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A Victory or a Landslide?

There are now two likely pathways for the 2020 election. And neither one is good for Trump and Republicans.
June 30, 2020
A Victory or a Landslide?
(Collage by Hannah Yoest / Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

1. Tick Tock

Another weekend of runway is gone and Trump isn’t turning this race around.

He’s falling further behind.

In the first week of June I wrote that the cake was almost baked. Trump had 20 weekends until Election Day to stop his slide, find a floor, make up ground, and then get within 4 points of Joe Biden—which is a level he’s never been in this race.

And what happened for Trump this weekend?

  • Breaking news that his good friend Vladimir Putin has been paying bounties for the killing of American soldiers.
  • Runaway virus infections in Florida, Texas, and Arizona—each of which is close to a must-win for him to have any chance at being reelected.
  • And the president tweeted out a video of a supporter yelling “White power!”

So no. Not a great weekend for the Trump 2020 campaign.

And now 15 percent of the clock is gone.

How bad are things for Trump? Politico talked with a bunch of sympathetic Republicans inside and outside Trump’s orbit and the mood seemed . . . utterly macabre. The party is beginning to prepare for a landslide loss that could make Jimmy Carter feel good about himself.

But this line in the Politico piece really caught my eye:

Behind the scenes, Trump and his team are taking steps to correct course. In the week since his Tulsa rally, the president has grudgingly conceded that he’s behind, according to three people who are familiar with his thinking. Trump, who vented for days about the event, is starting to take a more hands-on role in the campaign and has expressed openness to adding more people to the team. He has also held meetings recently focusing on his efforts in individual battleground states.Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who effectively oversees the campaign from the White House, is expected to play an even more active role. [emphasis added, obvi]

That’s . . . the plan? Trump is down double-digits. 125,000 Americans—and counting—are dead. The economy is in the crapper. And Trump 2020’s big plan is to send in . . . Jared?

It’s one thing for down-ballot Republicans to walk the plank for Trump when he’s Making America Great And Stuff. But the real loyalty is whether or not they take their lumps when Trump is so checked out that he turns the party’s entire electoral future over to Jared Forking Kushner.

Even so, I have every confidence that Republican candidates will pass this test. They’ll drink the Kool-Aid.

Because that’s what Republican voters want them to do.

In a sense, I don’t even really blame the elected members of the GOP. Like Donald Trump himself, they’re just a lagging indicator. This is what the Republican party base wants now because this is what the Republican party base is.

Winning the White House didn’t change that. And neither will losing it.

2. There Is No “Better”

Trump’s response to the Russian bounty story is a good example of why his campaign’s problems are intractable.

The story broke on Friday.

On Sunday, Trump tweeted that the revelation was “Fake News” because he had never been briefed about any Russian bounty program.

Maybe this is true and maybe it is not.

But for the president to offer “No one told me about this big important thing” as a defense is an advertisement for weakness.

It’s an admission that he has no control of his own government.

Trump would have been better off saying something like,

Yes, I know about it. It’s terrible and I promise you that we have plans to make Putin pay for this. But proxy wars happen, we’re playing a long game, and we keep our enemies closer.

Conversely, if Trump really didn’t know about the Russian bounties, then he should have ransacked his administration to find The Guy who failed to pass it up the chain and then he should have hung this dude out to dry publicly—”Mr. So-and-So is currently manning a radar station in Greenland as thanks for his service to the country”—as a way to demonstrate that he has control of his government.

But, of course, neither of those responses are possible from Trump, because they’re not who he is.

On Sunday, a reporter from a very unfair Fake News Channel—Fox News—reported that people close to Trump are beginning to think he might pull the plug on his campaign if his poll numbers don’t improve. The Fox reporter claimed that people close to Trump describe his mental state as “fragile.”

Again: Maybe true, maybe not.

The point is that none of this is conducive mounting a comeback.

Always we grant that anything is possible. But you don’t plan for the 0.5 percent scenarios. You plan for the 40 percent scenarios.

And at this point the two most likely scenarios for the election are the following:

(1) By the early fall the race has returned to its natural center of gravity with Biden +6. Biden then maintains this lead and wins a comfortable Electoral College victory or pulls away in the final weeks and wins a large Electoral College victory.

(2) Trump is not able to regain his footing and Biden retains a large lead through the end of September—let’s say that “large” means anything greater than +7 nationally. If this is the case, then there will likely be a large break against Trump in the final weeks as voters bail on the sinking ship and Biden’s victory could be a landslide where he wins by more then +10 percent with something approaching 400 Electoral votes.

I would guess that those two possibilities probably make up 70 percent of the potential outcomes at this point and the chances of Trump finishing at -3 in the popular vote and lucking into another Electoral College victory are about the same as Biden pulling off a historic rout where he wins by +15.

Never forget: Bad gets worse.

3. White Fragility

Matt Taibbi has taken the #1 book in America, Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, to the wood-shed:

DiAngelo isn’t the first person to make a buck pushing tricked-up pseudo-intellectual horseshit as corporate wisdom, but she might be the first to do it selling Hitlerian race theory. White Fragility has a simple message: there is no such thing as a universal human experience, and we are defined not by our individual personalities or moral choices, but only by our racial category.

If your category is “white,” bad news: you have no identity apart from your participation in white supremacy (“Anti-blackness is foundational to our very identities… Whiteness has always been predicated on blackness”), which naturally means “a positive white identity is an impossible goal.”

DiAngelo instructs us there is nothing to be done here, except “strive to be less white.” . . .

The book’s most amazing passage concerns the story of Jackie Robinson:

The story of Jackie Robinson is a classic example of how whiteness obscures racism by rendering whites, white privilege, and racist institutions invisible. Robinson is often celebrated as the first African American to break the color line…

While Robinson was certainly an amazing baseball player, this story line depicts him as racially special, a black man who broke the color line himself. The subtext is that Robinson finally had what it took to play with whites, as if no black athlete before him was strong enough to compete at that level. Imagine if instead, the story went something like this: “Jackie Robinson, the first black man whites allowed to play major-league baseball.”

There is not a single baseball fan anywhere – literally not one, except perhaps Robin DiAngelo, I guess – who believes Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier because he “finally had what it took to play with whites.” Everyone familiar with this story understands that Robinson had to be exceptional, both as a player and as a human being, to confront the racist institution known as Major League Baseball. His story has always been understood as a complex, long-developing political tale about overcoming violent systemic oppression. For DiAngelo to suggest history should re-cast Robinson as “the first black man whites allowed to play major league baseball” is grotesque and profoundly belittling.

Robinson’s story moreover did not render “whites, white privilege, and racist institutions invisible.” It did the opposite. Robinson uncovered a generation of job inflation for mediocre white ballplayers in a dramatic example of “privilege” that was keenly understood by baseball fans of all races fifty years before White Fragility. Baseball statistics nerds have long been arguingabout whether to put asterisks next to the records of white stars who never had to pitch to Josh Gibson, or hit against prime Satchel Paige or Webster McDonald. Robinson’s story, on every level, exposed and evangelized the truth about the very forces DiAngelo argues it rendered “invisible.”

It takes a special kind of ignorant for an author to choose an example that illustrates the mathematical opposite of one’s intended point, but this isn’t uncommon in White Fragility, which may be the dumbest book ever written. It makes The Art of the Deal read like Anna Karenina.

Read the whole thing because there’s a ton more where that came from. It’s the kind of dismantling that you don’t see that often. Someone should have stopped the fight.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.