In ancient history -- that is, before TV -- there was a gentleman’s agreement that the presidential electioneering didn’t really get underway until Labor Day. But how times have changed!
First of all, there are no gentlepersons left in politics, certainly no bipartisanship. The television news era, now known as the “good old days,” is made obsolete by antisocial media, where everyone has a worldwide megaphone and facts be damned. Meanwhile, campaigning goes on nonstop, a blurry round of constant demagoguery. No longer does it matter the seriousness of the issue. It’s all about how it can be parlayed into political advantage.
Take President Donald Trump’s dispatching of paramilitary federal forces to deal with racial unrest in American cities. Its constitutionality is dubious, but all Trump’s followers need to know is that protestors don’t really know their place. POTUS makes his political intent clear with his justification:
“We’re looking at Chicago, too. We’re looking at New York,” he said. “All run by very liberal Democrats. All run, really, by the radical left.”
And, as he sent in the federal cavalry, he didn’t even pretend it was not part of his re-election strategy: “And you know what? If Biden got in, that would be true for the country. The whole country would go to hell.”
As if it isn’t in hell already, with the devastating COVID pandemic now reigniting because of his and his administration’s gross incompetence in dealing with the coronavirus. He became the face of that blundering by his effort to grab the spotlight. Finally, with his popularity in polls plummeting, he retreated to the background, returning to governing by Twitter.
From there he was able to stir up pressure to end the timid mitigation efforts far too early and convince enough frightened governors and local officials that it was all-clear ... that their constituents could return to a “normal” life of carousing, ignoring social distancing and making general fools of themselves. The result was predictable. Suddenly, the lurking deadly organism sprung its ambush, and states that hadn’t been all that affected early on were plunged head-on into lethal crisis.
In the midst of all this, the Trumpster decided it was time to resurrect his daily briefing, sticking on script this time, and pretending he had some earthly idea what he was talking about.
But it doesn’t stop there. To make sure his base needed to keep its xenophobic passions flaming, he issued an executive order requiring that the census exclude undocumented immigrants when counting people. He knows that’s unconstitutional, but again, his supporters don’t want to be troubled by such complicated considerations. They just need to be reminded that Donald Trump is with them, at least until Election Day.
Just like he is on Confederate flags, patriotism and wearing face masks. Oh wait, some Trump campaign pollster reminded him that voters support face masks. So suddenly, Trump is for them, and suddenly Trump has abandoned his various rosy scenarios about the coronavirus just up and disappearing. Now it will disappear “eventually,” and the pandemic “will get worse before it gets better.”
A part of any presidential campaign is the October surprise -- a development that pops up at the last minute. Could it be approval of a vaccine with Trump taking full credit? Count on it.
Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.