An article by: Greg Erlandson

Super Tuesday resolved the last doubts: the 2020 challenge will come up again. A very expensive election campaign that will last eight months, from now until November, is about to begin. Biden's weakness is old age; Trump's weakness is a streak of judicial obstruction. Both candidates must convince wavering voters on the other side. Crucial topics primarily are the domestic U.S. economy and immigration. Geopolitics is the unknown in the background

Nikki Haley won 20 to 40% of the votes cast, highlighting the weaknesses of Trump’s campaign. Here Biden sees an opportunity

The United States elects a president every four years, but increasingly it feels like the campaigns, the news coverage and the speculation consume at least two of those years.

After months of debates, millions of dollars in advertising and several early primaries, “Super Tuesday” arrived, with 15 states holding primaries or caucuses. Both President Joe Biden and ex-President Donald Trump had commanding wins on March 5, and their chief competitors suspended their races the next day.

With about half of the states having voted so far, the final two candidates are already anointed by virtue of a lack of meaningful opposition. This means that, while there are still more state primaries to come, all eyes now turn to the general election, with eight more months of campaigning before November.

Trump’s main surviving rival, Nikki Haley, outlasted nine other candidates and put up a feisty campaign after a slow start. She challenged the “chaos” of Trump, raised questions about his age, and argued for what was once Republican orthodoxy: Lower taxes, less government, and strong military and diplomatic alliances. She lumped both Biden and Trump together, calling them “grumpy old men.”

The result: She won only one state – Vermont – and the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.), but she regularly attracted 20-40 percent of the votes cast. Both Democratic and Republican observers say this points to weaknesses in Trump’s campaign, especially among suburban women and the college educated. This has been noted by the Biden campaign as well, which sees an opportunity.

In her speech announcing the suspension of her presidential campaign, Haley pointedly did not endorse Trump. Instead, she threw down a challenge to the presumptive nominee of her party: “It is now up to Donald Trump to earn the votes of those in our party and beyond who did not support him, and I hope he does that.”

For Trump, who promised to “get even” with Haley because of her stubborn opposition, and who mocked her name, her husband and even called her a “bird brain,” it will remain to be seen if he can now shift gears and woo more disaffected members of his own party. So far, he has been dismissive of Republicans who do not support him, calling them RINOs (Republicans in Name Only).

AdImpact predicts that ad spending for the presidential election will total $2.7 billion dollars

For Biden, Super Tuesday culminated with giving him almost all the delegates he needs to be the party’s nominee. His chief opponent, Rep. Dean Phillips, a Democratic congressman from Minnesota, withdrew and endorsed Biden in the wake of Super Tuesday results. Phillips was not well known and his campaign attracted little attention.

While the Democratic and Republican political conventions will not be held till summer, and the traditional start of the national campaigns used to be after Labor Day in early September, for all intents and purposes, the national campaigns have begun.

Biden and Trump start with tens of millions of dollars in campaign cash. The Biden campaign as of the end of January had $56 million, while the Trump campaign had $30 million. Of course, there are numerous other political action committees also building their war chests. The ad tracking firm AdImpact predicts the total ad expenditures for the presidential race alone could be $2.7 billion.

Trump has one large disadvantage. He faces 34 felony charges in various prosecutions, and he is already facing fines resulting from civil suits that, with interest, total nearly half a billion dollars. Critics say Trump’s motivation for winning reelection is fueled in part by a desire to engineer the dismissal of the federal prosecutions, but the fines continue to be a burden on his personal finances as he appeals the penalties.

For Biden, his Achilles heel has been his age. Should he win reelection, he will be 82 at his inauguration. Republicans have already released ads hammering this issue. Although medical reports say he is of sound mind and good health, even his supporters express concern.

Part of this is his stiff gait, which doctors blame on arthritis, and his tendency for verbal slips. Democrats are quick to point out that Trump has been notorious for his moments of confusion and verbal mistakes as well.

Biden, appearing on a late-night talk show recently, was asked about his age. “Take a look at the other guy,” Biden said. “He’s about as old as I am.” Indeed, Trump is only three years younger than Biden.

Age has been an issue before in American presidential races. In 1984, Ronald Reagan was 73 when he was running for reelection against Walter Mondale. Knowing that his age had become an issue, during a debate Reagan promised: “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” The joke even caused his opponent to laugh, and Reagan went on to win in a landslide.

The age debate makes us lose sight of the real issues: America’s relationship with the world, competition with China, the deficit, immigration…

Haley’s critique of both candidates as too old has resonated with many, but Biden’s defenders point to his track record of accomplishments, his overall health and his engagement with the issues of the day. Indeed, both Trump and Biden are intellectually and physically active. Both do suffer from memory lapses that can be unnerving, but are not signs of dementia.

As one doctor put it, not remembering where you parked your car is a normal memory lapse that comes with age. Not remembering that you own a car would be something more serious.

Lost in all of this are the very real issues that need to be debated. America’s relationship to the world, particularly NATO. Trade or trade war with China. The growing U.S. deficit. Inflation. Immigration and the southern border. Abortion and, now, in vitro fertilization, also labeled as reproductive health. The wars in Ukraine, Gaza and, though much more ignored, Sudan.

Trump, who avoided debating his primary opponents, has already challenged Biden to a debate, but whether there will be a substantive discussion of these and other issues remains to be seen. Past debates give us little reason to hope.

The next four years will likely be a continuation of many of the same crises and challenges America is facing now. And while attention will be focused on the presidential race, just as important will be which party controls the House of Representatives and the Senate. On these elections may hinge whether the U.S. government becomes more effective or more dysfunctional over the next few years.


Greg Erlandson