By Julie Doll
The 2020 presidential campaign looks a lot like the 2016 campaign. Only one of the names has been changed.
Like four years ago, many voters will have to decide who they dislike more: incumbent Republican Donald Trump or former vice president and Democrat Joe Biden.
Although polls show Trump with high disapproval ratings, they also show a large majority of Republicans enthusiastically support the president’s reelection.
Nationwide polling also shows that a larger, but less enthusiastic, contingent of Democrats and independents supports Biden.
Independents — especially those in swing states — are the voters the candidates will need to win over to take the White House, just like four years ago.
To win those swing voters in swing states — which include Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona and four or five other states — Biden and Trump have similar game plans. As in 2016, the primary strategy is to convince voters that the other guy is even worse.
On the Democratic side, the trash talk is largely turned over to surrogates and supporters. Cable TV personalities and their guests spend much of their airtime telling us Trump is callous, self-centered, greedy and unfit to be president.
On the Republican side, Trump leads the GOP effort, as Rose Garden press conferences, Twitter rants and prime-time Fox News programs are turned into campaign tools, to be used to make voters detest Biden and all Democrats.
So far in the campaign, Democrats have learned that a big chunk of Americans remain loyal to Trump.
For their part, Republicans have found that it’s harder to make Americans hate Biden than it was to exploit voters’ dislike of Hillary Clinton.
So Republicans are amplifying and twisting Biden’s tendency for gaffes.
Their spiel is that Biden, 77, is old and has lost his mind, making him easily manipulated by left-wing crazies who will get rid of police, suburbs, tax breaks, the good kind of light bulbs and so on.
For their part, Democrats have long argued that Trump, who is 74, suffers from a narcissism so severe that he is easily hoodwinked by foreign powers. They say his ego also makes him unwilling to discern fact from fiction, which explains why he tells lies at rates stunning even for a politician.
Biden has mostly ignored the taunts from Republicans. But Trump frequently answers his critics. To counter claims about his mental status, Trump brags repeatedly about his intelligence and memory. Recent boasts have focused on how well he did on a test used to diagnose dementia.
Intended to prompt admiration, Trump’s bravado instead comes across as pathetic.
Some wise-guys on social media have suggested that rather than debates, Biden and Trump could take mental competence exams on live TV.
And why stop there? In another show before a live TV audience, the two could take polygraph tests.
In a third, they could be tested on their knowledge of current events. And using a Jeopardy-like format, the candidates could impress us with their knowledge of, say, science, geography and history.
None of that will happen, of course. As Democrats and Republicans script the final months of their campaigns, the aim will be to avoid any situation in which their candidate might face a surprise — all while trying to make the other aging white guy look worse.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers across Kansas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Julie Doll