Monday, October 19, 2020


The press is full of stories about Democratic anxiety right now. The Washington Post:
Democrats went to the polls last time certain they would elect the first woman ever to become president, and were punched in the face with a Trump upset. This time they feel the punch coming from a thousand miles away. The worry is visceral and widespread, unassuaged by Biden’s lead in the polls....

On the Biden side, the creeping sense of deja vu has become a dominant feeling....

Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon has been telling donors, activists and voters to assume that the current polling leads will not last.... She has said Biden does not have a double-digit lead.
Democrats, of course, are terrified that Biden could still lose. The buzz in numbers-obsessed circles is about party registration gaps and early vote spikes among white, non-college voters; the word from the Biden campaign is not to put stock in public polling and to expect a nasty finish.
... Democrats are scrambling to account for the hidden variables that could still sink their nominee — or what you might call the known unknowns....

There is uncertainty about the accuracy of polling in certain swing states, the efficacy of GOP voter suppression efforts and even the number of mail-in ballots that for one reason or another will be disqualified.

... Democrats are poring over early vote totals, circulating anxiety-ridden campaign memos and bracing for a long two weeks.
All of these stories note that Joe Biden has a big lead and appears to be the overwhelming favorite to win, but that Democrats are still concered.

And in the midst of all this, there's a debate coming up on Thursday. Axios tells us that the president is being urged not to be obnoxious.
President Trump's team is telling him ahead of Thursday's final debate: Stop interrupting Joe Biden. And try to be more likable.

What to watch: Trump will tell more jokes and try, if he can stay on message, to strike a softer tone.

... Trump's team thinks that if he'd just yield the stage to Biden while the moderator is asking questions, Biden would wander rhetorically, "look doddering" and "step on himself."

... Trump’s team went back to his third debate against Hillary Clinton in 2016 for inspiration. “All Trump has to do is give people permission to vote for him," one source close to the campaign tells Axios.
So is the press preparing to set the bar very low for Trump and write a "Trump comeback?" story if he's even moderately civil?

There are two reason this might not happen. Axios has one of them:
The big question: Will debate prep matter? "It was clear Trump didn’t study his debate document for round one," one campaign source said.
Right -- is Trump even capable of a debate performance that isn't obnoxious? He's done a couple of town halls in which he didn't interrupt the questioners or moderators, but he was snappish and testy in both of them.

The press might stick with the narrative in this AP story:
The president’s attempts to recycle attacks he used on Hillary Clinton that year have so far failed to effectively damage Democrat Joe Biden....

Oftentimes, it feels as though Trump is simply recycling old material.

... some Trump allies and aides believe the campaign’s inability to define Biden, while just resuscitating old talking points, is a failure....
One reason the press might want to stick with this narrative is that it makes the press look better. Many of us have criticized the media for giving Trump billions of dollars' worth of free media coverage -- all those rallies broadcast unedited -- and for pushing an Evil Hillary narrative. But if the media doesn't bite this year, journalists can tell themselves: This time is different. Biden is less corrupt. And the Trump act was fresh in 2016, but it's stale now, so we were right to obsess over it then and we're right to portray it as tired this year.

Unless Joe Biden has an unusually bad debate on Thursday, I think the Trump campaign will continue to be portrayed as struggling. There's a risk that the press will want to go with a comeback narrative, but I don't think there's much risk that Trump will come off as even moderately presidential or likable.

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