There’s a presidential election going on, remember? Like so much of American life the campaign has been on hold for these past few months. President Trump spent most of the time locked in the White House, Joe Biden bunkered in the basement and the entire race just kind ground to a standstill. But now that the protestors have broken the lockdown there is no reason we should not return to the bells, whistles, and traditions of a presidential race.
The Trump campaign announced this week that it would likely be resuming large rallies in the next two weeks and not a moment too soon. Joe Biden should do likewise. As the country gets back to normal we need the election to get back to normal and that includes participating in our most important federal election as fully and completely as possible.
The simple fact is that the coronavirus and the government response to it will be the central issue in the election. It couldn’t help but be. But this will play out not just as a matter of content or policy, but also as a matter of form, as has already been the case. Joe Biden dutiful in his mask wearing, Donald Trump less willing to don that symbol.
Likewise Republicans now seem set on a live, in-person convention of the traditional kind, perhaps in Florida. This may be met by their Democratic foes with some kind of Cisco Web Ex virtual convention. Instead of balloons drifting down from the dusty rafters, a little explosion of confetti will pop up on your screen as Biden takes the nomination.
And what about debates? Will there be any? If so will there be a crowd on hand? Will the candidates be in the same room? This is an area where we could see considerable Sturm und Drang from both camps. Biden did very well in his one-on-one, audience-free debate against Bernie Sanders. Sanders, like Trump, has a rhetorical style more dependent of using the crowd. Look for the debate over the debates to be contentious.
Elections have a lot to do with trappings like the whistle stop from the caboose of a train, red, white, and blue bunting, rallies—and in today’s age, selfies. The next step toward returning to the normal trappings of an election will almost certainly be taken by the Trump campaign, which is eager to present as much normalcy as possible.
According to the polls, Joe Biden’s nearly silent campaign has done well for him thus far. The less he is seen or heard the better he seems to do. But is that sustainable? At some point if Trump is crisscrossing the country at raucous rallies and Biden is mired in a slow safetyism the optics could turn on him.
Whichever vice presidential nominee of the fairer sex Biden chooses he will also have another running mate, the Chinese virus. By the fall we will know things we do not now know. Will there be a second spike, will we be close to a vaccine? Will we have in-person voting or could America find itself once again in lockdown?
Democrats enjoy a little fantasy they have about Donald Trump losing and refusing to leave office. It’s absurd but if the election does not take a normal footing we could be looking at ponderous questions about voting and the counting of votes in November. Could such battles bring us back to a 2000 election style confrontation before the Supreme Court? These are serious questions.
All of this is why it is essential that our election starts to look and feel again like a real election. The process matters, not just the result. We have held presidential elections through wars, depressions, riots, all manner of societal rough and tumble. There is no reason, especially given the recent displays of massive protest that this election should look or feel much different.
Donald Trump needs to campaign as if nothing happened that would forever change the nation. Joe Biden must succeed in balancing his blaming of Trump for the virus with a positive vision of the post-virus world. The candidate who best succeeds in these missions will likely win the election. Whoever that is to be, the game is back on and it’s time to play.