Not me. Not yet, anyway.
There's no question that President Donald Trump is losing; that former Vice President Joe Biden holds the high ground. Still, if the 2016 election taught us anything, it's that election forecasts aren't worth the paper (or web space) they're printed on—especially forecasts relating to Trump. The man has defied gravity too many times, escaped too many near-death political experiences for anyone to feel confident in prophesying his demise.
We are at a stage of the race, however, when reporters should feel confident unloading their notebook and sharing their hunches and strongly held suspicions. Having spent the past year working to reconcile two spheres of reporting—on the ground with voters, and inside the campaigns with party officials—I'm comfortable that enough dots have been connected to offer my fundamental impressions about this race.
What follows are not ironclad assertions of realities to come; with Trump fighting Covid-19, the economy slowly unraveling and the political climate growing more volatile by the minute, there is no telling what might yet happen to upend the race. Rather, what I'm sharing today are, to borrow from the great NFL writer Peter King, here are four things I think I think about the 2020 election.
1. Trump fatigue is peaking at the wrong time for Trump. Naturally, there was some chatter over the weekend that the president's Covid-19 diagnosis might engender sympathy for him, humanizing a man who strains to conceal his vulnerabilities and project machismo to the masses. That dynamic could very well be in play. But from what I've seen, it will be washed out—if not overtaken—by an alternative reaction to the spectacle unfolding around Trump's illness: fatigue.
It's impossible to quantify how tired Americans are of this presidency. But it's a constant theme in the conversations I have with voters, including die-hard Trump supporters. They feel trapped inside a reality TV show and are powerless to change the channel. They want a break, even if they don't want a new program.
This exhaustion has ebbed and flowed during the Trump era. It's no coincidence that his lowest approval ratings have correlated with incidents of saturation news coverage, such as the Charlottesville protests and the release of the Mueller report. The president's advisers have long believed that people are most likely to view him favorably when they're not seeing or hearing him; that his absence from their everyday lives, in effect, makes voters' hearts grow fonder.
Unfortunately for them, the past few days have featured the highest drama of the past four years. Even when stricken with a lethal disease, Trump could not abide disappearing from the headlines; this is the gift he cannot bring himself to give. It's not that voters will punish the president for becoming infected; it's that voters, weary of their social media feeds and kitchen table conversations being dominated by Trump, may resent that he turned a sympathetic situation into yet another showcase of administrative incompetence and self-celebrating bravado.
Which leads me to…
2. The "silent majority" in this election is not who you think it is. People who love the president are vocal about it. People who hate the president are vocal about it. The polarization on display this election cycle is the most palpable, the most visible, of our lifetimes. People wave flags from their porches and wear shirts to the grocery store and turn out by thousands to rallies and marches. I don't believe there is a "silent majority"—that is, a group whose views are kept quiet—for either Trump or Biden.
I do believe, however, there is a silent majority against Trump. In my travels, this group could be considered "the kid curmudgeons." They are younger Gen Xers and older millennials: college-educated folks ages roughly 28 to 42, who are not ideological, who are not partisan, who consume little political news, who rarely if ever vote, but who might flood the polls this fall simply because Donald Trump annoys them.
Is that overly simplistic? Perhaps. But I've been stunned at how many people I've encountered who fit this description. They're establishing careers, starting families, buying first homes—building a life—and don't really have the time or inclination to get engaged politically. They don't know a ton about either party's policy platform or legislative record. What they do know is Trump irritates them to no end. He reminds them of the lightweight underclassmen at a college kegger; his raucousness was entertaining at first, but the act has worn awfully thin. They just want to get rid of him and get on with the party.
3. Democrats will regret placing so much emphasis on absentee voting.
Thanks to new voting laws in numerous states—laws that permit more voters to request and cast absentee ballots—we always expected that in-person voting rates on Election Day would plunge ...