Forget about handicapping the Super Bowl, too close to call. What matters even more than football is the next president. Happily, we have far more evidence on election dynamics than unpredictable sports. My argument is simple: Always Trumper numbers keep hitting firm electoral ceilings, insufficient to win, and chances are good there will be a great deal more bad news than good before the election. If only 10% (to estimates of 30 percent) of Republicans (and a slew of right-leaning centrists) judge this convicted felon totally unfit, if not an absolute menace, even modest dilution by third party candidates won’t dispatch Biden. Independents are fed up with regurgitated Trump trash talk—and they defy abortion bans.
On top of which, Biden’s low approval ratings have probably bottomed, fully adjusted for inflation woes and imprudent support for Israeli military excesses. As the economy improves and a Mideast truce looms, neither will have the same force in October. Contrast Trump’s last few months, rife with cognitive gaffes and evidence of fatigue and stress (indeed, aging). Plus, more painful pre-November legal losses will only ignite the audacity of Never Trumpers. The sham strongman weakens, leaving in question what he can do to reverse this descent. By the way, I assume no impact from the corrupted, Florida/Mar-a-Lago theft of top secrets trial.
Further, even modest progress on immigration reduces the impact of vicious anti-immigrant Trump lies. As inflation moderates, interest rates fall, job growth and stocks stay high, and earlier Biden legislation (infrastructure, student debt relief and CHIP subsidies) grow in prominence, this incumbent will offset the predictable, anti-official vexation. Sure, overseas Black Swans could wound Biden, but the Mideast mess should lessen and Ukraine looks not to worsen. In short, already underway, Biden has foreseeable, real-world upsides, whereas Trump faces inexorable, vote-stealing downsides. Enough accumulated negatives, without offsets, end up making Trump non-competitive, even unelectable.
Incumbents win, even in circus times
Except for Trump and George H. Bush, for five decades every incumbent (Reagan, Clinton, Dubya, and Obama) won re-election. Let’s assume today the race is roughly even; that means if the disgraced Trump keeps getting battered, all the while making more unforced, decidedly unpopular fumbles, how does he expand his base? Has not the overused, dead horse Trump PR rhetoric (on dictatorship, misogyny, race, American First, criminal immigrants) been beaten to a pulp? Politics demands novelty, not the same tedious bluster, filled with outrageous contradictions, that undercut his image. Imagine Biden campaign messaging: Wouldn’t a convict make a great dictator? Why not have our top law enforcer condemn judges, courts and the Constitution? What’s wrong with outlawing immigration reform? Shouldn’t all “vermin” be targeted by a weaponized Justice Dept.? Trump hands the billion-dollar Biden campaign endless softballs.
Judging by losing seven of eight general elections, primary GOPers are as boneheaded as Trump when choosing candidates. And today, just over half of Rethugs pledge eternal fealty to the Most Divisive Politician ever (if expanding your electorate matters). Overall, Trump brings down the entire rightwing ticket (and House control, per Haley) by majoring in vitriolic invective, banishing non-MAGA donors, bragging he caused abortion bans, promising more fat cat tax cuts, threatening Obamacare – and causing extremely mixed GOP messages on backing Ukraine or Israel. What plausible winning strategy sticks to obsessively demonizing the other party, betraying life-supportive government positives, and spewing weakling victimhood – without one real positive deliverable?
New York judgments and EJ Carroll Body are only the first blows to the defaming rapist’s standing. Even without pre-election convictions, months of injurious testimony will broadcast his every crime, mostly from ex-Trump advisers. Acquittals are unthinkable, and Trump’s desperate delay, delay, delay tactics look to boomerang when the worst evidence explodes this summer or just before voting. Not enough Republicans and centrists will back Trump merely to save him from indefensible jeopardy. Imagine the final campaign taunt: “What law-abiding citizen wants a multiply-convicted criminal in the White House?”?
What stops the bad news surge?
Next up, a $400 million, NY fraud penalty, another ironic nod to his “deal-making business genius.” What about potential tax evasion charges, the result of fabricating a fake loan? Yes, I understand how Trump manipulates court losses into fundraising wins. But does that expand his base, sufficient for winning? Irrationally, Trump divides the world between winners (still last week boasting he has the “hottest brand in the world”) and losers (nearly everyone else except dictators). Are his equally benighted sons “winners,” considering comments they’d be lost without the genius? His own trophy wives are dicey winners, tarnished by his adultery. How about ex-advisers, stamped as betrayers, lackeys or too stupid to avoid jail or massive penalties? That suckered gang could fill a large restaurant.
While the wheels are combing off, one only wonders how many Trump “losers” will ascend: Biden, blistering Democrats, “turncoat” Never Trumpers,” Liz Cheney, Chris Christie, all those stiffed vendors, suckers conned, abused women discarded, hustled business competitors, Gold Star families, dead soldiers who gave their all, prisoners of war who survived, and, most infuriating for the cosmic loser, feisty women liked EJ Carroll who whooped him in court, then trashed his bank account. Even to a billionaire, $88 million (and counting) is no chump change. Imagine Trump’s stomach-churning stress, reminiscent of Jack Benny’s old joke, “[crook:] “Your money or your life” . . . [long pause] . . . [Benny:] “I’m thinking.”
Judge by what we know today
In short, Biden chances look to rise (sans Black Swans), buoyed by good news. Trump is a limited, one-horse candidate with such liabilities it’s hard to project how he offsets self-made calamities. Sure, anything can happen, but today’s vectors are unlikely to change. To paraphrase a good friend’s quip about friendship, all politicians over time either get more appealing or less—and nothing Trump offers entices most centrist voters.
Finally, despite a dismal seven year record for Trump backed MAGA losers, are defective primary voters so daft they idolize Trump, judging him the strongest candidate against a vulnerable incumbent? If so, they are even less savvy than their criminal champion. Trump’s nefarious objective is clear: to stay out of jail by using the White House as legal fortress. What the average Trumper gains, measured over his four year reign, is, except for abortion bans, demonstrably less health care, fatal COVID responses, higher deficits and unfulfilled promises of American greatness.
Early polling is suspect and seven months as they say can be an eternity in politics. What levers, how much outrage, remain in Trump’s quiver to beat an incumbent, other things being equal? What will re-engage irregular right-wing voters, as in 2016, by forever braying. “The election will be rigged, just like all the others I lost.” What uncertain voter eagerly rushes to vote for a confirmed, serial mafia boss with a foul mouth and an insatiable cruelty streak? Why should even right-wingers feel confident that 2024 won’t be a replay of another rigged election, producing another ocean of Trump infamy? That’s the real payoff for the Big Lie contradiction. Nothing less than Trump’s worst dead end: running for an office as the epic victim because he expects to lose. So be it.