By the time you read this, the 2020 presidential election will either be over or not. There will be a clear winner, or there won’t. The Herald properly advised its columnists that we couldn’t endorse presidential candidates, because we don’t speak for the newspaper. But I can tell you how I think the candidates’ policies and personal character stacked up.
Donald Trump was not an accidental president. He didn’t win the White House in 2016 in a fluke, or because Hillary Clinton was a more flawed candidate who ran a weak campaign. He won because he tapped into the valid concerns of Americans — both diehard Republicans and disaffected Democrats — about the future of the country.
These Americans decried the flood of good jobs out of the country in the name of “free trade” and “globalization.” They understood that the unchecked flood of illegal immigrants into the country further threatened good-paying jobs here with cheap labor. They were weary of exorbitantly expensive foreign wars, with lost American lives and floods of dollars that went to fight them instead of helping rebuild America. They wanted to see America put first, not last.
Trump merely distilled these legitimate concerns into that “America First” campaign. Americans responded to his straightforward pledge to Make America Great Again. This may have surprised and dismayed some of the media and academic elites who live lives far removed from the American mainstream, but it didn’t surprise me, because I’ve lived my whole life in that mainstream.
As president, Trump largely kept his promise to restore American peace and prosperity. He ended foreign wars and avoided new wars. He grew the economy and jobs with lower taxes and less regulation. He nominated conservative judges he said he’d nominate. He kept his word.
Then Covid-19 struck, and Trump was swept up in his own flaws. He couldn’t concentrate long enough to see the huge threat the virus posed. He couldn’t overcome his know-it-all attitude to let Mike Pence and an able Coronavirus Task Force do its job. He just had to run the task force’s press briefings himself, digging ever deeper holes for himself. It was as if FDR had tried to one-up Eisenhower by announcing D-Day the day before the troops hit the beach.
So if Trump has lost, or loses, his re-election bid, it won’t be because the old elites hate him, though they do. It will be because he just couldn’t help himself, and talked his way out of the presidency. It won’t be because of fake news, but because of his flawed penchant to make news. He’ll have only himself and no one else to blame.
And what about Joe Biden? Full disclosure here: Biden is an old and dear friend of mine. I’ve known him for 40 years, and I believe he’s a decent and honorable man. I also know he’s not a left-wing ideologue who is hankering to impose a socialist revolution on America. Biden, like me, has lived his life in the American mainstream, and by nature he’s not inclined to swim out of it.
Joe’s problem, if he has, or does, become president, will be with the same left-wing elites who have battled Trump. If he’s real lucky, the GOP will retain control of the Senate, so he’ll have a handy foil for not pursuing the left’s most radical agenda. But if he sweeps into office with both Houses of Congress in Democratic control, he’ll be hard-pressed to hold back the legislative floodgates.
If a President Biden and a compliant Congress impose steep new taxes and regulations in the midst of a fragile economic recovery, that recovery could collapse. If he jumps back into the globalized free-trade mishmash, more U.S. jobs will hemorrhage out of the country. If he rejoins the deeply flawed Paris Agreement on climate change that imposed heavy burdens on the U.S. — while giving competitors like China and India a pass — more jobs still will flow out. If Biden accedes to the wild-eyed demands of enviro-extremists to dismantle America’s oil and gas industries, he could destroy America’s hard-won energy independence and further stifle any economic recovery.
What Biden would have to do to have a successful presidency is follow his own conscience and his own path. He would have to bang heads with the radicals in his own party. He would have to disappoint the same elites that cheered on his candidacy. He would have to lead, not follow.
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.