Back in 2012, Republicans just knew they were about to knock then-President Barack Obama out of office and usher in the glorious era of President Mitt Romney.
Romney was smeared, dragged through all sorts of hell through the media, and still polled within points of Obama right up until the end. It was a very dramatic campaign season and the Republicans in Washington D.C. were patting themselves on the back for getting Romney across the finish line. And then, as we all know, he actually didn’t cross the finish line.
Well, not in first place, anyway.
I would like to comfort you and tell you that the polls here in 2020 are wrong. That they are too biased, that 2016 was the end of polling as we know it, etc. But I can’t do that. As has been explained billions of times before, the polling wasn’t wrong, but the pollsters were focused on the national polling and not paying attention to state polling in key swing states — states Trump toured and Clinton ignored.
Right now, those states lean toward Biden. They are close, but they indicate that if the race were held today, Biden wins.
And with all of that said, you absolutely know that there are progressives out there cheering and singing “Ding dong, the witch is dead!” with two weeks still to go in this election. If I were a Biden supporter, though, I’d think back to the lessons of 2012 and be very, very careful before thinking Biden’s got it in the bag.
The 2012 election is the election that set the Republican Party on the path to Donald Trump four years later. During that election, a Republican establishment in Washington D.C. ensured that Romney would become the candidate, and they would focus on being likable moderates who could appeal to just enough conservatives while winning over swing voters. The campaign message was essentially “We don’t need the conservatives when we can get the moderates!” And then they didn’t get the moderates and the conservatives didn’t really feel the need to go out and vote.
There wasn’t much of a “Why you should pick me” message from Romney’s camp as much as there was a “Why you shouldn’t pick Obama again” message. In a few ways, Biden’s campaign is eerily similar.
The campaign message is “Don’t vote for Trump. Vote for me instead.” He is steadfastly not trying to endorse far-left ideas while also trying to wink at them and say he totally supports those ideas. His message is all about how bad Trump is, but he can’t clearly articulate what his administration can do to make things better. There is interest in Biden from the far-left in the form of an anti-Trump response, but there is nothing exciting them to go out and vote for Biden.
Now for the caveats.
In 2012, you had an incumbent adored by the media and willing to run all sorts of interference for him. In 2020, you have a press hostile to the incumbent. What’s worse, the incumbent’s messaging has been all over the place, and while his base is very excited for him, there is not much evidence suggesting he’s winning over the people he won last time. In fact, polling suggests he’s losing them.
I don’t know who wins when a President with no message runs against an opponent whose message is “At least I’m not THAT guy,” but the signs seem to indicate that America loses.
Trump can win, I think. There is a path that his campaign can take and come out on top. The problem is that despite there being a possible message, the messenger has almost zero discipline for that message. I know I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep saying it until maybe it sticks: Trump has got to get some message discipline and fast.
But that doesn’t mean Biden is running away with it. If Trump turns his campaigning around, then you’re left with a Democratic candidate with no positive message and an increasingly alienated far-left. It would be almost identical to what happened in 2012, and the Republicans should note it and make the adjustments they need to right now.