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A historic race for the White House

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This Nov. 3 will mark the 17th presidential election I’ve lived through, the 15th (beginning in 1960) that I closely followed, perhaps the most unusual and volatile election ever and the most divisive presidential election since 1860 or 1876.

The Super Tuesday primary on March 3 clarified a lot of uncertainties about who would win the Democratic nomination. Although no one has the brass ring secured, Joe Biden appears to be clearly in the lead, perhaps with finality.

Well aged: A general election between Biden and President Trump will be a face-off between the two oldest party nominees ever. Biden will be 78 in November. Trump will be 74 on Election Day. Bernie Sanders, who might still gain the Democratic nomination, will be 79. Forty years ago, Ronald Reagan became, by far, the oldest person ever elected president. He was 70 when elected and served two terms; some of us worried whether he’d finish his term. Sanders had a heart attack in October and was released after insertion of coronary artery stents. Biden has a history of aneurysms. Trump proclaims himself healthy, but he looks very overweight and brags that he never exercises. His volatile temper indicates dangerously unhealthy stress levels. One of these septuagenarians will win what may be the world’s most complex and stressful job. A serious health crisis or sudden death of a nominee would throw the election into the worst turmoil ever.

Speaking of health: All of the candidates have histories that scare portions of the electorate. Trump has alienated many voters with his instinctive, no-consultation decision-making and incessant bragging and lying. His expectation of a boost from a strong economy might flop because of a coronavirus that is spreading around the world and hurting economies. Trump second-guessed the scientists and physicians who worried about the new virus while he relentlessly downplayed its seriousness. He dismissed concerns about the impact of the virus and lied about a cure, a vaccine and progress of the virus, demanding that he get all the credit.

Whose party? Sanders’ promise to bring new, younger voters to the polls has turned up empty. Facing ever-increasing odds, Sanders should withdraw and endorse the party nominee, as any other Democrat would in the interest of party unity. But here’s the catch: Sanders is not a Democrat. He has never joined the Democratic Party and is officially an independent. In 2016, he declined to endorse Hillary Clinton after she won a majority of delegates. His overly zealous supporters’ accusations could hurt the party in November. But it’s not Sanders’ party, remember?

Biden’s weaknesses: Biden’s performance in the early party debates was so pitiful that he lost his status of assumed nominee. His oral slips (blamed on a stutter) and occasional confusion left supporters deeply concerned. His delivery has much improved, but he still gets lost in sentences sometimes. He doesn’t have the comfort level or the maliciousness of Trump and could get rattled by Trump insults and cruelty. Biden has avoided a full accounting of his son’s cushy job with a Ukrainian oil company, Barisma, but Trump will almost certainly harp on the matter. Hunter Biden’s deal may be nothing more than the privileges of the electoral class — just a smidgen of nepotism (one of the Trump family’s traits) or just bad judgment.

Vice president: Tradition and reason would suggest that Trump will keep chief sycophant Mike Pence as his running mate, but Trump is totally unpredictable. Biden and others have suggested a black woman would be a good running mate. Sen. Kamala Harris dropped her campaign after she spent early debates attacking fellow Democrats, especially Biden. She has now endorsed Biden, making her a logical VP. If she’s on the ticket, she will be a strong debater and rousing speaker. She might even turn California blue.

Progressives: Democrats used to be called liberals, but some marketing study must have found “progressive” a more likable term, so that’s what they call themselves (except for Sanders, a proud “democratic socialist.”) Like liberals, progressives want to use governmental power to improve the lives of voters. Some are willing to “never mind” the impact on the budget deficit or national debt. The GOP used to worry about deficits and counter the progressives, but since the GOP’s 2017 tax cut, Republicans have pushed deficits and the federal debt ever higher.

Interference: The 2020 election will almost certainly be influenced by computer hacking, cheating, dishonestly edited videos and foreign interference. We might not know who legitimately won until well after Election Day, and both Trump and Sanders supporters might take to the streets if their guy doesn’t win.

Remember the curse: “May you live in interesting times.”


Hal Tarleton is a former editor of The Wilson Times. Contact him at haltarleton@myglnc.com.

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