I’ve long, well since about the 1960s, been a close follower of American politics, so I can remember the names of several defeated US presidential candidates without consulting Professor Google, which I think makes me Mr Geek.
Usually they were uninspiring party workhorses like George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis (cousin of the more famous film actress, Olympia Dukakis) or Bob Dole and made little lasting impression on non-geeks, even though coming second in the world’s most scrutinised and significant leadership election ought to be something to be remembered.
This time round, things might be different because the party workhouse candidate, trusty old Joe Biden, has a strong chance of avoiding the runner-up position which, because it’s very hard to remove a sitting president, would be his expected fate if times were normal.
After 36 years in the senate and then eight as vice president, he can’t plausibly offer the nation a vision of a fresh beginning, as Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton and Obama (who are all big enough not to need forenames) did. Joe Biden’s slogan, although it doesn’t sound like an election-winner, would have to be something like: ‘At least I’m not a menace to public health.’
But President Trump, although he seems to have ballooned since his recovery from covid-19 (steroids?) isn’t about to be blown away by the ridicule of the liberal elite, who, judging by their failure to combat the American right, have more in common with a bunch of wusses than with anything that deserves to be called an elite.
Trump’s great achievement is – I think through genius-level cunning rather than luck – to have built a base so solid that it’s like one of those heavy-bottomed tumble toys which, when you knock them down, stand straight up again, the grins still on their faces.
I imagine Democrat Party strategists might have convinced themselves over and over again that they had nailed the President, over, for example, hush money to Stormy Daniels, insults to war veterans, criminal convictions for some of his cronies and a trail of ludicrous lies starting with his inauguration and continuing through his imagined Nobel prize(s) and his apparently brilliant handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
But his support has barely shifted downwards since he was elected on a minority of the votes cast (which can happen quite legitimately under the American system) and is probably solid enough for him to wrangle a victory even if the opinion polls, which universally predict a Biden win, turn out to be wrong, or are overturned by presidential edict.
In which cast Joe Biden, a decent and intelligent man with decades of blameless public service (I don’t believe the lately-confected stories about his son’s business dealings) and some ideas on how to cope with a changing physical and economic landscape, will lose his hard-earned place in the public consciousness.
By contrast, Donald J Trump, whether he wins the election or not, will always get the attention he craves and demands.