F&L 2020: Trump/Pence vs. Biden/Harris

Opinion/Analysis

It’s been decided:  This November, our ballots will feature Biden/Harris for the Democrats; presumably, they’ll be facing Trump/Pence* for the Republicans.  This settles one of the oft-repeated questions from past weeks, “Who will he pick?”, leaving us with… well, with rather more questions.  These include “What will the electoral map look like?”, “How do the candidates stack up against each other?”, and the all-important “Who should I vote for?”

At present, the editorial staff here at The Not Fake News has mixed feelings ourselves on that last question, so we’re not inclined to opine. More to the point, that’s a personal decision; if you’re relying on us to make it for you, perhaps you should reconsider what exactly it is that you use the media for.  In extreme cases of ignorance and/or apathy, we might actually advise not voting as an option.

With respect to the electoral map, there’s very little we can add to Nate Silver’s analysis over at FiveThirtyEight.  Here’s a link; have fun with it.  There’s also a fun interactive map at 270ToWin you can play with.

So let’s go with what we can:  Going issue by issue, How do the candidates stack up?

Back in January, Gallup took a poll among likely voters about the most important issues this cycle.  Since then, the metrics have changed more than a little; this YouGov/Economist poll ranks several.  From them and others, we’ve arbitrarily chosen several top issues and will contrast the candidates on them.

Jobs and the Economy — In every poll, this is consistently #1 or #2.

Trump:  This is The Donald’s flagship issue.  In almost every public address, whether or not it’s applicable to the topic at hand, the President points at stock market performance — which, while it’s been volatile, continues to remain extremely high despite COVID-19 news.  While it’s true that the markets have little to do with jobs (and there’s record unemployment), it’s also reasonable to presume that among professionals and the retired population, the cash value of retirement accounts will remain a telling indicator of performance.  Florida in particular could swing on this — and, speaking electorally, that may be vital.

Biden:  Uncle Joe has consistently been a loyal supporter of labor unions, and is likely to draw broad support among the surviving manufacturing zones across the country.  Transportation unions have mixed feelings on his love of passenger rail, but in general are consistently loyal.  (There are mixed feelings based on self-driving technology.)  Police unions are somewhat likely to object to Harris as V.P. in the present climate, but both she and Biden have long been Tough On Crime.

Summary:  Biden does well on Jobs; Trump does well on The Economy.  This can and will change over the next few months.

Health Care — Unsurprisingly in the age of COVID, this ranks a close second.

Biden:  As Vice President to Obama, Joe Biden gets a lot of the credit — and with it the partisan blame — for the Affordable Care Act.  Generally speaking, likely voters tend to favor Democrats over Republicans on this issue.  However, it’s worth noting that Biden has gone on the record opposing Medicare For All, which alienates vast swathes of former Bernie supporters; many may vote Green or stay home.

Trump:  It’s only fair to mention that many of Trump’s efforts have been dedicated to a repeal-and-replace of the A.C.A.  He’s been largely unsuccessful, however, which has less to do with Democratic partisan obstructionism than opposition within his own party.  While he’s made some gestures toward reform, people remember results, and his list of accomplishments in this area is slight.  An early COVID vaccine may tip the scales in his direction, but it doesn’t seem likely at this point.

Summary:  Biden has a clear advantage here, though Trump has his loyalists.

Crime and Criminal Justice Reform — This ranks consistently high.

Trump:  Any Republican candidate is likely to go Tough On Crime, and the Trump Administration is no exception.  There have been some moves toward reform aimed at cost-cutting; notably, private prisons have long been on Trump’s axe list.  Pence is a particularly vocal supporter of the War On Drugs, while Trump has pursued a successful yet under-reported campaign against human trafficking as a part of his focus on border control.  Even those accomplishments that are widely touted must, however, confront his willingness to freely pardon people like Roger Stone.

Biden:  Uncle Joe too has a Tough On Crime reputation, as does his running mate.  But, while Biden helped author some of the worst crime bills in the history of the nation, Harris has had substantial — and nationally unknown — success in combating youth crime, recidivism, and reforming police departments.  She’s got significant experience in the field of law enforcement; this risks alienating the more volatile in the D.N.C. base, but if handled properly will generate cross-party appeal.

Summary:  Policy-wise, there’s little difference; perception has a narrow Republican advantage, but that may well change between now and November.

National Security / Foreign Policy — This is almost never considered unimportant by any class of voter.

Biden:  The man’s made his bones, no question.  In addition to years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and personal visits around the globe on its behalf, as Vice President, Biden was entrusted with personal day-to-day oversight over the ongoing conflict and subsequent diplomacy in Iraq.  Both Biden and Harris served on Judiciary, and Harris is on Homeland.

