The sun looks like it’s setting on the Orange Menace. The Republican National Convention, a.k.a. the Trump Show, did not do much for his re-election odds. The death toll from COVID-19, a by-product of Trump’s failed leadership, has topped 185,000. His ham-fisted measures to force schools to re-open are backfiring, exacerbating an already bad situation. And civil unrest shows no sign of ending.
What to do if you are Donald Trump, a man who believes that you can lie, intimidate, cheat, or steal your way out of bad situations? Do you meet with competent advisors, do a candid assessment of the problems faced by America (as opposed to himself) and map a way out of the woods?
Trump’s problem is that the same skills he developed as a sleazy New York real estate developer are the ones he relies on now. There is a serious deficit of competent advisors. Is Betsy DeVos the education expert to guide us on school re-openings? The problem is Trump has precious few competent advisors. His most trusted aides are sycophants. They reinforce Trump’s worst instincts, which, of course, are to ignore laws he doesn’t like, to influence people through fear, and, of course, to lie. These things worked in New York and New Jersey (sort of, because you must remember the bankruptcies), but they are not working now.
The curtain is coming down on Trump and he appears to know it. Thus, sportsman that he is, Trump has turned to a football favorite—the Hail Mary.
Trump’s Hail Marys almost always are based on the destruction, or attempted destruction, of his opponents. Thus, “Crooked Hillary” was created. Unfortunately for America, it worked in 2016. Enough people became convinced Hillary was indeed crooked that they overlooked her accuser’s own personal record. (Of course, insights into Trump’s business ethics through a review of his tax returns were not possible because he refused to release them.)
This time, one of Trump’s early Hail Marys was to do to Joe Biden what he did to Hillary. Trump attempted to paint Biden as corrupt in connection with his troubled son Hunter’s service on the board of directors of the Ukrainian firm Burisma. The implication was that Biden already had done what Trump was being accused of in his sorry episode with Ukraine where he attempted to leverage American military assistance to launch an investigation into Biden’s “corruption.” Talk about a Hail Mary! Discredit Biden and distract attention from your own corruption at the same time. Unfortunately for Trump, he got caught. He got impeached for it. Whatever Biden and his son may have done in Ukraine no longer seems to be an issue among any voters other than the Trump cheering section.
Another Hail Mary has been the effort to paint Biden as a socialist. We all hate communism, don’t we? This Hail Mary involves suggesting that Biden will adopt a New Green Deal, raise everyone’s taxes, encourage abortions up to the date of delivery, and end capitalism. Unfortunately for Trump, Biden has a long track record of being a moderate. That’s why he almost lost the nomination. The “socialism” Hail Mary is proving to be a dud.
Let’s also label the fiasco with the Post Office a Hail Mary. First, he hires Louis DeJoy, a campaign contributor with no experience in running a postal service and with plenty of conflicts of interest. DeJoy is charged with the task of undermining the reliability of the Post Office. Trump now is attempting to suppress turnout by suggesting that mail-in voting is fraught with fraud. The message: Voting by mail is fraught with fraud and your vote might not get counted anyway—so why vote? This Hail Mary backfired. You can call it a fumble. His Postmaster General is now being investigated for attempting to destroy the Post Office. No credible evidence of fraud in the past has been found. Trump has slunk away from the issue.
Most recently, we have been witnessing Trump’s attempt to “fast-track” a coronavirus vaccine. If that vaccine can be developed and announced before election day, maybe voters will forget the series of blunders that could form the basis of a chronicle of Trump’s handling of the virus that could be titled, “While Donald Watched TV.” Trump thinks he could yet emerge as a hero of the pandemic. Sounds like an 80-yard Hail Mary to me. Expect an incomplete pass.
Finally, we have the emergence of Trump as the law-and-order President. This Hail Mary consists of blaming the riots on Democrat governors and mayors, suggesting that Biden and others coddle rioters and may welcome violence, and that only he can stop efforts to defund police. White women and the suburbs are in danger. Unfortunately for Trump, his attempt to capitalize on violence may not be moving the polls in his direction as much as he hoped. What to do? Encourage your supporters to engage in counter-protests. Praise them, even when they engage in violence. And visit troubled cities even when those cities’ mayors plead with you to stay home. Kenosha. Find excuses for police murder and misconduct. Did you see Trump equate the murder of Jacob Blake with a golfer choking and missing a three-foot putt? You can’t make this stuff up.
Expect more Hail Marys in the next 62 days before the election. It will get worse—it always does with a candidate who has no character or conscience. Hopefully, the quality of Trump’s efforts to date is an indicator of what he will come up with next. If that happens, Trump will leave the national political arena for good in January. But don’t forget that it’s dangerous to underestimate Trump. We must make every effort to get out the vote and to encourage people to vote early. Our lives depend on it.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. For more than 30 years, he advised clients on federal education and social service policy.