On Tuesday it will all be over. Maybe. In any event, everyone who is going to vote will have voted by then and the campaigns for the presidency will have slipped into history. Today, with the clarity of hindsight, we can see just what an awful mess the entire thing has been. In recent memory, there has never been an election that was less informative, less driven by policy, and less fueled by hysteria than the race of 2020.
My campaign season was bookended by reporting trips with my Federalist colleague Chris Bedford, with whom I spent time in Pennsylvania last week. In February, we had been in chilly New Hampshire ahead of its first in the nation primary. We thought we knew what the basic contours of the race would be, even if we didn’t know, and frankly didn’t expect, that Joe Biden would be bearing the standard for Democrats.
Fresh off of his acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial, Donald Trump was presiding over an economy with record numbers, including lows for black and Latino unemployment. That would be the president’s primary pitch, we assumed. On the other side, Democrats and former conservatives would run against Trump’s tone more than his record. Then came the plague from China, and everything changed.
In the blink of an eye, much of the Trump economy’s gains were wiped out. The president would have to run a campaign promising to restore what he had built, not to sustain and grow it. Meanwhile, Democrats saw in the coronavirus response a chink in the Trumpian armor at which almost all of their arrows would be targeted. The election — most of our lives — became about one thing: the virus.
For months and months, Democrats slammed the pandemic response, even while praising many of its architects like Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx. By summer those on the left in politics and media were advancing the absurd claim that all or most of the deaths could have been prevented if only Trump had done more. What exactly they think he should have done was never made clear. “Why can’t we be more like Europe,” they clamored, but today with Europe seeing cases spike and going back into lockdowns, that argument against Trump has fallen apart.
Meanwhile, the virus gave Biden’s campaign the opportunity to simply disappear for months on end in a way that is absolutely unprecedented. At least until August and substantially after that, it was the campaign that wasn’t. Not only were voters not able to kick the tires of a potential Biden presidency, but the car barely even left the garage.
Look at what we lost in all this. Does anyone have the slightest idea what Biden’s foreign policy might look like? The Trump administration has made great strides on Middle East peace, for example. Will Biden continue in that direction, or reverse course as the Palestinians want? Will he continue to bring troops home from foreign lands? What is his approach to China?
On the economy, would Biden reverse course on the regulatory and tax policies that Trump put in place to make the numbers go boom? He speaks in vague terms about this, but we really don’t know because he has barely been questioned on it. Biden’s response to violence in the streets? Something, something, lower the temperature. On police reform? You know, allocate resources a little differently or whatever.
One day out from the election, the American people likely know less about what Biden intends to do as president, even in an age of hotshot, streamlined internet communication, than voters in 1800 knew about Thomas Jefferson’s goals and ideas. How can we be informed voters without information? The answer of course is that we can’t. And yet we must vote anyway.
If the Year Of Our Lord 2020 had a slogan, it would be “Never Again.” That applies to lockdowns and all the pain they caused, but also to this God-awful, useless election season. We must never allow the important decision of who will lead our nation to be made in such a vacuum again. Not only do voters not know everything they need to, the result of this dearth of policy discussion has been an electorate less interested in issues than they are in hating each other.
From the debacle that was the “nonpartisan” debate commission, to states creating new voting rules on the fly, to the abject refusal by most of the corporate media to ask Biden, well, anything, really, this election has been a disgrace. No matter who wins on Tuesday, we must never have another like it again.