There’s no doubt about it—last week’s Flash column, wherein I commented on the political troubles of President Trump and the GOP, proved to be my most unpopular column yet. It attracted far more negative comments than any of my pro-Trump, or anti-Trump, or anti-abortion, or pro-vaccine, or anti-Chinese Communist columns. I’m glad tomorrow’s meeting of the Erath County Republican Executive Committee, of which I’ve been a member since 1990, is going to be held through Zoom. Hangings in effigy, not to mention the real types, will be somewhat more difficult that way.
But what of the Democrats? Can they expect to cruise to victory this November? Not necessarily. No election’s outcome is ever 100% certain. While the Democrats right now may have the advantage, that could conceivably change, especially if America sees an improvement in our wretched economic situation without a corresponding deterioration in America’s public health. Moreover, if the contest to see who can most effectively trash last week’s column is any indicator, the Democrats may have another problem as well—an enthusiasm gap.
While the state of the economy can no longer be considered a selling point for the GOP, at least not for the time being, President Trump retains another great asset—a passionately united following. And passion will boost Republican turnout come November, giving Trump an advantage out of proportion to his general popularity.
The initial enthusiasm for Trump, shown in 2015 and 2016, was based partly on the fact that he was not Hillary Clinton, whom his supporters saw as the embodiment of an establishment that considered them basically “deplorable.” And their resentment could be supported and reinforced by the emerging Joe Biden sex scandal.
There remains no proof that Biden did what Tara Reade says he did, and in the absence of such proof, he remains entitled to the presumption of innocence. Besides, many Democrats say that given the alternative, they’ll vote for Joe anyway, whether innocent or guilty (Republicans said the same thing about Trump following the release of the Access Hollywood tape in 2016). But even should Biden be vindicated, whatever enthusiasm for his candidacy is thereby generated cannot possibly match Republican resentment at the obvious double standard employed by the Democrats and their media allies in handling the Biden case in comparison with their treatment of Brett Kavanaugh. For example, an editor of the New York Times has admitted to allowing the Biden campaign to review coverage of the scandal and to omitting some facts at its request; no such courtesy is known to have been extended to Kavannaugh. Nobody votes in greater numbers than the resentful.
Joe Biden cannot yet claim a similarly enthusiastic base. Granted, his emergence as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee following Super Tuesday is a political comeback without precedent in the annals of American political history, but it was driven more by fear of a Sanders victory than by enthusiasm for Biden on his own merits. After all, as long as other Democrats were in the race, Biden attracted little support. Their sudden decisions to withdraw from the contest left anti-Bernie voters with little choice but to choose Biden over Sanders if the Democratic Party was to have a fighting chance of defeating Trump in November, absence economic then-unforeseen economic difficulties.
But a candidate whose supporters are with him because he’s the least unattractive alternative cannot count on his followers to turn out at the same rate, and with the same enthusiasm, as a candidate whose supporters are true believers. And there are several factors related to Sanders and the Bernie Bros which may dampen voter turnout for Biden, especially if GOP strategists exploit them.
Some Bernie Bros may vote for Trump if they see him as being, like Sanders, an anti-establishment figure. Even if they see no such relationship, they may still be sufficiently resentful of seeing their man twice lose the presidential nomination to a more establishment Democrat that they may not vote for president at all, or cast their vote for a third-party candidate. These possibilities no doubt are behind Trump’s occasional attempts to identify himself with Sanders.
Biden may well try to win over more Bernie Bros by pushing the party to officially support a variety of issues many Bernie Bros support, including the Green New Deal, Medicare-for-All, and student debt forgiveness. But this may backfire. Polling has shown that when first introduced to these ideas, Democrats respond with enthusiasm. Yet their enthusiasm begins to fade when the costs of these programs, and the prospect of higher taxes to pay for them, are discussed as well. Should the GOP choose to make an issue of the costs of those proposals and the tax increases needed to cover those costs, Joe could conceivably lose more support than he gains
At this stage, given the wretched state of the economy, the presidential election has become the Democrats’ to lose. But lose they may well do, should the economy improve, should Trump’s backers remain united, enthusiastic, and resentful of the Democrats and the media, and should the Democrats’ policies be considered too radical to elicit the enthusiasm of their base. With the election still six months away, there’s still plenty of time for much to go right—or wrong—for either party. Neither triumphalism nor despair is currently justified for either Democrats or Republicans.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.