Economy

Trump’s lead just won’t budge: Why the debates may be Biden’s last shot

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The presidential campaign is as frozen as the Arctic Circle.

Virtually nothing seems to melt the ice caps that have encased the race. 

The former president convicted of 34 felonies? Feels like it happened months ago, without exactly dooming the Trump candidacy.

The current president’s son, also convicted of felonies? Now that’s deemed a mere distraction by those who used an impeachment inquiry to try to sink the Biden campaign.

Each attack, each smear, each controversy dominates the news and then quickly yields to the next real or perceived outrage, leaving little lasting impression on the shape of the race.

All this is bad news for Joe Biden, who has an anemic 38 percent approval rating and is on track to lose, despite the apparent closeness of the contest.

While Trump’s lead in such core battleground states as Michigan and Pennsylvania is often just 2 to 3 points, it’s been remarkably consistent (with the president having a slight edge in Wisconsin). If Scranton Joe can’t win Pennsylvania despite endless trips there, the election is over.

That’s why Biden abruptly challenged Trump to two debates, with the first one, on CNN, in less than 10 days. It’s really his last chance to bring some heat and shake up the race.

Now I could make the argument that the Trump team has lowered expectations for Biden to the point that if he avoids major gaffes and doesn’t fall off the stage, he wins. The CNN rules – two-minute answers, no notes, muting the opponent’s mike – will also favor the president.

But debates can be overrated. Mitt Romney clobbered Barack Obama in their first debate and it didn’t matter. Hillary Clinton arguably won two or even three of her debates against Trump and it didn’t matter. 

The pressure is on Biden, who’s drilling with former top aide Ron Klain, to show that he’s aggressive and feisty as well as knowledgeable. Trump, who is doing only informal prep, will be hailed by his base no matter what he says or does.

In short, it will take something highly unusual to change many minds. Most Americans already know what they think of these guys.

The same goes for the Trump veepstakes. As Donald Trump told me, it doesn’t matter much because people vote for the top of the ticket. I think Doug Burgum has a somewhat better chance than when I first interviewed him three weeks ago, on this shorter short list that seems to include Tim Scott, Marco Rubio and J.D. Vance. 

But I can’t see that changing the race’s trajectory. What’s striking is that the anchors are now handling these as ‘vetting’ interviews about each candidate’s record, because they believe one of them may well be moving into the vice president’s mansion.

Trump’s GOP unity day on the Hill got muddied when he criticized Milwaukee, the host city for next month’s convention. Even though Trump said he was talking mainly about crime in the city – which is actually down substantially this year – I’m not sure why he needed to go there.

 

The 78-year-old Trump is so anxious to depict the 81-year-old Biden as mentally unfit for the job that minor incidents are being exaggerated and distorted. There’s no question, as I said on the air, that Biden often comes across as frail and confused. 

But after a $30-million L.A. fundraiser over the weekend, Obama grabbed his arm and then kept touching his back as they exited the stage. This went viral as the former president was depicted as ‘leading’ his onetime VP away.

Earlier, the New York Post, taking its lead from the RNC, misleadingly cropped a photo as if Biden was talking to no one at the G-7 in Italy. A wider angle showed Biden was saying a few words and giving a thumbs up to a skydiver who had landed next to the world leaders before the Italian prime minister led him back to the group. 

Despite a couple of flashy media headlines, I did not criticize Fox’s coverage, though sometimes that comes with the job. I made a point of saying that the coverage by ‘Fox & Friends’ was perfectly straightforward. We played a clip of Sean Hannity criticizing Biden, but there was no suggestion that he didn’t show the proper footage; he was paired with Joe Scarborough hitting Biden’s critics, as we often do to convey the range of commentary.

In my view, there’s little doubt that most of the media believe Trump will win the election, and here’s the proof.

The New York Times just ran a deep dive on how the Trump resistance is already laying the groundwork to battle and stymie him in a second term.

These groups ‘are drafting potential lawsuits in case he is elected in November and carries out mass deportations, as he has vowed. One group has hired a new auditor to withstand any attempt by a second Trump administration to unleash the Internal Revenue Service against them. Democratic-run state governments are even stockpiling abortion medication.

‘A sprawling network of Democratic officials, progressive activists, watchdog groups and ex-Republicans has been taking extraordinary steps to prepare for a potential second Trump presidency, drawn together by the fear that Mr. Trump’s return to power would pose a grave threat not just to their agenda but to American democracy itself.’ 

A newspaper simply doesn’t devote the enormous resources the Times did to this investigative piece without believing a Trump victory is at the least very likely.

Some groups are described as ‘wary’ of discussing their plans for fear of signaling a lack of confidence in the Biden campaign, which is exactly what it signals.

And that brings us back to the CNN debate.

Biden is really running out of time to change the narrative of the race. The debate will probably be a wash, but it’s his only shot. Otherwise, the frozen campaign will wind up freezing him out.

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