Opinion by Max Boot
July 15, 2020 at 4:17 p.m. EDT
President Trump has never had much of a positive program — and he certainly doesn’t have one today. Asked repeatedly to explain his second-term agenda, he has been unable to articulate anything except his trademark list of grievances, vanities and resentments.
But in the past, it didn’t matter much because he was so effective at tearing down his opponents with insults, nasty nicknames and baseless charges. He couldn’t make most voters like him, but he could convince them to hate his opponent. In 2016, he did quite a number on “Crooked Hillary” with the aid of Russian intelligence. Former attorney general Jeff Sessions’s defeat in the Alabama Senate primary shows that Trump hasn’t entirely lost his touch for tearing down the objects of his wrath.
But, as Trump made clear in his Rose Garden news conference-turned-campaign rally on Tuesday, he hasn’t had any luck so far in battering his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden. Trump prides himself on being a “counterpuncher,” but none of his punches have landed yet. He hasn’t even managed to tag Biden with a nasty nickname — neither “Corrupt Joe” nor “Sleepy Joe” has stuck in the way that “Low Energy Jeb” or “Lil’ Marco” did.
The problem, from Trump’s perspective, is that Biden isn’t an African American like Barack Obama, a woman like Hillary Clinton or a socialist like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). He’s a boring, moderate white guy who has been around forever without ever being demonized in the way that Clinton was for decades. Even his base voters will have trouble seeing Uncle Joe as someone who is plotting to promote a “far-left fascism” and to “end America” — the accusations that Trump hurled at the left on July 3. As Biden himself would say in his charming throwback way: “C’mon man!”
For a sign of how flummoxed the Trump campaign is, look no further than the tweet that Steve Guest, the rapid response director of the Republican National Committee, posted on Monday afternoon showing Biden with one of his children who was wearing a Washington football team hat. “Hey Joe Biden, are you still a Redskins fan?” Guest taunted. The message seemed to be that Biden is a good father — and not politically correct. No wonder Guest had to rapidly take down the tweet after being mocked mercilessly on Twitter.
Trump is like an aging fighter who has lost his touch but keeps flailing away while his opponent easily ducks his blows. That accounts for his Rose Garden tirade, which was batty even by his standards. The ostensible reason for the news conference was the announcement of well-deserved sanctions on China for its crackdown in Hong Kong. But it turned into an extended diatribe against Biden, with Trump trotting out one specious attack after another.
The president accused his Democratic challenger of wanting to abolish suburbs (because he wants to reduce racial segregation in housing) and windows (because he wants to reduce energy usage). Those accusations are so bizarre they occasioned a collective double-take even from veteran Trumpologists. Trump was no more convincing in claiming that Biden will abolish the detention of undocumented immigrants (a Sanders-Biden policy task force said: “We believe detention should be a last resort, not the default”) and “defund our military” (Biden wants to shift some defense funding to other priorities such as public health).
Trump accused Biden of allowing “China to pillage our factories, plunder our communities and steal our most precious secrets” because, like most Republican lawmakers, Biden favored normalizing trade relations with China 20 years ago. Biden’s son Hunter made his usual appearance — “Where’s Hunter?” — as Trump again accused him of corrupt dealings in Ukraine and China. Trump got himself impeached trying to make this case, but his accusations against Hunter have not even gained the saliency of his false claim that Hillary Clinton sold our uranium to Russia.
Trump even accused Biden — a supporter of the Iraq War and the author of a tough crime bill who is roundly reviled by leftists for being a corporate sellout — of now being part of the “radical left” because, since winning enough delegates for the nomination, he has tried to heal the rift with the Sanders wing of the party.
Fact-checkers could barely keep up with this blizzard of bunkum. Trump accused Biden of everything save for being a pedophile — a charge that Donald Trump Jr. advanced in May. But the very variety of accusations simply highlights the fact that none is effective. Trump can’t find a vulnerability to exploit, so he keeps firing off smears in the hope that one of them scores a lucky hit.
So far, Biden has stayed safely out of the line of fire in keeping with Napoleon’s advice to his marshals: “When your enemy is executing a false movement, never interrupt him.” At this rate, Biden’s most effective campaign strategy might be to never come out of his basement, leaving Trump to rage in frustration and futility.