The Republican Party, which wants to re-elect President Donald Trump in November, has a problem. The problem is that it has no plan.
So much was implied when the GOP decided to recycle its platform from 2016. So much was admitted when, in a resolution, it agreed to “continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.” In other words, the party has no aspirations but for total deference to its dear leader.
Perhaps signing onto the president’s agenda could work if such an agenda existed. Trump, however, does not meet that most elementary expectation. In a June 25 interview with right-wing media titan Sean Hannity, when asked his second-term priorities, Trump merely meandered for 45 seconds. When Hannity asked him again two weeks later, Trump lauded the accomplishments of his first term without defining the priorities of his second.
The country is collapsing. Millions of Americans face eviction. One in five workers is relying on dwindling unemployment benefits. The coronavirus death toll is expected to reach 200,000 by the November 3 election. These are hardly circumstances under which an incumbent president deserves the courtesy of blind faith. Yet that is one of two things of which Trump is asking voters this year. The other is a willingness to be distracted by absurd strawmen and cultural trivialities.
Let’s start with Joe Biden.
These are cartoonish indictments, and they signal one thing above all else: Republicans miss Hillary Clinton.
At this stage in 2016, registered voters bore as much contempt for Clinton as they did for Trump himself. One major reason is that Clinton had already weathered decades of media scandals and hostility by the time she ran for president. Biden, by contrast, has no such bedrock of loathsomeness. He is not hugely popular, to be sure, but he stirs significantly less vitriol than his 2016 predecessor.
Biden’s lukewarm candidacy does not create fans so much as it reduces enemies. This spells an identity crisis for Trump, who thrives on negativity. Two months before the 2016 election, most Trump voters were voting more so against Clinton than they were for him.
Aware of his ceiling of support, proportionate to his own personal repugnance, Trump has sought to incite similar bitterness towards Biden. He and his media adherents are frantically trying to find a line of attack that will stick, and critiques of Biden’s long political record, however reasonable, are too tempered for rabble rousing.
Hence the delusional and insultingly shameless claims that Biden, a devout Catholic and unapologetic political moderate, will turn America into a godless, socialist wasteland.
This was the central message of the Republican National Convention (RNC), where speakers warned that Biden’s America would entail open borders, destroy law enforcement, and, with barely concealed racial subtext, contaminate America’s quiet suburbs with “low-income” city dwellers.
The absurdity of these narratives only shows that the red team is growing desperate, and voters need not like the Democratic Party nor its nominee to see through the smokescreen. In lieu of substantive criticism, Republicans are merely hurling scary buzzwords in a Pavlovian attempt to churn stomachs at the thought of a Biden administration.
Simply put, Republicans must make Biden’s America so grotesque because they cannot answer for the state of Trump’s America. More than a thousand Americans are still dying every day from the coronavirus. Tens of thousands more are catching it.
Yet shame on those killjoy Democrats, said Trump’s second son Eric, for only talking about “COVID, COVID, COVID.” Yes, why bother the American people with that bygone inconvenience?
The RNC was designed to deflect from and deny the fact that the party has overseen one of the worst pandemic responses in the world. It sought to mesmerize voters with lofty and reassuring rhetoric about America’s greatness. Distract them from material suffering with comparatively vapid cultural grievances. Make “safety” the red team’s watchword at a time when Americans are unsafe in large part due to their governance. Respin this year’s crises as products of Democratic leadership which perhaps Trump, a lone voice of reason, could have stopped if only he were president at the time.
The party’s message is clear: forget the virus. Almost 200,000 Americans have died, but that had nothing to do with us – and so what if it did? A majority of Republican voters now agree that the death toll has been “acceptable.” Almost two-thirds of them do not consider coronavirus a “very important issue” to their vote this year.
This is the logical conclusion of a sentiment which Trump captured two years ago, and which is now the fatal conceit of a major American political party: “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
With only two months until the election, voters must ask themselves now if they are really as docile as Republican leadership believes them to be. Is stopping “cancel culture” really more of a priority than saving lives? Should banal homage to the American Dream really absolve this administration of its catastrophic negligence? Are voters really so insensible to reality that they will not question why, as Vice President Mike Pence so clumsily worded it, Trump will have to spend his second term “[making] America great again, again?”
A Show About Nothing
Only one thing can save the Trump campaign besides fear and fanaticism: the economy, stupid. It is understandably one of the most important issues this year, and Republicans are more trusted to handle it. One reason is that the pre-pandemic economy was ostensibly – though not comprehensively, as coronavirus has exposed – strong. The GOP must spotlight this old economy as if it is still relevant and replicable. Citing months-old black, Hispanic, and Asian unemployment rates has become a compulsion of sorts.
But one can only capitalize upon previous success for so long without having a plan to recreate it. Trump does not have a plan; he has a wish list. That list has almost zero course of action regarding the coronavirus and the economy, which must be solved in tandem and require more than slipshod bullet points. This is federal leadership? Voters should be insulted – and angry.
There are two elephants in the room this year – a once-in-a-century pandemic and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Other issues are ants by comparison. The Republican Party is more concerned about the ants, and it wants you to be too. It is akin to Seinfeld: a show about nothing. The difference is that Seinfeld never claimed to be otherwise – and at least it was funny.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.