8 October 2020
from Left Field.
By J.R. Thomas
As we have remarked here before, always expect the unexpected. Any good thriller has the event that comes from left field to throw every assumption up in the air. Last Friday we certainly had a humdinger, when President Trump was taken to hospital with confirmed Covid19. At that point the usual nonsense began. It was alleged the President was close to death, on a ventilator, receiving oxygen, or alternatively was simply in hiding trying to lift his performance in the polls by going for the sympathy vote.
What we do know is, for all the accusations of vitriolic speech heaped on The Donald in the past, his opponents are pretty handy with the vitriol bottle themselves. Step forward, for instance, actor Dominic West who said: “Well, I did slightly leap in the air with joy” [on hearing the news]. Dominic Gerard Francis Eagleton West was educated at Eton and Trinity College Dublin, and married the heiress to the magnificent Glin Castle, Co Limerick. If that’s what Eton now inculcates in its output, when considering schooling for your offspring maybe your local comprehensive might be a better choice. Taking the moral high ground – traditionally, the best place to attract admiration – involves behaving in a kinder gentler more compassionate way than your adversary. Like Mr Biden, who pulled several rather personal attack adverts from his campaign.
We do not know much, a man’s state of health rightly being between him and his doctors even when he is President of the US. But as the President returned confidently to the White House on Tuesday, you may wish to draw some of your own conclusions. You could conclude that it was all a con, or that he has been replaced by a body double, or that he was exaggerating his illness in the first place, or that he has dangerously overloaded his system with a cocktail of mostly untried drugs. Take your choice. Or of course, you may just think he had a mild dose of Covid in the first place, and like most sufferers, is recovering well. Good health, Mr President, and pace yourself.
What the matter has done is to throw attention onto the two persons running for Vice-President. And attention they do deserve; though, strangely, they have had little until now. Mr Biden, the President oft reminds his audiences, has his 78th birthday just after election day, and is thus an elderly man according to The Donald. Mr Trump is a mere 74, of course, a spring chicken, he likes to think. But the truth is both men are in the upper most quartile age group, and whilst both are fit, and in receipt no doubt of the finest medical attention and care, it is always possible in such a demanding and tiring job that their bodies or their minds could become incapable of doing the job, and that their vice-president might be called on to step up.
That is always that possibility, of course, but it rarely happens; Lyndon Johnson was the last Veep to move into the Oval Office, in 1963 in the most tragic circumstances, as did Harry Truman after the death of FDR in 1944. In fact, it is more often that the Veep has to cover up the indisposition of the President – George H W Bush after the shooting of Ronald Reagan in 1981, Richard Nixon secretly after Dwight Eisenhower’s heart attack in 1955. Particularly remarkable was the indisposition of Woodrow Wilson after a major stroke in 1919 when Wilson’s wife was the one who took power, preventing almost all access to the President, with no constitutional basis, and side-lining the Vice President, Thomas Marshall, who both Wilsons disliked and distrusted. And let’s not have any smugness on the east side of the Atlantic; when Churchill had a stroke in 1954 his effective deputy Anthony Eden was also ill and it was the 5th Marquess of Salisbury, Robert Cecil, who became effective head of the government – and de facto Foreign Secretary. You can never keep a Cecil down. But we digress.
Certainly, Mr Trump’s Veep, Mike Pence, has raised his profile since last week. Mr Trump is known to think very highly of Mr Pence who has stolen none of the President’s thunder, but has been a hardworking number 2, ensuring that things get done as the President would like. On policy Mr Pence seems to differ little from the views of Mr Trump (he is a mild centrist Republican in other words), but he is certainly different in style and language. But should Mr Trump not be able to continue his campaign, would Mike pick up middle class voters who might be repulsed by Donald – or would he lose low income working class votes that the President has captured from their traditional Democratic allegiance?
And in the blue corner, is Mr Biden seducing those voters back to their accustomed Democrat home; or does the thought of Kamala Harris, his vice presidential nomination, make them nervous as to what the Democrat Party is now all about? What does intrigue at the moment is that Ms Harris is not making much noise, but letting Joe run the headlines. Her job seems to be take a leaf out of the Bernie Sanders campaign book – and keep appealing for lots of small donations to fund the Democrat campaign. Nothing wrong with that of course, it was always a particular strength of the Sanders campaign. And to draw a contrast with a multi-billionaire President who seems to have some, shall we say, very complex tax affairs, will do no harm.
The Democrat campaign seems to focus largely on the folksy goodness of good old Joe and keep Kamala, a much more controversial person, out of the front line. Not least because she is controversial within her own party; her record as Attorney General of California for six years established her reputation as a hardliner, and her campaign for the presidential nomination earlier this year was embarrassingly gaffe ridden. Hardliner lawyers sell well in the GOP but not so strongly in the Democrat Party. Errors on the stump will merely draw attention away from Mr Biden, who is doing rather well at the moment.
But on Wednesday night both these modest deputies will have to emerge from semi-obscurity for the Vice Presidential debate, too late alas for the Shaw Sheet to tune in and report to you. But we confidently say that the debate will be much politer than the bad tempered Trump/Biden fisticuffs of last week; indeed there is a danger that both candidates will concentrate on being so excessively polite to each other that the nation, expecting fireworks allied with drama and comedy, will just switch over or go to bed early.
We cannot leave things there without a quick look at the current polls. Although the media would have you believe that Joe is pulling ahead rapidly in the voter’s preferences, that does rather depend on which polls you prefer to read. In fact, generally, he has either marginally, or not at all, increased his preference percentage, still though leaving him on track for a comfortable victory on November 3rd. Apart from one poll, much favoured by the New York Times, which gives him a 14% lead.
Don’t get complacent, Joe; that is exactly the same lead, in the same week, as Hillary Clinton was showing in 2016.