It’s the last day of August, the symbolic end of summer, so that seemed a good time to catch up with the personification of our editorial board — Ed Board.
Is it Mr. Board? Ms. Board? Which pronouns do you prefer?
What is this — Virginia Tech orientation?
No, we just thought we should call you by your preferred name.
People call me lots of things. Just don’t call me Mr. Ed — that’s a horse.
Of course. So we were wondering what you thought about the presidential campaign. Which Democrat do you think will be the next president?
Why do you assume the next president will be a Democrat?
Well, Trump’s approval rating is pretty low. More people disapprove of him than approve of him. Seems pretty obvious he’ll lose.
Tell that to President Walter Mondale and President Mitt Romney.
What are you talking about? They never got elected.
Precisely my point. If you average all the polls together, Trump usually has an approval rating in the low 40% range. You know what Ronald Reagan had at this point in his first term? 43%. Yet he came back and won in 1984. By a landslide, too. Trump polls higher than Barack Obama did at this point — 40%. And he won re-election, too. The approval polls measure things in a vacuum — do you like Trump or not? But that’s not the question on the ballot next year. It’ll be do you want Trump or do you want whoever the Democrats nominate? Very different question.
But with numbers like that, any Democrat should be able to beat Trump, right?
You’ve spent too much time watching MSNBC. The reality is probably just the other way around — there may be very few Democrats who can beat Trump.
That’s not what the polls show: They show lots of Democrats can beat Trump.
You missed 2016, didn’t you? Those are national polls. But we don’t elect a president that way. We elect a president state-by-state. What do the polls show in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin?
Umm, don’t know. Haven’t seen any.
Exactly. The national polls are pretty meaningless. The only thing that matters are the state-by-state polls. When we see more of those, let’s talk. Anything else is just speculation and you know how much we editorial writers hate speculation.
OK, let’s move on. Let’s talk about the Democrats. Why in the world is Joe Biden out front of the Democratic field in so many polls? He’s old, he’s boring, he’s out-of-touch with the Democratic base .
You say all that like they’re bad things. As they say in the computer world, those things are features, not bugs.
But I don’t know anybody on Facebook or Twitter who’s in favor of Biden .
Umm, I hate to break it to you, but not everybody is on Facebook or Twitter.
OK, fine, but I still don’t get Biden’s appeal. Where’s it coming from?
Possibly from Democrats who want to win in 2020? Just a hunch.
You’re being sarcastic, right?
No, I’m being quite serious. Biden’s basic argument is that he’s the most electable Democrat. If you look at the state-by-state polls that are available, there’s some merit to that argument. In Arizona and Ohio right now, he’s the only Democrat leading Trump. Those are states Democrats might need to win. In other states, there might be multiple Democrats polling ahead of Trump, but Biden consistently runs best. If your first priority is defeating Trump, Biden’s clearly your safest bet, all his gaffes notwithstanding. A lot of his supporters probably don’t love Biden, but they’re more interesting in winning the election than in winning some ideological argument.
Can’t Democrats do both? Can’t they nominate a progressive and still win?
There are two ways to look at next year’s election. One is that voters are simply exhausted from Trump and all his drama. They want a president they don’t have to think about every day. They want their social media feed to go back to being full of cat videos. They will vote for any Democrat who seems to hold out the hope for what Warren Harding called “a return to normalcy.” That’s Biden’s appeal. He’s not really proposing anything other than defeating Trump. Elizabeth Warren — she’s got all kinds of plans. Maybe they’re good plans, maybe they’re not — that’s for another day. The point is, she might be a president we’d have to think about, too. Just in different ways than Trump. In any case, that might scare off as many voters as it excites. We just don’t know. Maybe Democrats can nominate someone much further to the left and still win — but it’s a much riskier proposition.
Maybe Biden’s ahead in those states simply because voters know him. They just don’t know the other Democrats. Once they do .
They might not like them. You’re right — people know Biden. Some of these other Democrats, people don’t really know — that’s both an opportunity and a risk. The opportunity is people might fall in love with one of them. The risk is that Republicans can more easily paint them as crazy people. They’ll have a harder time with Biden because people have already formed an opinion about him, good or bad. He’s a known quantity. That’s why his gaffes don’t really matter. People dismiss them as “that’s just Joe being Joe.”
So you like Biden?
Didn’t say that. Just analyzing the field and explaining why Biden still seems out front of the Democratic pack, even though he seems so out-of-sync with where the party is headed these days.
You said there were two ways to look at the election. What’s the other one?
One scenario is “Trump fatigue.” The other is “Trump Teflon.” Maybe people just don’t care that much about all the, well, Trumpiness. Maybe people just look around and say — “well, the economy’s pretty good and we’re not at war. We’ve survived four years under this guy; maybe another four won’t be such a bad thing. We just don’t know what this Democrat is going to do. I don’t like my health insurance set-up now, but will this Democrat make it worse?” In effect, Trump becomes the “devil you know” versus the “devil you don’t know.”
Wait— you’re saying Trump could wind up being the safe choice in 2020?
Exactly. All depends on who the Democrats nominate and how the campaign turns. But you could have asked Walter Mondale that. I hear he has time on his hands.