Democrats try to turn now into November
Democrats want to run out the clock on President Trump and keep the wheels on presumptive nominee Joe Biden. They intend to eliminate any bipartisan legislation in Congress, which could benefit Trump, and keep Biden out of public view as much as possible. Democrats wish November were now; with that impossible, they aim to do all they can to extend “now” to November.
The Real Clear Politics July 1 average of national polling gave Biden an 8.8 percent lead over President Trump (49.3 to 40.5 percent). Of course, Democrats remember all too well Hillary Clinton’s 2016 lead: CNN’s June 2016 poll had Clinton beating Trump 49 to 37 percent.
Democrats know how rapidly and unpredictably things can change in American politics — especially 2020. Four months until November is short, but four months ago America’s coronavirus lockdowns had not begun. It was just over one month ago that George Floyd was killed.
Currently, things are going Democrats’ way. Coronavirus and its lockdowns dominate the news and the economy, and negative economic news hurts incumbent presidents. Biden remains out of sight, and therefore no distraction from Trump’s problems.
Democrats rightfully believe that this is as good as it gets. Accordingly, they have adopted a “no distraction strategy” for Congress and the campaign. They will give Trump no meaningful legislative victories and they will try to protect Biden from self-inflicted defeats.
In Congress, Democrats aim to maintain their exposure while avoiding closure for Trump. Simply vacating the legislative stage is insufficient; that would cede Trump the Washington news-cycle. Yet passing legislation Trump can sign, risks giving him needed accomplishments.
Democrats’ solution is to pass only partisan legislation. This allows Democrats to claim they have addressed issues, even while keeping them alive.
Recently, House Democrats passed a $500 billion surface transportation bill, but took no input from Republicans, passing it on partisan lines. They then inserted it into a $1.5 trillion partisan infrastructure bill, also passed on partisan lines.
House Democrats did the same with a policing reform bill; they are set to do so again with an Obamacare expansion bill. None of these will go anywhere in the Senate, let alone to the president’s desk. Senate Democrats underscored this strategy by refusing to even allow debate on a Republican policing reform bill.
Expect no significant congressional change prior to November — the only exceptions being a few must-pass bills to avoid public blame.
Just as in Congress, Democrats want to avoid defeat in Biden’s campaign — particularly his notoriously self-inflicted ones. Implicitly, Democrats’ actions admit this is only possible if Biden remains out of sight.
Biden in public is a problem. So, Democrats have taken him private. Biden’s campaign has gone from being foot-in-mouth, to being work-from-home. A gaffe machine (his latest a declaration of 120 million U.S. coronavirus deaths), Biden now avoids all but the most scripted settings and only attends a minimum number of these.
To keep Biden in his basement, Democrats have opted for a virtual convention too. This reduces the risk that it descends into a 1968 Chicago redux, with the demonstrations that for months have plagued Democrat run cities descending en masse on Milwaukee.
Biden’s basement has served him well, or at least done him less a disservice. Democrats will keep hiding him as long as possible. If there is any possibility for virtual debates, expect Democrats to explore them.
Democrats’ dual strategy arises from legitimate fears — not just the 2016 ones they see in their rearview mirror, but the next four months approaching through their windshield.
President Trump’s poll numbers will rise as polling shifts from Democrat-friendly registered voter samples, to Republican-favorable likely voter ones. Further, as the country continues reopening and remains open, improving economic conditions will help him.
Simultaneously, Biden’s numbers likely fall as he must emerge. The closer the election gets, the farther Biden must get from his basement. Biden outside remains his downside, and he will pay a price.
Democrats therefore intend to do everything they can to drag now into November. Unable to make time stand still, they are doing everything they can to make Trump and Biden do so. Their reasoning is clear: any movement now is likely to their detriment.
J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987 through 2000.