Hope is Not a Strategy

The apparent inevitability that Trump will become the GOP’s nominee for the third straight time ought to force Democrats into extreme introspection on their armaments in the coming battle for the republic, instead of making unsafe assumptions about its outcome.

Hope is Not a Strategy
Des Moines, Iowa - Democracy Versus the Weather

“Joe Biden is a good president. The country is better off. The Democratic Party is strong.” - Simon Rosenberg, The Hopium Chronicles

Hope is not a strategy. And it feels like there is too much hope in the engine of the campaign to defeat Donald Trump and save the American republic. We hope he is convicted of his multiple criminal acts and that half of his Republican support will melt away, as pollsters claim. We hope voters will recognize that President Biden has improved the economy, created 15 million new jobs, controlled inflation, is fighting for a woman’s right to choose, saved NATO, got us through Covid, convinced Congress to approve a massive infrastructure plan while Trump only talked about one, and for those reasons voters will recognize Biden deserves another four years.

But hoping is not a strategy. Because we think good things are going to happen and the 74 million people who supported Trump last time, or at least a statistically significant portion, will come to their senses. There are those who publicly wish the former president dead, hoping his cardiovascular disease will put him to the ground, or his habits of bad food and no exercise combined with an alleged addiction to Adderall. We hope multiple juries will find him guilty and that people will realize what a great risk his restoration will mean to this country. We hope he will be treated like all citizens and will face prison time for any convictions, and that this election will be such a dominating political win for Biden that Trump will be swept like peanut shells from the floor of our national beer joint.

When my first book about George W. Bush was published and became a New York Times bestseller, I was invited to speak at a film festival in Bergen, Norway. The documentary produced from “Bush’s Brain” was featured at the event and I was asked to give a talk and answer questions after its conclusion. The overwhelming nature of the inquiries I received was centered around how disappointed Europe and Scandinavia were in our voting public. “We never thought America could elect such a person,” was the recurrent theme. Neither had I, frankly, and the popular vote proved we did not. The high court chose Bush, not Americans. But I had not planned an apologia for my fellow citizens and did not offer one for I was as disgusted as that film audience. I did, however, provide a dash of hope.

“Look,” I said, “Americans make mistakes, but we have a decent history of learning from them and correcting our course. I don’t think there is any way voters give Bush a second term after his WMD lies and the invasion of Iraq and this will all be undone.”

My failure as a political seer was not a complete loss. After the 2004 reelection of Bush, the same Norwegian film festival sent a ticket to return with the express purpose of explaining myself and how Bush had been given a second chance by voters. I had no real answers and mumbled something from the podium about Ronald Reagan and his presidency and how he pretended AIDS didn’t exist and let people die and ran up the national debt by giving huge corporate tax cuts while believing in the absurdist “trickle down economics” and mortally wounded many unions by firing air traffic controllers for going on strike. Of course, my logic gave lie to my original premise that we fix what we break, and reelecting Reagan was as damned foolish as putting Bush back in the job, which we did even though he launched a war costing hundreds of billions of dollars at the same time he gave corporate tax cut checks to big business.

And those are a few of the reasons why we cannot just hope that things will fall apart for Trump. Fascism has jumped the fence and is banging on our back door. The apparent inevitability that Trump will become the GOP’s nominee for the third straight time ought to force Democrats into extreme introspection on their armaments in the coming battle for the republic, instead of making unsafe assumptions about its outcome. Anyone who has ever worked hard, accomplished much for their employer, and still got passed over for a promotion, knows the dangers faced by Joe Biden. Nonetheless, Democratic analysts like Simon Rosenberg believe that Americans simply cannot stomach Trump’s awfulness, and Rosenberg continues to offer optimism in his Substack that explains what he calls political “Hopium.”

As much as I respect Rosenberg and his heartening analyses, I am equally bothered by the contraindications, and the biggest of these is the president’s age. Every poll taken seems to show that the public is concerned about dementia or senility or even death should he win another four years. No matter how much the staunchest of Democrats support Mr. Biden, the shadow walking with him through the campaign is his age and the potential deterioration of his health. Trump’s age and vitality, which ought to be just as worrisome given his disdain for healthy living, seems not to register with voters even though he consistently bumbles language and misspeaks with malapropisms that would make him a comedian in any other endeavor. Because no horror visited upon our national discourse by Trump seems to matter, and Biden is viewed as a well-meaning octogenarian whose time has passed, their contest seems to suggest there is no positive outcome to this November 5 election.

The polls are too close for comfort. Most show a toss up, though there are encouraging signs in some cases. It is hard, however, to discern movement in the electorate. Trump wishes for the economy to crash and talks of killing the Affordable Care Act after a record 20 million Americans signed up for coverage as polling shows Biden leading him by eight points in New Hampshire, which is the margin the president won in 2020. Biden gave stirring and persuasive speeches to launch his campaign at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania and Charleston, South Carolina, while Trump was in court fighting for the life of his businesses against claims he defrauded lenders out of hundreds of millions of dollars. potentiallyman promising to be dictator for a day and to destroy the “vermin” who are polluting our blood with immigration? And yet, the contest remains close.

