FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - October 24, 2020 - 12:00am

We do not see this often: the incumbent is running as underdog.

When Donald Trump stood on the podium to debate Joe Biden yesterday, the bar set for him was extremely high. In the most credible polls, he was running 10 percentage points behind his challenger. In most of the swing states he needs to win, he is running behind as well. His strategists are cracking their brains to find a way to win the 270 Electoral College votes need to get a second term.

The first debate was a disaster for Trump. His chaotic behavior turned off many voters. He realized that. In the second debate, he tried to be at his best behavior – although that apparently did not include refraining from telling lies.

In a highly polarized election year, only a tiny sliver of voters remain undecided. By most polls, there are far less than 5 percent of voters who are still undecided. Even if Trump won all of them, he will still lose the elections. In some of the most vital swing states, Biden’s lead is larger than the number of undecided voters.

If at all, the final debate between the two candidates could influence outcomes in two or three swing states. Even if Trump managed to turn them in his favor, the outcome would be academic anyway.

The challenge for Trump was to turn the entire momentum of this presidential campaign in his favor and away from his challenger. He had to score big, really big. He had to do so with less than two weeks left before elections.

What makes that challenge even more formidable is that about 40 percent of voters had already cast their ballot either by mail or through early voting. The studies show that Democrats tend to dominate those voting by mail or voting early. This was the reason Trump has been trying to suppress mail-in voting in the first place.

Trump is losing badly among women and senior voters. Both demographics also tend to have the highest turnout.

Trump is also running against history in many ways. The record shows that incumbents suffering less then 50 percent job approval ratings consistently lose reelection contests. Trump is scoring in the low forties or high thirties.

In the likeability index, Trump loses to Biden massively. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was disliked. Trump won.

This year, Trump is running against a very well liked person. That underscores his lack of empathy. He failed to cure that in the course of the last debate.

Through the last four years, Trump has been addressing only his own political base. That was a self-limiting strategy. The basic math is wrong. We see the results of that now.

The last round of debate could not save Trump. The best outcome was to save Republicans running down ticket, especially those running for seats in the Senate. They were laboring under Trump’s unpopularity, increasing the likelihood that the Democrats, who won the House in 2018, will also win the Senate this year.

But saving his beleaguered party mates could not occur to Trump’s mind. He was running for himself – for himself alone.

By contrast Biden faced the lowest imaginable bar coming into the last debate. His polling lead was huge. His voters were turning up to vote early in unprecedented numbers.

Biden’s war chest was growing while Trump’s was shrinking. Over the past few days, especially in the swing states, Biden’s campaign was dominating the air war in overwhelming fashion.

All Biden had to do was to avoid a ghastly gaffe and battle to a draw. That was an easy goal compared to Trump’s impossible mission.

As it turns out, the instant polls taken after the debate favored Biden heavily. Biden did not just try to battle for a draw. He came to win the debate as well.

The man personifies the attitude of the Democratic Party this year: no vote is to be taken for granted. The campaign to vote Trump out will be unremitting in the closing days of this campaign.

Therefore, the strong momentum the polls show favoring Biden continues. The last debate did not break it. Trump is quickly running out of issues, resources and time to reverse the trend.

The only uncertainty on the horizon, it seems, is what sort of desperately dangerous ploy might Trump attempt in the closing days of this campaign as he frantically tries to reverse the tide. Otherwise, the US presidential election this year is becoming an increasingly predictable exercise.

Wall Street, according to reports, is preparing to reconcile with the possibility of a Biden presidency. Investors are shifting their money to tech and green stocks.

The rest of the world is certainly relieved by the clearer possibility that years of chaos and uncertainty under Trump are about to end. For many, Trump represents the anti-thesis of international cooperation and of science-based collaboration.

It is bad enough that the world finds itself consumed by fighting the pandemic. It is worse that the leader of the US keeps denying the full dimensions of this health emergency.

For many, Trump is a nightmare, a seriously flawed person incapable of grasping the long trends that guide (or threaten) human civilization. He is an accident of history, produced by the curious culture wars Americans wage among themselves.

There is great relief that this poor excuse for a human being is likely on his way out. After Trump, the world might still not be a safer place. But it will certainly become a saner one.


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