Trump:  Say what you will about The Donald, he hasn’t blown up the world yet — far from it, in fact.  He’s worked hard to withdraw us from brushfire wars, reduce our financial commitments to conflicts around the world, and force negotiation even where it’s wildly unpopular.  It would be wrong to forget Pence, who has served as goodwill ambassador around the world, and who in the House served on Foreign Affairs for several terms.

Summary:  A neutral observer would have to say we’d be well served in this area with either ticket.

Nonissues — There are several would-be issues that motivate voters but aren’t matters for debate.  There exist positions and partisans, but votes won’t change based on these.

  • Climate Change and the Environment — Democrats rate this highly, but independents and Republicans rather less so.  Biden and Harris both have the advantage of party but arguably mixed records; nevertheless, they are unlikely to be opposed on this issue as Trump quite literally approved a policy permitting coal miners to blow the tops off mountains and dump the rubble in river beds.  Even conservationists pleased with the reduction of Bear’s Ears won’t have much of an impact; there’s no contest here.
  • Gun Control — Biden authored the assault weapons ban.  Harris fought bitterly against loopholes.  Trump and Pence are both very pro-gun.  This is a purely partisan issue that will change no minds, merely entrench single-issue voters.
  • Abortion — It is the policy of TNFN that no candidate for this office will change Roe v. Wade.  Most of the public disagrees, but it’s immaterial:  This too is a partisan issue on which minds are made up ab initio.
  • Education — The Democrats have the teacher’s unions; the Republicans have the private school crowd.  Again, this is not a place where minds will change in large numbers.  However, the unpopularity of Trump’s Secretary DeVos will certainly cost him some few votes; minor advantage Biden here.
  • Campaign Finance Reform — Uncle Joe has been working on this since he first took office nearly five decades ago.  He’s made no progress, and since then he’s gladly courted SuperPAC money — particularly in the recent primaries.  Trump snipes from the sidelines and talks loudly about “draining the swamp”, but he too is likely to be noted for his ineffectiveness; the Presidency is not where this gets fixed.  Slight edge Trump here, but they’re both losers.

All of which is somewhat beside the point.  Let’s face it:  The major advantage of Biden is that he’s not Trump, and the major appeal of Trump is that he’s not a politician.  A very few issues will certainly be important in some states — jobs in the Rust Belt and the big cities, law enforcement in Minneapolis, No Knock Warrants in Louisville, the 401k balance in Florida — but this is not an election about issues.  It’s about personalities and perception.

Donald Trump is one of the most universally detested and despised political figures in modern American history, and one of the least popular incumbent presidents ever.  Even his own supporters don’t much like the man (the which is quite the remarkable statement -Ed.).  Despite credible allegations of offenses ranging from fraud and tax evasion to sexual assault, he still managed to get elected in 2016.

Against him we have Joe Biden — lovable bumbling Uncle Joe, a man whose worst crime might be plagiarism if we discount Tara Reade (one presumes Kamala no longer believes her -Ed.).  Biden spent decades too poor to be corrupt and too uninspired to write his own speeches.  On the other hand, in his own way he’s as principled a man as legendary prig Mike Pence, and in stark contrast to his opponent he’s genuinely likeable.  The chief factor against him is that, next to the wealth of massively qualified candidates from his own party, he simply doesn’t measure up; the disappointment may be too much to inspire voter turnout.

Trump appeals to economic conservatives due to his unapologetically pro-business stance.  Pence carries the social conservatives through his uniquely sincere narrow-minded morality.  Biden is the ultimate conservative Democrat, the anti-Trump from a policy standpoint.  And Harris, despite her conviction record, may well be able to sell her law enforcement expertise to leverage a few points from the Law And Order crowd.

Time and again, it’s been consistently shown that most people vote their likes and their prejudices instead of their minds.  Nobody likes Trump, and while many respect Pence, that’s not compelling.  People like Uncle Joe so much they (we) give him nicknames.  And a lot of people identify with Kamala Harris — not so much as who they are but rather as who they’d aspire to be.  Biden may speak nonsense, but Trump does the same — loudly. And it’s a rare soul indeed that’s proud to be a blowhard.

The bottom line is anyone’s guess at this point.  A lot can happen between now and November, including cures for COVID, the announcement of an economic depression, new wars, policy initiatives, natural disasters, and any number of scandals.  Given the candidate’s ages, it’s not unlikely that one or more will die of natural causes in the next hundred days.

Better stay tuned.


*Note:  The gossips around the TNFN water cooler and coffee station are holding a pool about whether Trump dumps Pence for Nikki Haley, planning to appoint him as Secretary of State instead.  There’s also a minority opinion floating around that Trump may well announce his retirement at the convention, endorsing a Pence/Haley ticket.  We’re not sure whether there’s substance to this or if instead it’s just gossip and wishful thinking.  Either way, it’s worthy of note.  -Editor


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