This astonishing election campaign takes new and unprecedented turns each week.
In the past few days, we have seen the arrival in the campaign of the last two Democratic presidents trying, it must be assumed, to fill the vacuum created by this year’s likely nominee, Joe Biden, now well into his third month of sheltering in his basement in Delaware.
We have also had an extraordinary focus on the president’s tastes in prescriptive medicine. Apart from the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981, there hasn’t been such attention to an incumbent president’s medical condition since Dwight Eisenhower’s heart attack (1955), when the New York Stock Exchange rose sharply on Dr. Paul Dudley White’s assurance that “the president’s stools are firm.”
On May 18, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi struck a less supportive note in warning that the president shouldn’t be taking hydroxychloroquine because of his “morbid obesity.” It was an odd as well as ungracious choice of words by someone who could easily be described as “a monument to the embalmer’s art,” in the words (applied to Ronald Reagan) of Gore Vidal.
As the president inches slowly upward in the polls, the administration moves carefully toward reopening American life and accustoms the country to the long-known but little-discussed fact that the coronavirus can’t be eliminated and can only be stopped either by a vaccine or the immunization through exposure (“herd immunity”) of almost the whole population.
The unease of the Democrats is understandable as they are receiving no leadership from their ostensible nominee, who was shouted down this past weekend by Canada geese in his backyard. (This was the most daring intrusion of Canadian wildlife in U.S. affairs since industrious beavers dammed-up the outlet of the Tidal Basin and the waters rose to lap over the feet of Mr. Jefferson’s statue.)
The Democrats are settling determinedly into the quagmire of calling for the self-impoverishment of the country through a continued lockdown, in order to engage in mass frenetic testing and tracing to no conceivable useful purpose. Analysts of U.S. politics will long consider how it was that the Democrats so foolishly stumbled headfirst into the trap of calling for an indefinite state of 30 percent unemployment for no discernible medical purpose, and which could be alleviated only by shoveling $1 trillion of borrowed money out into the country every couple of weeks.
This isn’t policy; it’s electoral suicide.
The Democrats are a party in retreat and in hiding; Presidents Obama and Clinton both addressed large numbers of secondary school graduates through the internet on May 16. While neither named Trump, Obama disparaged this administration’s management of the coronavirus crisis. It ill behooves one who made such a mess of a lesser influenza epidemic and who bequeathed an antediluvian emergency health care system to disparage the worthy performance of the incumbent.
Bill Clinton has been more unkindly buffeted than Obama as an ex-president, through the explosion of his housing bubble, the questionable antics of his wife as a presidential candidate, and the posture of his party of treating even a disrespectful male glance at any woman at any time in the past 50 years as tantamount to attempted rape.
Clinton contented himself with the usual Democratic flimflam that laments “divisive tribalism,” those who “inflame our worst instincts,” and see the world as a “dog-eat-dog, zero-sum game,” a crude reflection on Trump from someone who in his time was royally swindled by the North Koreans, Chinese, and Mexicans, and was almost pitched out for lying to a grand jury about his extramarital sex life.
Ex-presidents are entitled to a serene retirement after the service they have rendered, but not to pretend that the reputational glass houses they live in are the Maginot Line.
Letting a Crisis Go to Waste
The polls have moved around a bit but generally, the president has maintained a reasonably strong position. His response to the public health crisis has evolved from comparative levity to silencing Democratic claims that he was an anti-science know-nothing by loading up with scientists and imposing a national shutdown, although with precise rules delegated to the governors.
He has outmaneuvered the Democrats at each stage and left them jostling for the honor of being champions of the most horrific and prolonged quarantine, while Trump himself moved subtly to reopen the country, again without impinging on the authority of the governors.
For such an often heavy-handed president, it has been an artful performance.
And at the end of it, the Democrats can’t claim the shutdown should never have occurred and are left calling for its politically unsustainable prolongation for no plausible reason. You know they are sweating when their most Alinskyite tactician, David Axelrod, erupts in print denouncing the president’s “cold, hard, decision” (to reopen the country and alleviate the lot of the nearly 40 million instantly unemployed). It won’t fly.
While this has all been unraveling, the attempt to impugn Attorney General William Barr, following the withdrawal of charges against Michael Flynn and in anticipation of the conclusions of the Durham investigation into the origins of the Russia–Trump fiction, has collapsed. Barr told the press on May 18 that he had no present reason to believe that Obama or Biden would be indicted, and the reaction of the Democrats and their media parrots was one of conspicuous relief.
They have effectively segregated their former president and vice president from those who served them in the FBI and the intelligence agencies, presumably in the hope that as indictments unfold, the plea-bargaining system won’t be exploited at the expense of Obama and Biden. That’s a hazardous proposition, indicative of the high legal vulnerability of the former regime. It’s hard to believe they were unaware of the fraudulent FISA applications to approve spying on the Trump campaign and transition team.
In these circumstances, it is little wonder the Democrats are sweating. It’s understandable that Obama and Clinton think that Biden needs their reinforcement; he certainly needs help. But although few elements of traditional U.S. political protocol have survived the tumult of the Trump years, it’s unlikely that Americans want acidulous comments from ex-presidents about their successors, where there has been almost none of it before in living memory apart from a few acerbities of Jimmy Carter about Richard Nixon. Trump has been the soul of discretion about former presidents, even as he ran on the backs of all of them in 2016, and is a dangerous opponent in a mudslinging contest.
It’s now such a complicated political landscape and such a contentious atmosphere that it’s difficult to rise above the smoke of the battlefield and see the correlation of forces. At this point, Trump appears to be making a smooth transition from being behind the eight-ball fighting a deadly pandemic to emerging as a reasonably successful manager of a terrible and completely unforeseen crisis, and an effective resuscitator of the great prosperity that his policies helped to generate in the first three years of his term.
Another of the more prominent Chicago Democratic Alinskyites, former (highly unsuccessful) Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, famously counseled not to allow a crisis to go to waste. In political terms, that’s precisely what the Democrats have done. The coronavirus was their last chance to prevent Trump’s reelection, following on the Trump–Russia and impeachment fiascos.
They are blowing it, and Trump is installing himself in the public mind as the recovery president.
Conrad Black has been one of Canada’s most prominent financiers for 40 years and was one of the leading newspaper publishers in the world. He is the author of authoritative biographies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, and, most recently “Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.