Four years ago, just weeks before Donald Trump was elected president, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited with the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board and assured us this could never happen.
The word she used? “Never.”
That also was the conventional wisdom, supported by every credible poll. And we bought into it.
On that election night, as we were writing a “Hillary wins” editorial, the paper’s editor popped his head in our door.
“Hope you’ve got a ‘too-close-to-call’ editorial,” he said. “We might not have a winner by deadline.”
An hour later, he popped his head in again.
“You’d better work up a ‘Trump wins’ editorial,” he said in a tone of wonder.
Well, OK then. Hello, President Trump.
No letting up
Those memories of 2016 rushed back to us this past week as Republicans celebrated Trump Fest, this year’s alternative to a party convention, and legions of Trump critics dismissed it all as so much hot air, surely of no consequence — because the man’s going down.
Don’t believe it. Step on the campaign gas. Put a Joe Biden sticker on your car. Knock on doors. Make sure you vote. Make sure the whole family votes. Don’t believe for a second that Trump can’t win, as miserable a thought as that might be, no matter what the polls and pundits say.
Don’t be fooled again.
We sensed this overconfidence once again, on the part of Democrats, independents and never-Trump Republicans, as we watched Trump Fest with one eye and monitored our Twitter feed with the other.
All that lying and scaremongering at the convention? All that absurd stuff about Trump beating the pandemic and Biden wanting to destroy the suburbs? A lot of folks on Twitter sounded pretty certain that nobody, outside of a core of true-believers, could possibly buy such nonsense anymore. Why, just look at the polls!
We were particularly struck by how many commentators on social media mocked Trump’s big convention speech, in real time, as “flat” and “uninspiring.”
Could they not see that, yes, the speech was nothing special, but the setting — the South Lawn of the White House — more than made up for it?
Trump should not have used the White House, the “people’s house,” as a campaign prop, but he did. And it worked.
Can’t trust polls
We know Biden is solidly ahead of Trump in the polls. Biden’s numbers today are better than Clinton’s were at any time in 2016. But we also know polls can’t be trusted, maybe especially when it comes to counting Trump supporters.
And we know things can change.
At the time of Pelosi’s visit to the Sun-Times editorial board, on Oct. 7, 2016, Clinton really was looking like a sure-fire winner. She was beating Trump by as much as 10 percentage points in some polls. But then on Oct. 28 — just 11 days before Election Day — FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to Congress informing them of an investigation into Clinton’s private email server. Clinton’s lead in the polls dropped by half.
Things could change this year, too, between now and Nov. 3. By chance or design.
Trump enjoys the powers of incumbency and he’s not above using them to win an election. If he thinks hobbling the work of the Post Office or making a show of sending troops into big cities or denying the reality of a deadly pandemic will improve his chances on Election Day, he will do just that. Actually, he already has.
If we have learned anything from Trump’s first election and the following four years, it is that lying to people in politics works pretty darn great. Truth is whatever Trump can make people believe.
Nobody in this election is out to “defund” the police or “throw open” the nation’s borders or “take away freedoms,” certainly not get-along Joe Biden. But nobody should underestimate Trump’s ability to sell his lies to just enough voters in just enough swing states to win another term.
Pandemics are not cowed
What’s working against Trump this time, compared to 2016, is that COVID-19 pays no mind to lies. The president can’t talk his way out of this one.
Trump Fest included hardly a mention of the still dangerous pandemic, and the president and his team made every effort to pretend the worst is over. But schools and universities are closing again as the virus continues to spread.
Working in Trump’s favor is the unrest now in Kenosha, Chicago, Minneapolis and other cities. Cities run by Democrats, as Trump likes to say. The cause — protesting unjustified police shootings of Black men — is a noble one. But when protests turn violent, with arson and rioting, they play right into Trump’s hands.
Trump is banking on this being a game-changer, like another Comey letter to Congress.
Push to the end
This election is far from over. There can be no letting up.
Biden had better be ready for the three scheduled debates. And Biden had better work his ground game hard, as well, including in the swing states of Wisconsin and Michigan that Clinton largely ignored.
Don’t be fooled again.
Push to the end for the more decent America represented by Joe Biden — and win this thing.
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