Why Biden Might Be Trump’s Kryptonite

The president is running against a likable candidate—and that could render him powerless.

The following observation from New York Times columnist Ross Douthat is almost completely accurate:

“There is no strategy that this president could adopt, no policy choice that he could make, no tweet of himself in a mask that he could issue, that would fundamentally alter his political position. Trump is incapable of normal presidential action, and even if his aides and handlers concocted such a strategy, the man in charge would make sure it would fail … ”

“But that doesn’t make his defeat inevitable. It only means that to speculate about a Trump comeback is to necessarily speculate about possibilities that are outside the president’s control.”

I’d say it was 100 percent accurate, but there is always hacking and cheating to consider, and Trump would presumably have to sign off on that, wouldn’t he?

Perhaps not, actually, since he’s no more capable of concocting a sophisticated and successful plan to steal an election than he is of running a honest solvent business. If something like that were to work, it would be executed by people Trump doesn’t control.

Assuming there is an honest count, even taking into consideration all the typical voter suppression shenanigans of the Republicans, it’s almost impossible to conceive of Trump winning the popular vote. It’s also nearly as difficult to see him winning the Electoral College. He isn’t going to do anything to help himself, either, so the odds heavily favor a steady worsening of his position rather than any improvement.

But it’s conceivable that Joe Biden could stumble badly or that the mood of the country shifts hard against the Democrats. Douthat suggests that a sudden improvement in the coronavirus crisis combined with an uptick of social protest could provide this kind of mood change, and I think that’s correct. I also think Douthat is right to be skeptical that urban unrest would be as impactful as it was in the late-1960s, since white flight has already occurred in this instance. It’s probably true, too, that a magical disappearance of the virus through a vaccine or lower-than-expected herd immunity would probably have a calming effect, making widespread looting less likely.

Trump’s biggest problem is himself, but the Democrats knew what they were doing when they chose Biden to run against him. As Douthat says, “There still remains the difficulty that not enough Americans are afraid to vote for Joe Biden, notwithstanding the Trump campaign’s attempt to brand him as the candidate of Antifa.”

Choosing a likable candidate to run against Trump was the magic kryptonite missing from the 2016 election. It renders the president virtually powerless, and now he’s just hoping that Biden’s choice of a running mate will give him a batter opportunity to attack. Preventing that possibility must be part of the thinking behind Senator Tammy Duckworth as a potential pick. A multi-racial disabled woman who was wounded in the line of duty in Iraq is not someone who can be effectively mocked and ridiculed. More kryptonite.

Duckworth would fit a do-no-harm strategy, but Biden probably has the luxury of picking anyone he deems qualified and suitable as a partner. What should keep him up at night are the things he can’t control.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com