As our collective perception of time has warped beyond all recognition, the America of February and March seems an alien time to us. That period of American history is now amalgamated with the Civil War, the New Deal and the Cold War as the vast period of study known as “the pre-virus era”.
Given the extent to which the vast array of seemingly constant newsworthy events have changed politics, culture and the outlook of the November election, it can be difficult to cast our minds back to a “more normal” period of time (to the extent that any occurrence in the Trump era can be described as normal).
Before the virus
In the months immediately preceding the coronavirus outbreak, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign was riding a strong wave of momentum and enthusiasm, while Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign was in serious danger of collapsing in the polls and running out of money.
Unlike 2016, the prospect of the Democratic torchbearer being a self-described socialist was a tangible reality with the GOP waiting in the wings, eager to capitalise on iron-clad sign of radical leftward drift within the Democratic Party.
During the month of Sanders’ success, the GOP’s enthusiasm and prospects improved across the board; even the ambition to retake the House was briefly entertained for the first time since Nancy Pelosi became Speaker for the second time.
A decline with a cause for concern
Just as things began to look genuinely positive on the electoral front for the GOP for the first time since Pennsylvania was called for Trump, the combined sucker-punch of Jim Clyburn and Coronavirus conspired to leave the Republicans in a dire position.
Coronavirus has also sparked a crisis within the Trump administration. The lack of coherent message and plan from the White House combined with Trump’s proclivity for grandiose claims of success where none exists and tendency to become embroiled in the minutiae of personal conflict seems to have backfired. His generally constant approval ratings taking a dip has coincided with Trump’s head to head numbers against Biden becoming more daunting.
With five months to go, all is not lost in this utterly unpredictable labyrinth of daily earth shattering events we call modern politics, but the GOP does not look in good shape.
Any hopes of taking the House were vanquished with the ability to tie all Democrats nationally with the socialists that back Bernie Sanders and the reality of Democrats’ financial advantage in key seats. Not one reputable nationwide psephologist rates the Democratic majority as endangered.
But more concerning still, Biden’s uptick in fortunes has put the U.S. Senate majority in serious jeopardy, something that Mitch McConnell was not bargaining for at the start of the year.
From Trump’s perceived incompetence to Biden’s greater support from white voters to Steve Bullock’s decision to run for Senate in Montana, the electoral news has generally been poor for Republicans.
The imperative of a quick recovery
As Republican electoral fortunes have declined steadily since the outbreak of Coronavirus, the necessity to arrest the decline is palpable. The signs do not look good, a second spike of the virus may be imminent, and the economy would be likely to take a consequent hit.
A double dip recession would cast a stake through the heart of any campaigning on the economic rebound post-virus.
The White House get its act together on communicating its aims and rationale for its plans regarding the virus and safeguarding incomes while executing such plans with a flare and efficiency that has been seriously lacking during Trump’s Presidency.
All is not lost
No campaign can ever be removed from contention in Trump’s America, particularly not one with the electorally idiosyncratic President at its helm.
The better-than-expected report that America had already added over two million jobs to its workforce has given the White House increased optimism that the recovery may be V-shaped, giving them back the platform of economic success that the virus cruelly stole from them in March.
In spite of recent developments, voters still seem to trust Trump on the economy more than his Democratic opponent. Not only does this mean that he can still run on the message of economic prosperity, but that he only has room to grow that lead if the economic outlook becomes rosier.
The critical juncture will be the economic reports released after Labor Day, where the extent of a second wave on the economy will be better understood.
If the figures are not positive, it seems difficult to see exactly what Trump campaigns on. It is also likely that economic indicators and the American public’s experience will foreshadow the figures and they will adjust their view of Trump accordingly.
The improved numbers among white voters within the Biden campaign could easily fall back to Trump if economic indicators return to some semblance of positivity or if the President successfully campaigns hard on the culture war issues that defined him in 2016 & 2018 in lieu of positive news on nationwide protests, public health and the economy.
Gaining back from Biden
This would also help to arrest the worsening prospects among pessimistic Senate Republicans, with those voters holding the key to their success in states like Iowa, Georgia and North Carolina. Though it may not be enough to help the Republicans in Arizona, Colorado and Maine where white, particularly suburban white voters are likely to be more focused on economy and virus related improvements.
If Trump erases Biden’s gains among these voters, he may expose Biden’s weakness among young voters and hispanic voters while cementing his Electoral College edge in crucial midwestern and southern swing states. The Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll will provide an interesting picture of the evolving situation among Obama-Trump white voters.
All is not lost for the President and the Republicans. Five months has always been a long time in politics and represents a celestial eternity in this paradigm of politics. But they need to start at least strategising about how the perception of the President’s record on civil unrest, coronavirus and the subsequent economic bad news can be changed.
Without an uptick in results or the fundamentals for later developments in public perception in the near future, the Republicans may begin to look to November as an anti-White House wave akin to 2006, 2008 & 2018 rather than the razor thin showdown referendum on Trumpism that 2020 has long been expected to be.