The 800-Pound Gorillas of the 2020 Election

Tough questions that both candidates need to address

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Photo by Simon Infanger on Unsplash

With election day drawing ever closer, both candidates find themselves with 800-pound gorillas in their rooms. The gorillas are the issues that are stumbling blocks to securing the support of the elusive undecided voter. That voter gets rarer as election day nears, which prompts most candidates to redouble their efforts to address their own gorillas and to create new ones for their opponents.

2020, has produced some nasty ones. Many of Trump’s are of his own making. Others are public reactions to things he either doesn’t see or doesn’t seem to care about.

Trump’s troop of gorillas includes:

Racism: Pretty much everyone I know views Trump as a racist, even those that support him. In 2019, a Quinnipiac poll found that a majority of voters believe Trump is a racist. That number likely has increased since then among swing voters. More than 80 percent of African American voters are convinced of Trump’s racism. Trump will have a hard time convincing any voter that he is not a racist if he remains silent on police murders of black people.

Lying: There is now a cottage industry of “fact checkers” that work to identify the President’s lies or exaggerations. In July, the Washington Post reported he had broken the 20,000 mark. Surprisingly, many Republicans appear not to care. Others, however, do. Unfortunately for Trump, that number seems to be dipping, as reflected by the growth of “Republicans for Biden” or party resignations. The truthfulness issue also is likely to impact Trump’s success at wooing last-minute voters.

Incompetence: More and more voters appear to believe Trump is incompetent. Recent polls, for example, show that Trump’s edge in voter preference on the economy is slipping. Can you run on past (claimed) success when unemployment rates top 10%? Will Trump’s claim that we are in a “V shaped recovery” work? Has Biden convinced swing voters he can make a material difference in how to manage our troubled economy?

Disgust for Trump: Many voters, including many prominent Republicans. have come to hate the Trump personality, brand, and even his family members. They have had enough. How widespread is this disgust? While the Trump Camp doesn’t seem to care, what about the swing vote? Is there anything Trump can do to address this gorilla before election day? The Republican Convention seemed to be an attempt but appears not to have worked.

Biden also has his own troop of gorillas, some of them big ones:

Age: A 2019 poll suggested that only about 40 percent of voters are comfortable with a candidate over age 75 running for President. This could prove a big problem for Biden, especially if he demonstrates fragility or is perceived as “feeble” in coming weeks. Don’t forget, however, that Trump is only 3 years younger and has had his own “senior moments.” Trump, sometimes if you live in a glass house, its best not to throw stones.

Mental state: This is obviously related to age, but don’t forget that the issue doesn’t always resonate. Elizabeth Warren, for example, is now 70 but during her campaign the age issue never came up as a reason to oppose her. Views on this crucial issue change daily, but in June, prior to Biden’s widely praised nomination acceptance speech, Zogby found that more than half of younger voters believed that it was more probable than not that Biden was suffering from dementia. Obviously, while Trump has somewhat backed down from this issue (in favor of suggesting that Biden welcomes urban rioting), a serious misstep by Biden in this area could prove disastrous.

Socialism: Biden’s policy positions, his “Bold Ideas,” taken in large part from the Bernie and AOC playbooks, call for the spending of trillions of U.S. tax dollars, raising taxes to pay for the new spending, and greatly expanding the role of government. This supported Trump’s claims that he is “a socialist.” It is unclear how much this moniker matters to independent voters, but the Trump camp seems to think it does. Its also worth noting that some moderate voters who intend to vote for Biden are privately expressing concern about his swing to the left.

Defunding/Opposition to police: As Trump has worked to make “law and order” the defining issue of 2020, he has sought to blame Biden and other Democrats for recent civil unrest, rioting and looting. To date, although Biden has unequivocally condemned violence by both the right and left, many voters seem to accept Trump as the best candidate on the issue.

These are not the only gorillas roaming the 2020 jungle. Trump is still looking for a King Kong to send Biden’s way. So, as is so often the case with the Orange Menace, the worst may be yet to come. Nobody should miss signs that the Presidential race is tightening. The story of the 2020 election is still being written.

If you haven’t already registered to vote, do so ASAP.

Written by

Washington policy wonk, writer, blogger, and lover of nature, music, and Goldendoodles.

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