Trump's ego defeating him, Biden not so much

Trump's ego defeating him, Biden not so much
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For the past several months President TrumpDonald TrumpJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results MORE has pursued a two-part strategy. Part 1: Win re-election. Part 2: Build up a store of excuses for losing. As much as Trump wants to win, the possibility that he might be thought of as a loser is intolerable.

This schizophrenic strategy brings real costs with it. For example, Trump’s crusade against mail balloting attacks what has been a strength for Republicans. In addition, seniors may be more inclined than ever to vote by mail this year. They are most at-risk for coronavirus and are Trump’s strongest demographic. But Trump has seized on mail ballots as the perfect “I was cheated” excuse. For him, the advantages of victimhood outweigh winning.

That’s not to say mail voting is ideal. The surge in mail voting has been overwhelming for some states, and the number of rejected ballots can be much higher than for in-person voting. But overall, Trump is risking votes as he has to make up the deficit in mail voting by in-person voting early or on Election Day. On balance, it is better to bank your votes as soon as possible rather than risk a voter changing his/her mind, bad weather, accidents, etc.

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Trump’s complaints about mail voting and his temporizing on whether to accept losing the election consumes time and attention he could be using to focus on reasons to re-elect him. Compound all that with his need to indulge in his personal vendettas and obsession with issues nobody else cares about, and Trump wastes time and voter attention he needs for persuasion.

In spite of the conventional wisdom, the events of 2020 presented Trump with opportunities. The coronavirus could have been a winning issue for Trump. Americans like a take-charge leader in a crisis. In the wake of 9/11 George W. Bush’s approval rating soared and stayed high — even as the economy took a tumble. The secret is addressing the nation as a unifier and taking bold action.

Trump did none of that.

Outside of the China travel ban, his administration was a cacophony of mixed messages and infighting. There was no national coordinated effort on supplying equipment and gear. At the daily briefings Trump looked like the emcee for open mic night at The Improv. The administration did move forward with an ambitious vaccine development effort, but that is a long, behind-the-scenes process.

And the public has taken note.

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Trump’s approval on handling the virus was initially good at 50 percent favorable to 42 percent unfavorable in the March 31 YouGov poll. Those numbers have fallen precipitously to 39 percent favorable and 56 percent unfavorable.

The protests and violence in the wake of George Floyd’s killing were another botched opportunity. While Americans are sympathetic to concerns about racism and favor police reform, they are very much opposed to violence, rioting, and defunding the police.

Trump had an opportunity to provide leadership, best done with a direct appeal to the nation. A strong condemnation of violence, plan to reduce it and a unifying message would have been in order. In November 1969, Nixon used this formula to great effect with his Silent Majority speech — after which Nixon achieved a 67 percent approval rating, his highest ever. But Trump has never made a national address. Instead he offers rage tweets and extended, extemporaneous rally speeches. Even worse, he does not offer any plans or real initiatives. 

Trump is sabotaging himself and vindicating the Biden strategy of letting Trump lose.

In contrast, Joe BidenJoe BidenFighter jet escorts aircraft that entered restricted airspace during UN gathering Julian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy FBI investigating alleged assault on Fort Bliss soldier at Afghan refugee camp MORE is practically ego-less. Biden has accepted his limitations and is allowing his staff to engage in a combination of careful stage-managing and disappearance. Biden has mostly stuck to a generic script and avoided doing anything that would fracture the seething, squabbling Democratic Party that is only united in hatred for Trump.

For the past year I have been bullish on Biden as the Democratic nominee and as the strongest Trump opponent. He consistently polled better than any other Democrat against Trump and has held a continuous lead over Trump for the past two-plus years.

But make no mistake, Biden is not a good candidate.

A career Washington politician in a nation where both left and right dislike such creatures more than ever, Biden is a gaffe-making machine who never made it to the first contest in his past runs for the presidency. Biden is a bit of an anachronism as an old school, pro-union, Catholic Democrat. Many of those voters are now in Trump’s camp.

It is a testament to the fractiousness of the Democratic Party that Biden is the best they have. As the only candidate who engendered any confidence in beating Trump, Biden was just acceptable enough to get the nomination. The tragedy of the Democrats is that their only truly exciting and charismatic candidate, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDon't let partisan politics impede Texas' economic recovery The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs MORE (I-Vt.), is far too left to take a chance on (and not really a Democrat).

It is a remarkable campaign for Team Biden. No Presidential candidate has campaigned less in perhaps 100 years. Even William McKinley walked out his front door every day. And this non-campaign is unquestionably the best strategy. Even with his limited exposure, Biden has managed to commit one faux pas after another.

The ego-less Joe Biden has put his fate in the hands of his handlers, and they are trusting Trump to give the presidency away.

If Trump would have committed fully to winning, Biden might well be the one frantically scrambling for votes.

In the end, Trump does not have the courage to go for the win. He is too afraid of being perceived as a loser. Ironic that Trump’s fear of losing is what may well make him a loser.

Keith Naughton, Ph.D. is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Dr. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.