By Roger Kimball
The fish are plentiful today. There’s Hunter Biden and his various lies: about the sources of his prodigious income, his payment (that is, non-payment) of taxes, drugs, guns, child support, laptops and prostitutes. There’s Joe Biden and his lies, the sources of his prodigious income, and—the latest—his use of pseudonymous email accounts when writing to Hunter and Hunter’s business partners to discuss the weather—or was it the whether and how to siphon 20 million of the crispest into virtually untraceable bank accounts?
There’s the seemingly endless series of indictments directed at Donald Trump. The latest new there, if I am up to date, is that he told people to watch election returns on One America News Network. Clearly part of a RICO conspiracy. Someone whose math is sharper than mine calculated that President Trump is potentially on the hook for 450 years in the slammer for . . . well, his torts are mostly in the eye of the beholder.
This coming week, Fox News, whose leaders have made no secret of their contempt for Trump, are holding the first Republican debate. Problem: as of this writing, it looks as though Trump will not be participating. How rude! And to Fox News, which hates him, and to the RNC, which doesn’t like him very much. How could he do this?
The really delicious thing is that even if Trump doesn’t show up for the debate, he will upstage everyone. The word at the moment is that he’ll do an interview with Tucker Carlson on Twitter at the same time as the debate. My bookies report that viewership of that interview, should it take place, would be far higher than the viewership for watching Chris Christie throw his, er, weight around. Quick: who is Doug Bergum and does anyone care? Yes, the event will be an opportunity for Tim Scott and Vivek Ramaswamy to shine. It will also be a sort of last bite at the apple for Ron DeSantis and his sputtering campaign.
But let’s face it, whether Trump shows up or not, he is the star of the show. If he doesn’t show, his performance will be like that of Tallulah Bankhead who, late in her career, was dissed by some pushy ingenue. “I could upstage you dahling,” Tallulah said, “without even being on stage.” She did, too, by the simple expedient of precariously balancing a champagne glass half-on-half-off a table when she made her exit. The ingenue came on for her big scene, but all eyes were glued to the glass: would it or would it not fall off the table? (No one knew that she had put sticket tape on the bottom of the glass).
I don’t know what is going to happen in this election anymore than you do, Dear Reader. But I have been amused by the absolute certitude of the chattering class, which assures us with hands wringing that 1) Trump is a very bad man 2) That he cannot win the general election but that 3) The clever but insidious Dems will assure that he wins the nomination, thus assuring a Republican defeat come November 2024.
Maybe. But maybe the Dems keep indicting Trump because they are terrified that he could win, and then what? Wouldn’t it be better to put him in jail, issue a gag order, say that anything he says is an effort to overturn the 2020, or the 2024, election and thereby undermine Our Democracy™? I think that is the more likely explanation, but I admit that these are deep waters.
There are plenty of scenarios by which someone other than Trump becomes the Republican nominee, beginning with various acts of God. One big problem for the Republican aspirants, though, is that if Trump is prevented by chicanery from being the nominee, a critical portion of his millions of voters will stay home, thus depriving any other candidate of victory. If Trump fails to become the nominee because he is suddenly incapacitated or dies, that is a different story. But so far, he seems surprisingly robust.
What many of these Trump-can’t-win prognostications overlook, I believe, is that he will not be running in a vacuum. What matters is not just the “37%” of voters (or whatever the real number is) who say they like or agree with him. There also is the candidate from the other party: Joe Biden, probably, but possibly Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsom, or even (some say) Michelle Obama.
But let’s say it is Joe Biden. I think that the pollster (and former Clinton advisor) Doug Schoen is right. Despite his many legal woes, Trump could win, less because he is broadly popular himself than because Biden is so unpopular.
“One has to go back to 1980,” Schoen wrote this weekend, “to look at the last time a Democratic incumbent president was in a situation where he was bordering on unelectable, and that was Jimmy Carter who had a 37% approval rating when Ronald Reagan won a landslide victory, taking with him the Senate, and helping Republicans to gain a net 35 seats in the House of Representatives.”
Biden is currently hovering over that Carter territory, especially on the critical “it’s-the-economy-stupid” issue. Biden’s approval rating there is a mere 38%, a number that when suitably translated spells J-I-M-M-Y C-A-R-T-E-R. The point is, though, that Trump will not be running by himself. He will be running against someone. And that someone is likely to have liabilities at least as huge as Trump.