2020 has been a crazy year so far between a global pandemic, mass protests in the United States and more to add to that. There have been so many things that have happened so far and there are many people who are rightly worried about where things may be going, especially when it comes to our neighbours to our south. The Trump Administration has been more than three years of all kinds of instability, leaving so many friends and allies shaken, concerned, and having to watch their backs because of how this President has acted. These are not normal days for sure.
The leaders of the Free World for most of the past seven decades have put that title in question over these last few years, leaving many to worry what might happen to liberal democracies around the World if the United States let theirs slip away. We’ve seen far too many examples of anti-democratic tendencies from President Trump, typified by the incident outside the White House in early June against peaceful protestors.
But for all those legitimate worries, there has been hope that this whole episode could soon be at an end. It’s a presidential election year and Americans will be going to the polls in the Fall to elect their next Commander in Chief. This vote is probably the most important election for the United States in many generations, if ever. The choice that Americans make in the Fall will have a huge impact on not only their country, but the rest of their allies like we Canadians.
If you believe the polls, Democrat Joe Biden is on track to a landslide of historic proportions but after the experience of 2016, people are taking any polling results with multiple grains of salt. But no matter how you slice it, the prospects of voting out Donald Trump are looking good. Yet even with those numbers, it’s been remarkable to see how people are reacting to this campaign and the importance behind it. It’s the kind of thing that I haven’t seen in my lifetime, and I saw two things online today that really drive home that point, one which helps to explain the other. The first comes in the form of a poll and part of the results from it, with a very concerning finding:
I know that it’s easy for many of us to be cynical and think the worst, it’s a part of human nature for many of us. And I still remember the 2016 campaign when this topic of how Trump would react if he lost. I remember when this below happened and set everyone into a frenzy:
I still remember just how jarring those declarations from Trump were, that he if didn’t win that he would contest the results. It perfectly fit the persona of Trump, who is not known to be gracious in anything, let alone in losing. And given his attacks on everyone under the sun at that time, saying that people in the shadows were out to get him, it was a warning sign about how that all might go. Even after he won he continued with this crap, saying that things were rigged and that people voted illegally when there was absolutely no proof of any of that.
So it shouldn’t shock us that a lot of Americans believe that if he losses this time Trump wouldn’t take it well. The idea that if Trump lost in the Fall that he would “try to find ways to overturn or ignore the election to stay in office” is not one that’s so far out there anymore. But to see in a poll that a majority of Americans, 58% of them, believe that their President won’t respect the result of a democratic election if it doesn’t go his way is just jarring beyond jarring. Seriously, how far have things slipped in the US for things to have gotten to this place?
That’s the kind of ugliness that’s impossible to ignore. But while that poll shows that a majority of Americans know their President and his predispositions, I also believe it shows something else that we’re seeing in the American electorate in this moment. A sense of the importance of this moment, a sense that if they screw this up there may not be another chance to get this right. A sense that this election matters more than any since maybe the Civil War. Which brings us to an ad that’s started to be run yesterday, one that even in this environment manages to shock and grab our attention:
“The Lincoln Project” is a group of Republicans founded to rise to this important moment. Their mission statement is pretty clear: “Defeat President Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box”. The group is made up of many noteworthy Republican strategists and donors, many of whom who have been opposed to Trump for a long time, people who Trump has long since called “Never Trumpers”. That some Republicans have opposed this Republican President isn’t new, as many of these same people opposed Trump in 2016.
But this time is different and feels very different. Whereas last time you saw some of these people out publicly opposing Trump, maybe kept their heads down waiting for Trump to lose at the polls. All the polling showed that Trump wasn’t going to win so they didn’t want to risk putting their heads up just to get smacked around. It wasn’t the most courageous choice ever, but given the situation at the time, it was hard to argue against the strategic decision. In hindsight, it was a failed strategy that counted on the campaign of Hillary Clinton to have done the job (which many post mortems after that election showed they hadn’t) and on Trump screw it up (which he didn’t do enough to lose).
So this time around this group is there, active, and not taking anything for granted, as are most Americans. If there have been any lessons that appear to have been learned by many Americans in these last many years, it is not taking any election for granted. That leads us to ads like those from The Lincoln Project, ads that treats their opponents like true enemies and spares them nothing. That ad was so striking to me for two major reasons. Firstly, that was the kind of ad we have grown accustomed to seeing Republicans throwing at Democrats for years, many times to devastating effect. So to see a group of Republicans turn that force onto a sitting Republican President, it speaks volumes to the moment.
But secondly and maybe most importantly, what struck me was the topic of the ad and the message that it sends. The entire ad is built around rumours of Trump having a “secretive, midnight run to Walter Reed Medical Center” and the condition of his health. It makes all kinds of speculation, tying together bits of video from the last little while showing alleged evidence to back up claims that Trump’s health is failing. Is it concrete proof of any health problems for this President? Nope. But it raises the question and leaves it to the viewer to make their own judgements, exactly the kind of tactic they have used against Democrats for years.
Making it all the more effective is the fact that it’s aimed at the notoriously thin-skinned Trump, making it not just effective with the electorate but also aggravating to the candidate himself. On top of that, if Trump is known for anything it’s making up crap about his opponents all the time, especially about their health. Remember how Trump tried to turn a couple shots of Hillary Clinton into a conspiracy that her health was failing and as a result was too weak to be President? That ad is damn near a carbon copy of those attacks from 2016, now being applied to and used against Trump in 2020, to some seriously strong effect.
There is a certain poetic justice in seeing Trump’s own tactics & insecurities used against him in this moment, but it also sends the message that these Republicans aren’t leaving anything to chance. They are going to do all that they can to ensure that Trump doesn’t win in the Fall and ensure that it all happens beyond any doubt, to reduce the chances that Trump can try to hold on after the fact. They are out to destroy him politically, totally, and efficiently, that’s clear. That gives some confidence 2020 won’t be a repeat of 2016.
This also means that 2020 is probably going to be the most divisive and hard-fought presidential campaign in living memory. If that’s the ad The Lincoln Project is running in mid-June, you can just imagine how devastating they will be come September and October. This is not going to be a soft ride or a smooth campaign, but the decision has clearly been made by some to not just bring the fight to Trump, but bring it as Trump would try to himself, only doing it better. We’ll see just how well this works, but its clear minds are focused on the importance of this campaign. We’ve never seen a campaign like the one that is to come but given how 2020 has gone so far, it seems like this is how this would have to be.