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Can Trump Pull an Inside Straight -- Again?
"Every four years we expect an October surprise. Nobody expected this one. Nobody would have expected it to come in a tweet at 1 a.m."
That's how Peggy Noonan put it in the Wall Street Journal. But just about every day in this insane year there's a new surprise, some bombshell that takes over the headlines and captures our attention and looks like it'll be what decides the election.
If it isn't rioting in the streets, it's a magazine report alleging that President Trump called Marines killed during World War I "suckers" and "losers." Then Ruth Bader Ginsburg goes and dies, giving the president the opportunity to name a conservative replacement for the liberal Justice before the election and causing Democrats to scream bloody murder. A few days later, the president, claiming mail-in voting will lead to massive fraud, says he can't commit to leaving the White House if he loses the election. Then, the New York Times reports that Mr. Trump, before he became president, lost money by the millions and at times paid next to nothing in federal income taxes, leading critics to point out that trash collectors paid more than the billionaire president.
And just when you think you've had enough of surprises, the president, who shuns masks and holds political rallies with fans who also shun masks and apparently don't think much of social distancing, gets hit with the coronavirus. And who knows how that's going to influence the election. Will he be healthy enough to take part in the next presidential debate on October 15th? If not, the only presidential debate of 2020 that will be stuck in our memory is the one from last week -- and that's not a memory many of us want to hang on to.
I once watched a professional wrestling match on television and saw one of the bozos in the ring hit his opponent over the head with a ladder– which came not long after he hit the poor schmo in the face with a folding chair.
That was sort of like last week’s so-called debate, except the wrestling match had more class.
But by now you know what an embarrassment it was. Karl Rove said it was “the least enlightening, edifying or elevating presidential debate in U.S. history.” And those were some of its good points.
So, you might be wondering, as I am, how in a country of 330 million people we wound up with these two palookas.
Joe Biden was bad, with his calling the president a “clown” a “liar” and a “racist” and telling him to “shut up, man.” For a candidate running a supposedly high-minded campaign to end bitter divisions in the country, name-calling isn’t a great way to show that you really mean it.
He wouldn't say if he would kill the filibuster and pack the Supreme Court with liberal justices -- fearing if he said he would he'd lose moderate Democrats and if he said he wouldn't he'd lose the Sandinista wing of the party.
He came off as weak, and I suspect, not only to Trump supporters.
But as bad as Joe was, Donald, because he is the president after all, came off worse (unless you’re a Trump loyalist who can’t imagine that he’s ever done anything wrong). It’s okay to interrupt your opponent every now and then to set the record straight, but not every 10 seconds. When you do that, you come off as rude and self-centered – two things that too often aptly describe Donald Trump.
The whole idea of having these debates isn’t to annoy almost everyone who tuned in even though that’s what it managed to do. It was to get your base to turn out on Election Day and to try to win over that sliver of undecided voters who might prove to be the winning (or losing) margin in the race.
President Trump does badly with more than one demographic group but he does especially badly with women – mainly college educated suburban women. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that his shenanigans last Tuesday night didn’t win him any converts in that group.
And Mr. Trump has another obstacle to overcome if he doesn’t want to join the slim ranks of presidents who lost their bid for reelection: his handling of the coronavirus. The polls say a majority of Americans don't think he's done a good job on that and have more confidence in Joe Biden.
And now he and the First Lady (and several members of his staff) have contracted the virus. Will voters say that's more proof he doesn't know what he's doing? Or will he win the sympathy vote? Who knows!
If the president loses his bid for a second term, the virus may be what did him in. But his constant interruptions and his “why the hell am I on the same stage with a loser like Sleepy Joe” demeanor at last week’s debate will also be a big reason.
Sometimes I think Donald Trump is tired of the job and doesn’t really want four more years – or else, why would he do so many dopey things that sabotage his chances of winning?
Here’s a possible answer: Because he literally can’t help himself. Because he’s a thin-skinned man who can’t take any criticism no matter how legitimate. He can’t resist answering every slight, real or imagined with an impulsive often nasty tweet – and potentially scaring off a chunk of important non-partisan swing voters along the way.
As I have observed before, “If Donald Trump loses it won’t be Joe Biden who beat him. It will be Donald Trump who beat Donald Trump.”
He pulled an inside straight the last time around, winning three key battleground states by the skin of his teeth. Pulling inside straights is hard. Doing it twice in a row is nearly impossible.
But October is still young. And so there's plenty of time for another surprise ... or two.