Even if the incumbent were to remain in front and win the popular vote by a few percentage points, the electoral college landscape is tilting increasingly in the wrong direction. One recent survey had Biden down by eight points to Trump in Michigan, a state the president narrowly won in 2020 and that is presently politically dominated by Democrats and popular governor Gretchen Whitmer. In one sampling of the Michigan voters, pitting her against Trump, the governor defeated him by five points. Part of the reason Biden won the “Mitten” in the last election was because of wide support by the nation’s largest Arab community, which is located in Dearborn, outside Detroit. His unilateral political, financial, and military support of Israel as it commits what the wider world sees increasingly as genocide on Palestine, has harmed the president with potentially fatal wounds in an important Michigan demographic. His position on Israel also continues to alienate the progressive left and an increasing number of the young.

What, then, do voters want? The data all point to a different choice, not a man who presents the possibility of an authoritarian America, nor one who is overwhelmingly viewed by his own party as too old for the coming tasks. Such an argument against Biden is, given his record of accomplishments, a bit facile, but there is a sense the nation is ready to move on to another generation of leadership. A decision not to run, similar to LBJ’s in 1968, would be a noble act endearing him to history and the electorate. The inevitable conclusion by historians about Biden to be expected, if he chose to step aside, is that he will be, possibly, most consequential one-term president to ever hold the office. His legislative achievements with a narrow majority in just one chamber of Congress are more than remarkable and will have long-term, positive impacts on the nation. If just a majority of the individuals who have gotten jobs as a result of his lawmaking were to vote for him, Biden would win a Reaganesque landslide victory for a second term.

But that’s not how this works.

Polls are, admittedly, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s description of the human heart, “not an instrument of precision.” We learned that fact distinctively in 2016 when Hillary Clinton was queen of the data. Before the patriarch of the golden elevator was inaugurated, though, pollsters began their deconstruction of methodologies. Accuracy gets harder to argue even after new types of sampling have been developed and live phones are combined with online surveys and Area Based Sampling. There is too much self-selection, it seems to me, in many of these protocols and biases that emerge by surveying “likely” rather than “registered” voters or even demographic pools of previous voters. Unknown numbers showing up on cell phones are not likely to be engaged, either. How does any of that create accuracy? Can we truly know voter sentiments?

The polls cannot all be wrong, though, and the president ought not be struggling this far out from Election Day against an indicted opponent and a man campaigning on a platform of delivering retribution while destroying important institutions. A certain amount of derangement has surfaced in our electoral process even though it is difficult to know anything ten months out from the vote. Obama trailed significantly in 2011 as he prepared to run for reelection and handily regained the office, but, as a friend has pointed out, he was not 81 years of age. With all due apologies to Mr. Rosenberg’s prescriptive Hopium, I believe there is an unspoken dread about Mr. Biden moving through the subterranean thinking of Democrats. A fatalism has taken root that there is no one else to oppose Mr. Trump and save us from American fascism. We are indulging in what I heard described as an “autopsy preceding death,” a fatality that is utterly preventable. Ideas like Nikki Haley joining with Ron DeSantis to prevent Trump’s nomination quickly become a kind of palliative for Democrats stuck in the stasis of their belief nothing can be done to change their course.

There are some dynamics about which to be optimistic, however. Democrats have been winning elections since 2022, especially those related to abortion rights. Issues and referendum voting, though, is considerably different than choosing a candidate. They can be predictive, however, and the results over the past year have been hopeful, and possibly clarifying, for 2024. They might not be, though, and the unmeasured dynamic is that Trump’s far right is animated, angry that their man-god is being crucified by the legal process and that he actually won the 2020 election and had it stolen from him by manipulated voting machines and stuffed ballot boxes. The electoral terrain has shifted since 2020 and the earth beneath Biden might be eroding even as Trump calls our service men and women “suckers and losers” and will likely be convicted of federal crimes for trying to overthrow the last presidential election. Trump’s full sociopathy was abundantly evident the last time and there were still 74 million Americans who gave him their vote, and despite his legal troubles and histrionics in the subsequent four years, his support seems not to have wavered.

We are, perhaps, too stuck with our norms, and believe we must give the incumbent president the nomination, especially because of his manifest achievements. Both parties have a tradition of nominating the next person in line, which gave the GOP a failed Bob Dole and the Democrats Walter Mondale. Biden is at the front of the line, and Kamala Harris is next up. What are the political complications if Biden were to step aside? There are polls that show Whitmer of Michigan, California Governor Gavin Newsom, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, would all make strong candidates, and, most likely handily defeat Trump. Vice President Harris, however, does not fare as well in those analyses, but what happens to the Black vote if she is marginalized by White Democrats? There are two other African-American females who would also likely defeat Trump by a considerable margin: Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

But how do any of those scenarios work? It is difficult to assemble such puzzle parts and the hour feels late for change. Nominating rules of the Democratic National Committee, which runs the presidential convention, suggest there might be a chance for doubt to thrive on the convention floor. Of the 3788 pledged delegates that will be on the convention floor, only 300 are needed to sign a petition and submit to the chairperson to nominate a second candidate. Mr. Biden will likely have more than the 1895 pledged delegates to win his party’s nomination, but the odds of a brokered convention are more than zero. If the president’s health falters, or another popular Democrat’s name is submitted in defiance of Biden, there might be multiple floor votes to pick the nominee. I realize the odds are long for such a thing to happen.

But that’s what they said about Trump winning in 2016.

James Moore is a New York Times bestselling author, political analyst, and business communications consultant who has been writing and reporting on Texas politics since 1975. He writes frequently for CNN and other national media outlets and can be reached a jim@bigbendstrategies.com.