History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. Mark Twain
Those of you who are veterans of my columns know that I “made my bones” wallowing around in the mosh pit of the 2016 Republican party primary fight. Ah, the good old days, when Donald Trump was a joke that wasn’t going to get us all killed!
Back in July of 2015, there were 17 candidates for the GOP nomination. Today, depending on which count you use, there are anywhere from 22-25 Democratic candidates vying for the nomination. In both cases, there was a “top tier” of immediate front runners, a “2nd tier” of candidates who hoped to catch fire somewhere, and a couple of people who wanted the words “Presidential candidate” to use when they pimped their latest book.
All the way back in October of 2015, I earned polite criticism as well as jocular humor on Daily Kos when I predicted that the nomination was Trump’s to lose, 3 months before the first primary vote was cast. This wasn’t clairvoyance, it was simple math. Trump was consistently leading most major polls, even in early primary states, with 28-32% of the vote, with a rotating cast of characters, but never more than two at a time, in low double digits. In the GOP primaries, almost all of the early primary states were “winner take all” states as far as delegates were concerned. As long as Trump could crawl across the finish line with that 28-32%, he could build the kind of delegate lead that would be almost impossible to overcome once the field winnowed down. That’s exactly what happened.
This year, Biden is starting off in an even stronger position. Since announcing, he has consistently polled at between 36-43%, with only Bernie Sanders in double digits in the mid teens, but consistently 20+ points behind Biden. Even with the DNC changes to the “super delegate” rules, and even with apportionment in some primaries, if Biden can pound home with 40% of the delegates in each race, especially early, with nobody else topping 12%, even if he doesn’t get the requisite number of delegates in the primary, he makes it easy to pick up enough “unbound” delegates after the first ballot to get across the finish line.
In 2016, Trump benefited greatly by the fact that he was able to separate himself immediately from the pack. Republicans were fed up and disgusted in 2016, after 8 years of President Obama, and they were pissed off that Obama accomplished what he did, Every other candidate in the race was the same old recycled Republican kitty litter, former Senators, Governors, and congress critters. Donald Trump was the anti Christ to all of that. He was a rank outsider, with no political history or ties. Plus, Trump was willing to say things that no other candidate could say, or likely get away with, but it turned out to be exactly what a lot of Republican voters wanted to hear.
Joe Biden is Donald Trump through Alice’s looking glass. In 2020, there is a much wider diversity of candidates, with more current and topical views and experience. The looking glass part is while Trump was a rank outsider, Biden is the consummate insider. Everybody knows Joe, and we’ve known him for 40+ years. And while Republicans were disgusted with Obama after 8 years, in only 2.5 years, Trump has managed to piss off the entire planet, Russia notwithstanding. And while 23 other people are doin’ their thang, Joe Biden is coming right out and saying, “Hey! I’;; bust my ass for you guys 24/7 once I get into the Oval Office, but first of all, we’ve gotta kick Trump’s ass out of the Oval Office, and I’m the one who can do it!” Which turns out to be exactly what a whole lot of people want to hear, according to the polling.
In 2016, Donald Trump had this air of invincibility. There is no other candidate in history who could have survived not releasing his taxes, the Access Hollywood audio tape, dissing a decorated war hero like John McCain, or paying off porn stars. But that was all a part of Trump’s quirky “charm,” he had spent his entire life building exactly that kind of rogue, playboy charm. People were pissed off at the status quo, and they were willing to overlook those warts on this particular frog, while desperately trying to kiss him into a prince.
Once again, Joe Biden can be seen through Alice’s looking glass. Biden has been around politically since the invention of dirt, we know everything about him. This is why I think it will be a failed strategy for other Democratic candidates, as well as Trump, to hammer Biden on things like his crime bill vote, his Iraq war vote, and Anita Hill. None of this is new or explosive, it’s all been litigated before, and people who support Biden have already reconciled with his past. Also, one of the knocks going into his candidacy was that Biden was “gaffe prone.” Again, so what else is new? Biden has spent his career in an endless series of unintentional gaffes and hot mic moments, it’s almost become part of his charm. Besides, most people seemed to think that “This is a big fucking deal” pretty well summed up the signing of the Affordable Care Act. With Biden’s already acknowledged history for gaffes, any gaffe he makes in this primary season or general election is going to have to be a ten megaton bomb to shake anybody’s opinion of him.
So no, I am not advising Dr Jill Biden to start measuring the drapes in the Oval Office, and I’m not predicting that Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee for President, although at this early stage, it is starting to look increasingly likely to me. All I am saying is that if you look under the surface, you’ll see that despite the major differences in candidates and parties involved, 2016 and 2020 are shaping up to be eerily similar. And aybe we shouldn’t be all that surprised if history starts to sound like the chorus of an old Air Supply song again.