2020 Election: Why Joe Biden and Donald Trump Would Lose

Joe Biden at a campaign appearance in Pittsburgh, Pa., August 31, 2020; President Trump at a White House coronavirus briefing, August 10, 2020. (Alan Freed, Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

This is how we will look back on the 2020 presidential race, no matter who wins.


e have two months until Election Day. And ever since the national conventions, the campaigns have been in high gear. But the polls aren’t moving. Absent a military intervention from beyond our borders, or further natural disasters, we likely know everything necessary about our two contentious political parties and the two cantankerous old men who are leading them into conflict to understand the outcomes and why they happened.

When Joe Biden lost, it was obvious why.

The Biden campaign was blind. Or rather, it was blinded. First it was blinded by bad polling, which had shown a consistent lead over Trump from the beginning of 2019 until the very end. This led Biden and his team to their overly cautious basement campaign strategy. Biden didn’t even visit Wisconsin until he visited Kenosha, when he called on the extravagantly anti-Semitic father of Jacob Blake, but not anyone else.

Biden was also blinded by the mainstream media’s obvious rooting for him. After they made themselves adjuncts of the anti-Trump effort, Biden’s team received little critical pushback from the center or right and became soft-minded and prone to error. The media accepted the Biden campaign’s cues that the rioting and unrest were non-issues. In effect, the Democrats had spoken to a mirror and fooled themselves into not addressing it at their convention. This was insanity, because 5 million Americans became first-time gun owners in the first half of 2020. This was obviously consequential when the last race was decided by just 80,000 votes. When poll numbers showed some indication that the unrest mattered to swing voters, the media flipped on a dime and said Joe Biden was always concerned about the riots, and the troublemakers were mostly Trump voters anyway.

The Biden campaign also misunderstood his place in the timeline of events. COVID-19 and the lockdowns proved to be the biggest issue of the campaign. And right until the end, polling showed public disapproval of Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic. But this was retrospective. Other polls continued to show more trust in Donald Trump’s ability to handle the economy. Increasingly the economy was the question. While there were sporadic COVID outbreaks in the Upper Midwest heading into the fall, the rest of the country continued to experience declining case rates, declining hospitalizations, and increased recoveries. In trying to identify Donald Trump as the candidate of opening up too soon, Biden identified himself as the candidate of more miserable lockdowns, school closings, and business shutdowns at precisely the time voters wanted to make decisions about risks for themselves.

Lastly, it was blinded to the surge of shy and invisible Trump voters. Trump simply did better in the vote tallies of black and Hispanic districts than he did in the initial exit polls. Polling had shown for years that conservative voters increasingly self-censored or misrepresented their views at their jobs or to authority figures. Finally, turnout was stronger than expected among non-college-educated whites, the largest pool of non-voters in the country.

When Trump lost, it was obvious why.

First there were the unkept promises. No wall. No troops coming home from misbegotten wars. No reform of American medicine that would “take care of everybody.” No repeal of Obamacare. No fundamental changes to the position of America in the global economy, no coming surge of manufacturing capacity.

“Joe Hiden” kept a light schedule throughout and allowed Fox News and others to speculate openly about whether he had the health and stamina to be president. But Trump’s campaign also failed to launch. His reelection campaign had lost the manic, live-on-CNN pace of his 2016 blitz. Without the rallies to test out his slogans and prepare his lines, Trump never really warmed up. Cable networks, having learned the true effect of their car-chase-style coverage of his campaign in 2016, refused to give him the oxygen again.

There was also the desire to just see a change, measured in consistently poor “right-track wrong-track” numbers. Joe Biden’s most powerful message turned out to be the promise to turn down the temperature of politics in the country. The implicit promise that there would be less politics at work, and across social-media feeds. The year 2020 was trying. The pandemic, lockdowns, and closures had put the country into a kind of job and psychological depression, one that was associated too much with Donald Trump’s face in the news. Getting rid of him was, for many voters, like changing their home address, or their lifestyle — a way to make a break from a present status quo that was unbearable.

But it wasn’t some cruel in-breaking event that did Trump’s reelection bid in. And it wasn’t a strategic decision. The head-to-head-matchup poll numbers in January of 2020, at the height of the Trump economic boom, right when he was flicking away impeachment like a gnat, were not so different from the polls in the worst moments in April, or the less horrible ones of August. Pandemic, lockdown, millions losing jobs, the statues coming down, the national conventions, Kenosha, Pelosi’s hair appointment, millions of people getting their jobs back, the decreases of the COVID fatality rate, even the promise of a vaccine made no difference at all.

In the end it was simple. Donald Trump was the most broadly unpopular major-party nominee in modern history, and Joe Biden wasn’t. In 2016, Trump turned out just enough disaffected, occasional white working-class voters to beat Hillary Clinton. In 2020, he didn’t.

Dear readers, one of these scenarios will be broadly true, if the election is decided cleanly. All you have to do to escape the anxiety and tumult leading into Election Day these next two months is internalize these possibilities and accept the sovereign will of the Almighty over all things.

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