President Donald Trump’s falling approval ratings, an economy in free fall, a public in panic due to the coronavirus pandemic – for these very real reasons, it would appear that any Democratic Party nominee should have a clear path to the White House in November.
That nominee appears now to be former Vice President Joe Biden, as Senator Bernie Sanders ended his campaign for the United States presidency last week and endorsed Biden a few days later. Others have also endorsed Biden, including former President Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren, who ended her campaign to be the Democratic Party nominee in March.
Yet a Trump loss and Biden win is no guarantee. If Biden does not seriously begin campaigning, then it is more than likely that Trump will be re-elected.
True, right now, he is not holding large rallies that attract thousands and energise his followers. With the coronavirus pandemic making everyone shelter in place around the country, would this not critically derail the Trump re-election campaign?
Not necessarily. His campaign has been investing considerably in online campaigning. On Facebook, his campaign has spent millions on advertising, for example.
There are also his media allies, for instance, at Fox News. While they were initially ridiculed for downplaying the global pandemic, many of the commentators at the station have since reckoned with the new normal that the virus has caused in the US. Still, many at the news outlet cover the pandemic differently when compared to others, tending to side with the president whenever possible.
There is also the electoral disaster that voters had to endure on April 7 in the critical battleground state of Wisconsin, where Republicans denied the request by Democrat Governor Tony Evers to postpone the primary election. As a result, voters had to stand in line for hours, practising social distancing on their way to the polls.
In effect, voters were made to choose between their health and exercising their constitutional right to select their leaders. The Supreme Court weighed in, not only allowing the election to proceed, but also placing a limit on the time for absentee ballots to be turned in late. The court ultimately ruled that the primary election should go on, regardless of the fact that the number of coronavirus cases in the state was continuing to rise.
The Supreme Court decision is not something to ignore. Effectively, the court has decided to leave decisions about elections to individual states.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has a long history of holding such a position, even forming part of the majority in the court that significantly weakened the Voting Rights Act – a central piece of 1960s Civil Rights-era legislation that sought to ensure free and fair elections for people of colour, particularly in areas of the country that were known for racial discrimination.
Wisconsin is not the only state where voting rights are being challenged. There are other states where voting rights have been curtailed, including Georgia, Texas and North Carolina. From purging the rolls of registered voters, to creating voter ID requirements, many states around the US have made real efforts to suppress the vote.
Moreover, it is low-income folks and, particularly, people of colour who have been disproportionately affected by such restrictions.
For the Democrats, this is an acute problem – the very people who have been targeted by voter suppression efforts tend to lean left, casting their ballots for the Democrats, and not for the Republicans.
It is safe to say that this electoral year is a veritable minefield for Democrats, due principally to Trump’s campaigning acumen, and the Republicans’ success in distorting electoral rules in their favour.
Enter Joe Biden.
Are he and his campaign up to the task of navigating this treacherous political terrain?
Honestly, it is hard to say – after all, it was Bernie Sanders who was making regular public appearances, even if they were virtual, as the pandemic spread throughout the US.
And Biden? Did he rise to the occasion? Did he make public declarations, rallying the public to his campaign?
Not really – for the most part, he has been silent. He apparently placed a call to Trump to discuss the crisis, remarking that the government needs to “take responsibility“.
How is that for a platitude? Sure, the government needs to be responsible, but what else? What about ensuring the provision of the much-needed ventilators that hospital workers are demanding, or guaranteeing the safety of the millions of food system workers who keep restaurants open and food in the grocery stores? Did Biden call Trump out for neglecting these folks? No, he did not.
What about Wisconsin? Here, again, Biden fails – he essentially sided with the Supreme Court by leaving it up to the state to decide what to do.
Meanwhile, Biden has asked for the support of Sanders’s followers.
But on what grounds would they give it? Look at Biden’s positions – he does not support Medicare for All and he supported President Barack Obama’s approach to immigration, which included mass deportations. This latter policy position will make it hard for him to earn the support of Latinos.
Young people have been turning away from the former vice president’s campaign for lots of reasons, including that they tend to hold more liberal positions than older Democrats, do not have the same nostalgia for Obama and are not persuaded that Biden is more electable than Sanders.
We also know that there are thousands of Bernie supporters – in swing states – who in 2016, voted for Trump when Sanders was not an option.
Meanwhile, Trump makes daily appearances in his press briefings. Yes, he is regularly called out for lying and underemphasising the severity of the pandemic.
Yet, when this crisis subsides – and according to some reporting on lower-than-expected death rates, we may see a certain return to normal in September – it will be Trump who will take credit for bringing things under control.
The real question that we need to pose to Biden is not where has he been during these difficult days of the coronavirus pandemic, but instead, what is his plan moving forward?
More to the point, when will he start to campaign seriously, bringing in Sanders supporters, and offering a viable, real model of leadership for a country that is in dire need of direction?
If Biden chooses to continue his silence, then Trump will surely fill the void and, with his media allies and the millions of dollars in his campaign coffers, the Republican will fight like hell to keep the presidency.
Will Biden show equal resolve to take it from him? Judging from his actions until now, it is doubtful.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.