What if 2020 Turns into 2016?
by Lilia Dashevsky
by Lilia Dashevsky
Last week, Jen O’Malley Dillion, the campaign manager for Joe Biden, issued a dire warning over Twitter: “There is still a long way to go in this campaign, and we think this race is far closer than folks on this website think. Like a lot closer.” With a week until Election Day, a record-breaking 60 million early ballots cast, and an 8.3+ point advantage in national general election polls, the Biden camp is still sending out warning signals. The message? Don’t take anything for granted. They learned from the lessons of 2016.
Four years later, Trump’s message is largely unchanged. This past year has included 225,000 dead Americans from COVID-19, a crippled economy, a summer filled with unrest, and foreign election interference. In the face of these challenges, any other reelection campaign in recent memory would have completely changed tack, but President Trump is sticking to his tried-and-true script. In the last week alone, he has continued his assault on the press, pointed fingers at “corrupt” politicians in Democrat-run cities and states, propagated conspiracy theories, claimed that the election will be rigged, reiterated his claim that his 2016 campaign was spied on by the Obama administration, and attacked the characters of Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.
In the week before Election Day, 2016 featured a very different Trump. For one, he was quiet and reserved on Twitter either because he was preparing for an expected loss or because he foresaw a larger media strategy (one in which he could, for four years, circumvent the traditional press corps and instead rely on direct social media communication). Whether it was an intentional strategy or not, it has come to fruition: President Trump relies on Twitter to reach his supporters and mobilize them into action. As he bleeds support among suburban women, college-educated voters, and seniors, all while contending with a traditional media landscape dominated by COVID-19 and unfavorable election polling, the President is now dependent on his social media reach.
In 2016 post-mortems politicos were baffled by the Clinton campaign’s decision to not visit key swing states such as Wisconsin leading up to Election Day. The Clinton campaign’s decision was credited with opening up narrow windows of opportunity for Trump to capitalize on. Between Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, Trump squeezed out a win by fewer than 80,000 votes. Trump managed to turn out more white working-class first-time voters than anyone expected and flipped voters who supported Obama in 2012.
Some might argue that Biden is a more favorable candidate than Clinton, but they would be neglecting the fact that Trump has spent four years expanding into states like Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Michigan. That doesn’t even begin to account for the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee’s physical get-out-the-vote efforts. Meanwhile, the Biden campaign has remained cautious due to COVID-19. There’s something to be said for boots on the ground and campaign rallies versus record-breaking TV ad buys and digital mobilization.
I am not predicting President Trump’s reelection (or his defeat by Joe Biden, for that matter). Rather, this piece is a reminder that complacency in any election, as the Biden campaign has suggested, is a recipe for disaster. No two elections are the same: many of the various factors from years ago won’t necessarily be replicated in the next week. There’s no James Comey letter, Biden has an unwavering high favorability rating compared to Trump, and there hasn’t been any credible October surprise. However, putting national polling data aside, multiple key states are showing Biden and Trump running neck and neck. With less than a week until voters finish heading to the polling booths and officials start opening mail-in ballots in several key swing states, there is still ample time for the election to go either way.
If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is predetermined until the final vote is counted. Whenever that might be in 2020, anyways.
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