By now, Republican officeholders are daily and in ever-increasing numbers coming up with reasons why they will be unable to attend the late-August GOP convention in Jacksonville, Florida. In every campaign year, everything is a poll — who shows up and who doesn’t when your candidate comes to town; who elbows in for the picture with the standard-bearer as opposed to who suddenly remembers that he and his family have an unbreakable appointment with the hometown taxidermist about stuffing the late, beloved family hamster.
Looking at the most respected national polls conducted in the month of July, we see that President Donald Trump, in the matchup with former Vice President Joe Biden, is winning 40%, 41%, 40% and 37% of the national vote. Yes, a poll is only a snapshot in time of attitudes and judgments, not set in stone. But the emerging reality is clear: A majority of American voters have decided that they really do not want Trump to be their president for the next four years.
While this pandemic-election year — with no bands, balloons, confetti or “spontaneous” floor demonstrations — is unlike any that we have lived through, the candidate dynamics are quite similar to those of 1980. That was the year a beleaguered Democratic incumbent, Jimmy Carter, beset with economic headaches, was challenged by the conservative champion, former California Gov. Ronald Reagan. The race was literally neck and neck — two or three percentage points either way through September into late October — until the night of Oct. 28 when the two men met in the campaign’s presidential debate.
That night, Reagan came across as a reasonable, nonthreatening conservative who really did not want, as some of his critics had charged, to start World War III. Reagan’s performance that night allowed voters to do what they wanted to do — to retire Jimmy Carter after one term, which they would do in a solid 10-point landslide Reagan victory just a week later.
Which brings us to Biden. In all likelihood, the presidential debates this fall will be the only time that voters will be able to see the two candidates side by side and live on the same stage. It’s all but certain that, by then, the Trump campaign and candidate will have accused Biden of suffering from chronic fatigue, senility, criminal nepotism and severe halitosis. This will be Biden’s opportunity to refute and rebut all those charges and show American voters who he is — a decent, likeable, unaffected and committed public servant who is neither an elitist nor an ideologue. If he does it right, Nov. 3 will be Biden’s victory and not just Trump’s defeat.
Biden, if he is wise and prudent, will dedicate three hours a day every day of the week in debate with a credible Trump stand-in who will level all sorts of ugly charges at Biden. Biden must give concise, crisp, responsive answers. He must be calm; voters are tired of the chaos of Trump. They are looking for emotional stability and maturity and the end of hourly melodrama. Joe Biden has the time and the opportunity to prepare to win the debates and the White House — three hours a day, every day, until he gets it right.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.