The 2020 Forecast – Episode 4: Along Came the Coronavirus

There’s a funny thing about elections. Much like professional wrestling, outside interference isn’t prohibited. In December, the defending champion, Donald Trump, was riding high. The economy was booming, his opponents were a laughable gaggle of charisma vacuums, and their attempts at getting their stooges to interfere under the guise of “impeachment” ended about as successfully as this…

But just then, a black swan was born. A weird virus came out of Wuhan, China. It was hugely contagious, spread around the world, and changed the game completely.

This article contains…

  • A look at the state of the Democratic race.
  • A look at Trump’s deteriorated position in the wake of the coronavirus.

Once again, I recommend this article to get a better handling on any professional wrestling terms I might use here. Politics and pro wrestling are basically the same art form.

I was wrong about Joe Biden, but it took a perfect storm

So, let’s not bullshit or hedge it. Last summer, I said Biden wouldn’t be the nominee. I was wrong about that. Even in December when I said he might make it through on his brand name alone, I still “slightly” favored Bernie Sanders. No excuses. So you should scrutinize me more closely now. To more easily gauge credibility in people, I’ve created a useful mental checklist for Patreon supporters. You can find a preview of it here.

There are three reasons why Joe Biden won the nomination. All three had to be true for it to happen.

  1. Joe Biden has a durable brand name that nobody aside from Bernie Sanders did. People knew who he was and were so more inclined to forgive his mistakes. In my own defense, I noted this last summer. It’s a chapter in Stumped. The field was full of such weak nonentities that his brand allowed him to limp by, and even that wouldn’t have been enough if some backroom deal hadn’t been made, namely…
  2. Buttigieg and Klobuchar conveniently dropped out just after South Carolina.
  3. Elizabeth Warren, who did worse than they did, conveniently stayed in to Super Tuesday, hamstringing Bernie at just the right time.

My reasoning about Biden wasn’t wrong. He was and is an incredibly weak candidate, possibly the weakest I’ve seen in my lifetime. Here he was just yesterday:

And here he was this week insulting a voter yet again:

As Scott Adams notes in Win Bigly, our decision-making faculties largely come from comparing things. If the Democrats run Joe Biden, several of their strongest arguments against Donald Trump instantly dissolve.

Mental fitness? One of the main arguments against the president for years is how mentally unfit he is for his job. That’s certainly GONE against this version of Joe Biden. It’s gone to the point that I don’t even think it will be brought up once in the campaign.

Incivility? Look at the above video and that’s far from the first time. It probably won’t be the last. The difference is that Donald Trump mostly insults political elites and media figures. Joe Biden insults voters. Every time Joe Biden or his acolytes try to accuse the president of incivility, all he or his supporters need to do is point this out and play the videos.

Corruption? Leftists often accuse the president and his family of that, but thanks to their own frothing for impeachment, that’s now been neutralized. Everyone knows about Hunter Biden, Ukraine, and China now, China being especially important because of its position as a strategic adversary and because of the coronavirus. Biden will probably still have an advantage in this area over Hillary Clinton as a candidate since he’s not under FBI investigation, but it won’t be an edge over the president himself.

Michael Tracey made an important point well back in 2019 about “normie Democrats wanting Obama back,” but again, when you make the Obama association with Joe Biden, you realize how less cool and interesting he is. As Scott Adams pointed out, that’s the point of a vice presidential pick in the first place! It’s one of the reasons why so few VPs have ever been elected president. And it’s another problem for his campaign. Any VP pick he makes (my bet is Stacey Abrams, with Kamala Harris as the secondary bet) is almost certainly going to be more interesting than he is, which puts him in a bad light.

And some of this is already bearing fruit in the primaries. While turnout is generally up from 2016, it’s up mostly in suburban areas and down in black precincts, including in Michigan, and Biden hasn’t done as well with Hispanic voters as Hillary Clinton did. That would be bad news for the Democrats if it holds up. As I mentioned in Stumped, the parties are realigning. So far, Joe Biden is getting more affluent white suburbanites, but isn’t holding together the Obama coalition or even the Clinton coalition.

If I were the Donald Trump campaign, I’d be thrilled. Brad Parscale is probably licking his chops. Alas, Joe Biden isn’t the cause for alarm in Trumpworld right now. Interference happens all the time in professional wrestling, and now, there’s a big, BIG player interfering in this title match.

Trump Coronavirus cartoon
Made in China, but found here.

