What remains for the press to tell us about Donald Trump or Joe Biden we haven’t heard thousands of times before? Must we really endure four and a half months more of presidential campaigning—the conventions, the TV ads, the tedious whistle-stopping, the endless polling, the non-stop donation grubbing, and all the endless press commentaries before we get to vote? Trump is still capable of surprising us, but he’s plowed that outrageous groove so deep and wide his antics rarely shock anymore. Likewise, Biden, who started running for president 32 years ago and occupied the vice presidency spotlight for two terms, has become so politically shop-worn the registrar of voters should retire him to the markdown table.
Tradition and civic duty, of course, command us to track the comings and goings of Trumpworld and Planet Biden. But we in the media seem to be rejecting those calls. Presidential campaign news, no matter how much excitement journos tried to pour into it, was officially sidelined first in March by the emergence of Covid-19. Sideline became a time-out once governments imposed the lockdown: Biden disappeared into his basement like a political prisoner and Trump produced a score of televised Covid-19 briefings that ground the campaign to a halt. Then, just as we commenced Phase 1 of America’s grand reopening, and presidential campaign news prepared for its comeback, the George Floyd protests commandeered the news cycle and commandeer it still. By one count, marches and rallies have been held in 2,000 cities and in all 50 states, all of them displacing the usual campaign news.
Oh, campaign coverage has continued through the plague and the protests. There’s polling pieces galore. The Republicans and Democrats still intend to mount their national conventions in August, but nobody expects the scaled-down events to be anything but simulacrums of previous conventions. Trump remains determined to give his acceptance speech to a live audience of thousands in Jacksonville, even though that might well result in the deaths of some of them. (He hopes to block rally attendees from pinning liability on him by making them sign waivers, but the legal consensus has declared his waivers ploy invalid.) And who knows what sort of production the Democrats might stage? Biden seems opposed to the sort of human sacrifice Trump has planned, so we should expect something less human. Perhaps a Milwaukee venue stuffed to the rafters with cheering holograms of his supporters swatting virtual balloons dropped from the ceiling?
People have been speculating for some time that Trump might attempt to postpone the election so he can continue to serve without actually winning the election. He can’t do that, of course, as it’s up to Congress to set the times of elections. But shifting the election might not be such a bad idea. Why slog through an interminable campaign and all the disposable campaign coverage that comes with it, when the superior alternative would be to persuade Congress to move Election Day forward? My preference would be to hold the election today, but I would settle for mid-to-late July. And why not? Great Britain has no trouble mixing the ingredients for a national election and serving it in a matter of weeks as opposed to the year and a half we take to bake one. (Trump announced his reelection campaign a year ago. Biden announced almost 14 months ago. But the “feels like” duration is an eternity.)
Consider the upsides of a snap presidential election. It would spare us the tedium of observing and reading about the national conventions, those sleep-inducing affairs that only journalists look forward to because the confabs give them an expense-account chance to party. No disrespect for my talented colleagues who cover the conventions, but perhaps their talents would be better deployed on other, less predictable kinds of political news. Oh, what bliss it would be if stories about which candidate got the biggest “convention bounce” went unwritten!
Other upsides: A snap election would almost surely make the scheduling of a presidential debate impossible, which would also be good. Presidential debates are a waste of time, says research from the Harvard Business School, having as it does only a negligible effect on voter choice. Like sports fans, voters generally pick who to root well before they view the match. Trump’s approval ratings have remained embarrassingly low throughout his presidency, indicating that the man who keeps citing the backing of the “Silent Majority” can summon a thumbs up from only a minority.
Please don‘t mistake my idea for an endorsement of whoever happens to be ahead. At the moment, it‘s Biden, but who knows? Back in 2016, Hillary looked like a shoo-in right until she lost. And the way the polls are going, Trump just might want to take his chances now. Campaigns would probably still run atrocious TV ads, but at least the torment wouldn’t go on for months and the millions spent on airing them might go toward something more productive. Fewer canvassers would visit your doorstep. Fewer pieces of direct mail would clog your mailbox.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there’s something new to learn about Trump and Biden that will steer our political persuasions into new directions. But can’t imagine what that new thing might be. The problem with the never-ending presidential campaigns is not that they deliver diminishing returns. It’s that they deliver no returns.
We eat when we’re hungry. Why shouldn’t we be able to vote when we’re ready?
I’ve thrown down the gantlet. What’s to learn about Trump and Biden that might change your vote? Send ideas to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts have attended every presidential nominating convention since Harry Truman was anointed. My Twitter feed collects campaign literature but only reads bumper stickers. My RSS feed always votes for “none of the above.”