I wanted to follow up on my post below about this new Times/Siena poll. A number of you wrote in and made some of the following points. One was, isn’t it a mistake to be making much of anything about a poll almost 18 months before the election. Others pointed more generally to recent polling failures and more specifically to the fact that actual elections since Dobbs have showed Democrats overperforming both with respect to past elections and with regards to polls. One reader even noted that the Times/Siena poll was one of those which helped feed the “Red Wave” frenzy in 2022. That last point is I think only partly true. But the part that is true is worth keeping in mind.
In any case, these are all points well-taken. In general my aim in that post and other similar ones at this point in the campaign cycle is not to prognosticate but to look for vulnerabilities. We should always be on the lookout for facts or at least data that complicate our assumptions.
With all that said, I’ll note again that I am guardedly optimistic about Biden’s reelection chances. I think he’ll win. But I do not consider it by any means a sure thing. Some key reasons are structural; others are tied to what has happened in other elections since the Dobbs decision was handed down. At present I think an improving economy will slowly lift Biden and the various indictments will wear against Trump.
One point that came up in my exchange with one reader is just how the actual trials and courtroom appearances will play. Being ordered about by criminal courts in various parts of the country is just too off key for the swagger and dominance theater Trump excels at. Being a defendant is basically being dominated. What’s more, most of Trump’s crimes are simply petty and stupid. A lot of it is fundamentally about lying and acting weird. Keeping those documents at Mar-a-Lago, playing these silly cat and mouse games with federal law enforcement. A lot of the same goes for not just accepting that he lost the 2020 election. None of that plays well when you look at it up close.
Clearly Trump has a very different game plan. He wants to portray the whole drama as a kind of grand stab-in-the-back narrative. The same malevolent elites against whom the MAGA movement is premised are nickel and dimeing him on iffy indictments. He’s being crucified on the movement’s behalf. So rather than unmanning him they’re validating Trump and his movement by the need to persecute him.
One thing that is worth watching over the coming months is which side has a better go of propagating those very different narratives. The public conversation is going to be played out through the language or dominance and power. And I hope Democratic campaigns and the Biden campaign are thinking about it in those terms. In many ways the response to the persecution story is just hitting again and again at getting his underlings to move his secret documents around, the lying, the silliness of it. That’s where he seems weakest, weirdest, least deserving of anyone’s allegiance. Because he looks, frankly, pathetic.