By Will Anderson
In hindsight, 2016 was a time when Americans would fabricate problems for themselves. Do you remember when there was some big controversy over private businesses telling their employees to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas?” Somehow this snowballed into “PC culture running amok” and an electoral plurality of the Republican voter base declared Donald Trump to be the answer. After the primary we were given pragmatic reasons to vote for Trump rather than actual reasons to like him. Do you want more left-wing activists on the supreme court? Hillary Clinton’s campaign is financed by massive corporations, she’s not looking out for you, she’s looking out for her bottom line. It’s hard to say whether anyone actually cared about the whole Clinton email fiasco. Whether it was an act of supreme incompetence or a tiny detail that didn’t amount to much is irrelevant. The Trump campaign had something to attack her with. Every week leading up to the 2016 election felt like a blur of Trump saying something offensive, mainstream news sources overreacting in a way that made voters roll their eyes, and then Trump would say something even more offensive. By the end of the news cycle most people would forget about whatever Trump said or did last week because they were too busy focusing on what he did this week. Meanwhile verbal attacks on Clinton were a constant stream of “emails”, “Benghazi”, and “corruption.” When election day rolled around most voters had forgotten half of Trump’s controversies, but they definitely knew about Clinton’s.
According to an NPR article from 2017, approximately 12% of people who voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 democratic primary ended up voting for Trump in the general election. 12% might not seem like a lot at first, but Bernie supporters made up a massive portion of the Democratic electorate. Then there were the 1.5 million Americans who voted for Jill Stein, the 4.5 million Americans who voted for Gary Johnson, and the 700,000 Americans who voted for Evan McMullin. It’s hard to conceptualize just how differently voters saw Trump and Clinton back in 2016, but according to PEW research most Americans considered Donald Trump to be significantly more moderate than Hillary Clinton. This might sound odd now, but during the Republican primary Ted Cruz was calling for a flat-income tax and abolishing the IRS, so if that was the standard Republican position at the time then Trump’s proposals would seem pretty tame by comparison.
The reason I’m spending this time contextualizing 2016 is to say that 2020 is a completely different beast. In 2016, Americans were worried about the rise of ISIS, economic instability, and PC culture. In 2020, Americans are worried about surviving a worldwide pandemic, fixing systemic racism in law enforcement, and creating unity in a politically divided country. It’s also hard to imagine third parties seeing much success this election after what happened in 2016. But what makes Joe Biden different from Clinton? For one thing, Joe Biden is not a leftist, or at the very least he’s moderate enough to infuriate the democratic socialists on Twitter. Most Trump ads on the internet claim that Joe Biden is some radical socialist trying to destroy the American way of life, but that’s pretty hard to believe when every actual socialist keeps saying that he’s basically a Republican to them. Either they’re saying that because they actually believe it or they’re saying that because they’re trying to be trendy. Regardless, Biden looks really moderate to the majority of voters.
Trump also lost the anti-establishment angle awhile ago. Big names within the Republican establishment (George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, John Kasich, etc) may have turned against him, but it’s still absurd to argue that a vote for the incumbent president is a vote “against the system.” Even next to a former Vice President, Trump looks pretty establishment. Speaking of Biden being a former Vice President, moderates are becoming nostalgic for the Obama administration, or at the very least they’re nostalgic for a time when late-night talk shows would be about something other than shit-talking the President. It’s not unthinkable that otherwise apolitical voters would vote just to stop the constant stream of anti-Trump propaganda coming from every channel on television.
But the biggest reason I’m expecting Trump to lose is something you’re pretty unlikely to hear from anyone with a reputation they need to protect: Joe Biden is actually a good candidate. Biden came into the Democratic primary with more name recognition than any other candidate running and people saw him as more competent than anyone he was running against. Biden has a unique appeal with working class voters in key rust-belt swing states (like PA, WI, MI, OH, etc.) that no other Democratic candidate even comes close to. That’s not to say that Biden is some kind of a perfect candidate; on top of his frequent gaffes during speeches and interviews, he has come under fire recently for making sweeping generalizations about the black community in a recent interview with an NPR reporter, but despite making such comments his standing in polls didn’t worsen by any meaningful margin. These past few months, Biden has done a reasonably good job at presenting himself as a sensible and calm alternative that most research would suggest Americans want after the tumultuous year that was 2020.