The coronavirus has infected Trump’s position

Just a month ago, things looked great for Donald Trump. The economy was booming. As I predicted, impeachment was a catastrophic failure for the Democrats, with his approval ratings hitting their highest ever while theirs declined. His opponent was either going to be a man in a pitiable state of mental decline, an old, Castro-praising socialist who just had a heart attack, or a soulless technocrat with less charisma than a snail. The waves were calm and the sky was a boundless blue with no cloud in sight. He was sailing to reelection with a gentle and warm summer breeze at his back.

And then along came the coronavirus out of Wuhan, China.

In the space of two weeks, markets plunged into bear territory, industries shut down, panic gripped the streets, and people started getting very sick, with many more still to come. The last two weeks call to mind Odysseus on his raft. Calypso had given him a gentle breeze, but then Poseidon came, and the vengeful god summoned a storm from nowhere that wrecked his fragile raft and nearly drove him onto the rocks.

And that is what the outbreak of the Chinese coronavirus teaches us. We are all fragile creatures on the ocean’s tempest. The situation again calls Herodotus to mind and what he wrote about the cycle of fortune:

If you think that you are immortal and that you command an army which is also immortal, it will be pointless for me to declare my judgment; but if you have realized that you are a mortal man yourself and command others who are so likewise, then learn this first, that for the affairs of men there is a revolving wheel, and that this in its revolution never permits the same persons always to have good fortune.

But sadly, the president isn’t simply the mere victim of fortune’s wheel. His response to the coronavirus up to this week has been badly inadequate.

Yes, the media is unedeniably trying to create as much panic as possible to harm Donald Trump. In this, they see an opening for what they failed to do with their make-believe “scandals” (Russia! Russia!! Russia!!!, Ukraine/impeachment) and their earlier attempts at talking the economy into recession (December 2018, muh yield curve inverted for a few hours in the summer of 2019).

Yes, the media’s nonstop peddling of hoaxes and hysteria for much of the past decade made this pandemic worse because the public has fewer trustworthy sources of information. This is yet another reason why they are the enemy of the people.

Nevertheless, the response to now has been lacking. The testing has been a disaster and, according to the people that know this stuff, prevented the country from being able to contain the virus. Now we need to mitigate the outbreak to the fullest extent possible. Yes, it was a bureaucratic failure at the CDC, but another famous president said that “the buck stops here.”

More of Trump’s responses haven’t been helpful. His comparisons of the coronavirus to the seasonal flu, despite knowledge from the beginning that it was both more contagious and more lethal (in some cases many times more), gave people a false sense of complacency. I understand what he was trying to do in mitigating panic and calming the markets, but it was a net negative. He is by nature a boaster and salesman, which has been great at cheering America out of the sluggishness and apathy of the Obama years, but this is a crisis where his skill set might not be so ideal. “Truthful hyperbole” and selling won’t help in mitigating this. Now’s the time when people want calm, sober leadership, and that isn’t Trump’s strong suit.

Fortunately in the last few days, things have turned around dramatically. Donald Trump now fully understands the seriousness of this situation. Gone are the days of comparing this to the seasonal flu. He knows he has to get a handle on this or he’s toast. If the coronavirus situation becomes an uncontrolled disaster like in Italy, where doctors are figuring out who they should let live, all of the president’s accomplishments will evaporate.

Likewise, if this triggers a recession, that bodes badly for him. Let’s take a look at elections beginning with 1896 (when the modern two-party system matured) and their overlap with recessions:

1896: Recession, incumbent party loses (sitting president not on the ballot).

1900: Recession uncertain, incumbent party wins (sitting president on the ballot.

1904: Recession, incumbent party wins (sitting president on the ballot).

1908: Recession, incumbent party wins (sitting president not on the ballot).

1912: No recession, incumbent party loses (sitting president on the ballot).

1916: No recession, incumbent party wins (sitting president on the ballot).

1920: Recession, incumbent party loses (sitting president not on the ballot).

1924: Recession, incumbent party wins (sitting president on the ballot).

1928: No recession, incumbent party wins (sitting president not on the ballot).

1932: Recession, incumbent party loses (sitting president on the ballot).

1936: No recession, incumbent party wins (sitting president on the ballot).

1940: No recession, incumbent party wins (sitting president on the ballot).

1944: No recession, incumbent party wins (sitting president on the ballot).

1948: No recession, incumbent party wins (sitting president on the ballot).

1952: No recession, incumbent party loses (sitting president not on the ballot).

1956: No recession, incumbent party wins (sitting president on the ballot).

1960: Recession, incumbent party loses (sitting president not on the ballot).

1964: No recession, incumbent party wins (sitting president on the ballot).

1968: No recession, incumbent party loses (sitting president not on the ballot).

1972: No recession, incumbent party wins (sitting president on the ballot).

