This Might Be the High-Water Mark of Trumpism
An argument for why Trump’s numbers can’t get much better and Biden’s numbers are likely to improve.
1. How Biden Wins
Mark Halperin watched both Trump and Biden’s January 5 speeches and came away with a shrewd piece of analysis.
It is a crude way to measure both perception and reality, but perhaps the most telling way to view the time between now Election Day is this: Can Biden win enough news cycles to overcome Trump’s current lead?
The answer is that he definitely can, as Friday’s events, and the coverage of them, built around the 1/6 anniversary, demonstrate.
I heard from three readers that Mr. Biden’s remarks represented one of the best speeches in substance and performance of his presidency, maybe even of his career. . . .
The subject of his address definitely reflects three positive advantages for the incumbent, as compared to say, his talking about the economy or immigration.
First, this topic of Trump and democracy and norms is clearly where Biden’s passion is, and candidates almost always are better when they are talking about something that animates them.
Second, the Dominant Media (definitely and decisively) and the general election electorate (unambiguously if not necessarily dispositively) are more with Joe Biden on this matter over Donald Trump than most anything else (besides abortion).
Third, because of the first two reasons, talking about 1/6 and democracy gives Biden a chance to win a news cycle even when he is behind in the polls.
And that, for now and maybe a long time, is one of Biden’s biggest challenges. It is VERY hard to win a news cycle when trailing (as Ron DeSantis and, more than most realize, also Nikki Haley, can tell you).
Until and unless the incumbent goes ahead, even the Dominant Media, which will root hard for him to win until the very end, slants its coverage away from him. . . .
Until and unless Biden goes ahead, you are going to hear Democratic fretting over his decision to seek reelection; over the presence of Vice President Harris on the ticket; over Biden’s age, mental health, and physical appearance; over his light campaign schedule; over his campaign team’s messaging around the economy; over his failures on immigration; over his stance towards Israel; and more.
Halperin then says that Biden’s three big problems are:
That he’s playing from behind as an incumbent, which sets a media narrative against him.
That Republicans have quickly and decisively rallied to Trump.
That parts of the Obama coalition—black, Hispanic, and young voters—have not (yet?) rallied to Biden.
I slightly disagree with Halperin on the importance of #1 and what he calls the Dominant Media. My own view is that journalists tend to overdetermine the influence of the media in electoral politics.
But however much weight you want to give this factor, Halperin is directionally correct: Because Biden is trailing Trump, the media slant is always something like, “Unemployment is 3.9%; Here’s Why That’s Bad for Biden.”
And the only way that’s going to flip is if Biden moves ahead in the polling.
As for #2 and #3, those are vectors along which Biden can reasonably hope to improve and Trump probably cannot.
For instance: I would posit to you that, over the next month, we will be approaching the high-water mark for Trump’s poll numbers.
Trump is finishing a primary campaign that was mostly a coronation. His rivals barely criticized him and when they did, they made sure to stay away from his actual electoral vulnerabilities. This period will culminate with a series of blowout victories for Trump: He will win Iowa by the largest margin of any Republican, ever. He will win New Hampshire. He will beat Nikki Haley in her home state by more than 20 points.1
He will win every single primary and caucus.
And this juggernaut of winning will make Trump seem like a colossus.
But that view is likely to be misleading, because unlike every other contested primary in the modern era, Trump will arrive at the nomination in a pre-campaign state where he has yet to take a punch.
And the reality is this: Do you think Republican voters are likely to become more comfortable with Trump the more they see of him over the next 10 months? I do not. Historically, Trump’s approval numbers have moved inversely to the magnitude of his public presence.
I expect that once there is a real race, with Biden actually hitting Trump where he is softest, and Trump is in everyone’s face, we are likely to see some erosion of Republican support for Trump at the margins. Not a huge decline—but enough to measure. Enough to be dispositive.
Finally: Do you think Democratic voters are likely to become more disaffected with Biden over the next 10 months? I do not, for two reasons.
First, because the objective economic facts continue to improve and filter through the electorate. Second, because as we approach the election, not supporting Biden transforms from being a signal of dissatisfaction with his administration to an act of concrete support for Trump. On this score, I suspect we are near the high-water mark for Biden discontent among those Democratic groups and that they will gradually return to their party’s fold.
All of which is to say that it is hard to see why Trump could move any further ahead and not difficult to see why Biden’s standing could/should improve.
Obviously, I am very much interested in Joe Biden’s numbers improving, but we don’t do wishcasting around here. We take the world as it is and call it like we see it: No spin, no positioning. The goal is to help save democracy and make you smarter along the way and to be honest, there aren’t a lot of other media organizations out there taking this approach.
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A friend writes in with an observation about the Republican party that hit me like a freight train:
A window into the state of the modern GOP is the fact that so many of its most prominent politicians find that they have to walk back or downplay what should be their proudest boasts.
