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Trump’s closing argument is against a fake Joe Biden

He desperately wants to run against “the radical left” instead.

Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden Campaigns In Georgia
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks during a drive-in campaign rally on October 27, 2020, in Atlanta, Georgia
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Donald Trump on Sunday morning tweeted that he is making gains with young Black voters (which seems to be true), and that the reason for this is that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden “called Black Youth SUPER PREDATORS,” which didn’t happen (Trump followed up that Biden used the phrase “according to my sources”).

Trump has said this many, many times on the campaign trail — presumably because his campaign wielded the “superpredators” attack against Hillary Clinton in 2016. And while there’s no real evidence that it was a particularly effective strategy, Trump’s now-former campaign manager Brad Parscale touted it as effective. But whether or not it worked in 2016, it is true that Hillary Clinton used the word in reference to Black youths.

Joe Biden, by contrast, has not. In fact, he is on record saying most youth, Black or not, “are not the so-called ‘superpredators.’”

This is just one example of a consistent feature of Trump’s closing argument against Biden. Rather than attacking the candidate for his actual proposals, he’s invented a different person to run against: one who is too conservative — on matters like race — but simultaneously too liberal.

Trump is running against the “radical left” — of which Biden is not a part

Back in February, it briefly seemed like Sen. Bernie Sanders would win the Democratic nomination, and Trump planned to run for reelection as a firewall protecting America from the threat of a socialist takeover.

But that didn’t happen. Biden won the nomination, and unsurprisingly so, given that he was in the lead for the vast majority of the 2020 primary cycle. And while he did tack left on a couple of issues — notably promising a short-term moratorium on deportations until some Trump-era policies could be reviewed (before backing off this position), and reversing his longstanding support for the Hyde Amendment to align his position with Barack Obama’s — he mostly took heat from the left and beat them.

Trump has responded to this triumph of meliorist liberalism by basically ignoring that it happened. When Biden isn’t being painted as a knuckle-dragging racist based on fake quotes from the mid-1990s, he’s being cast as an avatar of the radical left.

To the extent that there’s an actual argument here, the notion is that Biden is too “sleepy” to make decisions for himself, and thus will be manipulated by “the Radical Left” behind the scenes.

Trump also wants to argue that it’s suspicious that Biden has not released a list of potential Supreme Court nominees, creating another vector for the alleged takeover by the radical left.

In fact, no major party nominee other than Trump has ever released such a list — and Brett Kavanaugh did not appear on it, so it’s not clear what value such a list would have. (If you are curious, Biden has promised to nominate a Black woman, and here’s a brief list of plausible candidates.)

Trump is also closing with the argument that Biden wants to “ban fracking” (he does not) and even “ban mining,” which to the best of my knowledge nobody has proposed.

Trump’s basic problem is that while Biden’s policy agenda is extensive and constitutes the most progressive platform any Democrat has run on in generations, this largely reflects a leftward movement of public opinion. Political scientists create an aggregate measure of public views on policy issues that they call “policy mood,” and in the most recent update, Americans’ preference for liberal policies reached a 60-year high. That made the victory of a true left-winger like Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth Warren at least plausible. But it also means that a more cautious, paint-by-numbers politician like Biden who follows the polls pretty closely can run on a fairly expansive agenda.

Trump’s plan to counter this shift in opinion is just to make things up.

Trump’s distortions extend to Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic does not have a particularly close connection to traditional ideological battles.

But here, too, Trump’s plan is to rely on fabrication. He says that Biden wants to “LOCKDOWN our country, maybe for years” as his approach to the pandemic.

That would be awfully extreme if true, but of course it’s not true. Biden’s actual Covid-19 plan includes no calls for a national lockdown. It does include the idea of more financial relief for business and state governments, so that local decisions about business restrictions can be made more on the basis of public health, and less on staving off bankruptcy. Conversely, Trump has taken to not just arguing against a fake Biden’s national lockdown but falsely claiming that America’s doctors are inflating Covid-19 death numbers for profit.

Lying about things is not new to Trump, and to be honest it’s worked pretty well for him throughout his career. But trying to BS his way through a pandemic may just exceed the domain of what flimflam can accomplish.