, who still has plenty of time left to make a run for that medal.)
Reality is just too complex for head-to-head polls, especially this far out from the election. So then, what evidence is there that the Democrats are under real threat from Trump? As the never-Trump Republican vote diminishes in the wake of Mueller, Democrats can be certain that he has enough core right-wing support to mobilise his base; the battleground of 2020 will be in the centre. And the centre will be won or lost on the grounds of satisfaction with the status quo.
The problem is that the Democrats are going to have to make them move before they will ever get out and vote for them. As far the centre is concerned, there is no risk to their livelihood in risking four more years of Trump. Why? It is the economy, stupid:
Things are looking up for the average voter. And abstract market fears of declining growth due to winding down tax stimulus is an insufficient motivator to scare voters to the polls on election day. The only economic comparison they feel with enough visceral force to actually shift electoral realities is the longer-term comparison to the bumpy, slow recovery of the Obama administration, and that comparison obviously favours Trump.
Certainly, the Democrats have an opportunity to gain some ground on healthcare. And Trump is not really savvy enough to stop them. But that is an active case for the Democrats to make, which they are still far from making into a tangible benefit so early into the race. The Democrats’ chances are not hopeless in any sense, but it is nothing but the impressively ignorant consensus of cultural elites speaking when the media has the arrogance to argue that the neutral case dooms Trump to failure.
You would think these sycophants would learn after 2016 and Kavanaugh that today’s political reality actually favours Donald Trump and the Republicans. But I guess sticking their heads in the sand is the only way journalists can preserve the illusion of vanity.