1976: No recession, incumbent party loses (sitting president on the ballot).

1980: Recession, incumbent party loses (sitting president on the ballot).

1984: No recession, incumbent party wins (sitting president on the ballot).

1988: No recession, incumbent party wins (sitting president not on the ballot).

1992: Recession, incumbent party loses (sitting president on the ballot).

1996: No recession, incumbent party wins (sitting president on the ballot).

2000: No recession, incumbent party loses (sitting president not on the ballot).

2004: No recession, incumbent party wins (sitting president on the ballot).

2008: Recession, incumbent party loses (sitting president not on the ballot).

2012: No recession, incumbent party wins (sitting president on the ballot).

2016: No recession, incumbent party loses (sitting president not on the ballot).

That was an exhausting list! But if you look closely, sitting presidents have lost only five times – in the years 1912, 1932, 1976, 1980, and 1992. Three of those times came during recessions. The ones that didn’t were because of special circumstances. In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt ran again and split the Republican Party vote. In 1976, Gerald Ford lost because of the uniqueness of the Watergate scandal.

We see how big an advantage incumbency is, although since 1932, no sitting president, let alone an incumbent party, has won with a recession in an election year.

This is a big threat and Donald Trump knows it. Just a little while ago, there were no problems in sight. Now the possibility is very real, at least 50%. That would take away his strongest argument for reelection and leave his negatives that many people might otherwise not overlook.

The good news for Donald Trump is that the economy was so strong heading into the Chinese coronavirus pandemic that there’s a cushion, and fortunately for him, this happened in March. There’s also no better salesman to bounce the economy back rapidly on the other side of this, but everything now depends on getting the virus under control. Only that will secure the economy in the long term. Donald Trump seems to understand that now. Time will tell if it’s too late.

As noted in one of the links above, Donald Trump is now a wartime commander-in-chief against a real threat to the American people, not some doofuses engaging in sectarian wars in the Middle East. He has to act the part and visibly get in the trenches every day. The public is fearful and looking for leadership. In Stumped I talked about the “Thutmose Test.” Now’s the time for him to really show he can pass it. It’s not good enough to simply delegate the task to Mike Pence. He has to go out there, near the hotspots, talk to the public, look at the test centers, etc.

One of the lesser-cited chapters in Stumped is the 10th. Dealing with uncertainty, this is what it says:

If the choice is between an uncertain character who offers change from a hated regime with no alternatives and a certain one who will bring more of the same policies that are found to be revolting, people will opt to take the risk and go with the uncertain character.

People are normally risk-averse. Uncertainty is a an uncomfortable feeling and that’s one of the reasons panic has spread in the coronavirus pandemic. Normally, people probably wouldn’t take the risk on Joe Biden with his clearly diminished mental capacity, especially in a prosperous economy. But if Donald Trump can’t get a handle on the coronavirus, if we see ghastly images of hospitals overrun and people dying for lack of ventilators, and/or a recession, the appetite for accepting risk for the chance of change will increase, and work against him when it worked for him in 2016.

For three years, we’ve ridden high, but this is the ultimate test of the Donald Trump presidency. This is his katabasis. We’ll have to see if he can rise to the occasion. If he can successfully navigate through this passage between the coronavirus and an economic slowdown – his own Scylla and Charybdis, he’ll emerge as a new man. He’ll get to run as the guy that brought America out from a pandemic and kept the economy strong. In that scenario, he’d be going Ultra Instinct and probably be unstoppable.

If he fails, he will be plunged into the abyss, his visceral enemies in the swamp and media will win, and gleefully get to write him off as a historical aberration like they’ve been pining to do since 2015.

The stakes couldn’t be higher, both for the country and for him. Our fates are intertwined, whether his haters want to admit it or not.

If the election were held today, he’d likely win, but it won’t be held today. It will be in November. It’s too uncertain to call right now. The next three months (the period in which this crisis will be decided) will be critical, the most critical three months of his entire life.

The ironic thing is, the pandemic is the final vindication of Trump’s platform and repudiation of the globalism he ran against. Namely…

  1. Borders matter.
  2. Domestic manufacturing matters.
  3. China is not to be trusted.

But can he get through this and run on this vindication? Or will it not matter as the pandemic sweeps all before it?

If there is one thing going for him, Donald Trump is lucky. The Romans considered this a virtue in a man and would boast of having been favored by fortune as an election platform. Will his luck hold now?

Or will fortune’s wheel turn against him decisively?

See you in June with the next update. Things should be much clearer at that time.

Read Stumped for more insight in the meantime, and if you want to support my work and get VIP content, become a Patreon member. Click here to see all the goodies you’ll get in return!

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