IMO the Trump administration’s finest domestic accomplishment was the unimaginably quick development of life-saving vaccines by Operation Warp Speed. How much credit belongs to the former president is a judgment on which reasonable people can disagree, but it doesn’t matter because he is no longer interested in taking credit. After being booed by rally crowds he no longer mentions it.
Saturday was the anniversary of January 6th. Mike Pence hasn’t been as silent about that as the VSG has been about vaccines, but his comments about it have been tinged with a certain ambiguity. Given that his courageous action in defense of the Constitution is certain to be what he is remembered for in history, you would think that as a matter of practical politics he would be more forthright about it. But considerations of practical politics are what has led him to reticence.
Nikki Halley removed the Confederate battle flag from state buildings. To appreciate what that took requires a bit of understanding of South Carolina politics. Like the former vice president she does mention that but, also like him, she contextualizes it. Instead of fully embracing what many consider her finest hour, she discusses it with a nod to Lost Cause nostalgia.
And then there’s Ted Cruz. His correctly describing the January 6th terrorists is not an accomplishment on par with those mentioned above. But it was an accurate and common-sense observation. The fact that he had to grovel and beg forgiveness from Tucker Carlson is a symptom of what I have been describing.
You can’t unsee this.
3. Christie DESTROYS Hugh Hewitt
I forgive the Big Fella everything.
Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie made his annoyance with Hugh Hewitt crystal clear during a contentious Thursday morning clash, telling the conservative radio host that this was the least “substantive” interview he’s ever done. . . .
Hewitt continually pressed Christie to drop out and give other candidates a better shot at beating Donald Trump.
While Hewitt tried to convince Christie to bow out and give former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley a boost ahead of New Hampshire’s primary, the right-wing talker insisted he is neutral in the race, repeatedly describing himself as “Switzerland” throughout the interview. . . .
At the very top of the interview, Hewitt appeared to get under his guest’s skin by referencing Christie’s recent appearance on daytime talk show The View.
“I’m not The View. You’re not going to put this over on me,” Hewitt said. “Your staying in the primary undeniably helps Donald Trump get the election, doesn’t it?”
After Christie disagreed with that notion, Hewitt then brought up conservative pundit Noah Rothman’s recent claim that Christie staying in the race is “hurting Nikki Haley” and “doing profound reputational harm to himself,” adding that there’s no “upside” to Christie’s candidacy. . . .
Insisting that he wasn’t advocating for Haley, whom Christie has been highly critical of, Hewitt then referred to himself as “Switzerland” before going on a tangent about mathematics and equations . . .
“I don’t know whose campaign it is, but I do algebra. I used to do algebra. I’m not going to say that anymore. You might ask me something. But I can do math, and if Chris Christie drops out, someone’s going to benefit not named Donald Trump. Isn’t that undeniable?” Hewitt rambled.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen here, and the idea that somehow this is an algebra equation, this is not,” Christie sighed at one point. “This is finite math.”
Hewitt, meanwhile, retorted “this is an algebra equation from Switzerland” before once again pressuring Christie to drop out in order to send his supporters over the Haley. “If Nikki Haley loses New Hampshire by five percent, and you’ve got 10 percent or more, you will have elected Donald Trump president. Are you okay with that?” Hewitt asked.
After much more of this back and forth, Hewitt pivoted to Christie’s repeated assertion that he would not endorse Trump for president if the ex-president wins the nomination.
“Hugh, this is not news,” Christie declared. “I’ve been saying this from the beginning. I’m the guy who didn’t raise my hand on the stage when they asked me if you would support him if he was a convicted felon.”
With Hewitt wondering if Christie was still “hedging his bets,” the former governor then lashed out: “I have to tell you the truth, Hugh. You have interviewed me probably a hundred times. I’ve never had a less substantive interview with you in my life.”
Hewitt pushed back, saying this was “actually the most substantive interview,” prompting Christie to strongly disagree.
“No. This is not news, Hugh,” he huffed. “I didn’t raise my hand in August. You think you’re making news here, then you’re not paying attention.”
On and on it went. Hewitt thought perhaps Christie could find a way to support Trump if the former president somehow escapes conviction on dozens of felony charges, while the former prosecutor flatly said he couldn’t accept Hewitt’s premise.
A couple final thoughts on this:
(1) Hugh Hewitt is desperate to get Chris Christie out of the race because he wants to stop Donald Trump.
(2) But Hugh Hewitt is also desperate to get Christie to endorse Trump, because Hewitt a partisan über alles.
(3) This was Hewitt three years ago, when he thought that America had gotten rid of the sonofabitch for him.
What a disgrace.
That is, if she even makes it to her home state. It’s possible she’s out after Nevada.