Now we know why Mike Bloomberg got that primo convention speaking spot, although we should note that he’s getting off cheap. Back in January, he was talking about spending $1 billion to defeat Donald Trump. By summer, it was hundreds of millions. Now he’s down to $100 million, and only in Florida.
But hey. It’s still a lot of dosh. And Florida is the game. Consider: If Joe Biden wins Hillary Clinton’s states and Florida, that’s 262 electoral votes right there. He would need to win only one of these states—Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, or North Carolina—to top 270.
So it’s good that Bloomy is spending this money. But the question is, on what? Aimed at whom? Here we get to a reality I suspect a lot of liberals aren’t thinking about, which is this. You and I and nearly everybody we know thinks Trump is a fascist. But a lot of people don’t, and this election is probably going to be decided by people who don’t think Trump is a fascist. And Joe Biden has to talk more to them than to us.
I’m not talking about the MAGA people. I’m talking about undecided voters. Yes, they exist. They’re about 6 percent right now.
Assuming a vote of, say, 140 million, which is more than 2016 but not crazy, that’s 8.4 million or so voters. They’re really frustrating people, by and large. They’re your classic low-information voters, people who’ll make up their minds in the last 48 hours. The republic isn’t at stake for these voters. They want a good economy and, under current circumstances, they’d like life to get back to normal as soon as possible.
They probably think Trump is rude, not very presidential, and kind of an asshole; but they don’t think it’s any worse than that. They don’t connect his assholery to history or ideology or the world of ideas, because they don’t live in the world of ideas. And as for Trump’s corruption, they mistakenly believe that all politicians are corrupt and in it for themselves, and Trump is maybe worse than the lot, but only by degree, not in kind.
Bloomberg, it seems to me, needs to spend the bulk of that $100 million convincing these people that Joe Biden is more likely to make both of those things happen. A Florida Democratic consultant told The Washington Post Sunday that it would cost around $15-20 million to move Biden’s numbers among the state’s Latinos, where he’s underperforming, and $60 to $70 million to blanket the state for the last 50 days. So that’s enough money, as long as the message is right.
And the message just needs to be the usual, simple, bread-and-butter economic stuff. The convention was wanting in this regard. No clear economic message came out of the convention, which felt more aimed at the base. That’s fine—he needs a massive African American turnout, so all that talk at the convention about police violence and systemic racism, talk that would have mortified moderate Democrats of 20 years ago, was galvanizing.
Post-convention, Biden has been doing a pretty good job of talking to the low-infos. The Michigan speech keyed in on proposals that would reward businesses for making their products in the United States, which is a big deal in Michigan.
But he still trails Trump in polls that ask people who’d be better at handling the economy. His campaign needs to do a better job of convincing people that Trump’s awful handling of the virus made the economic downturn far worse than it might have been.
A big sleeper issue here is Social Security. Trump not long ago called for permanent elimination of the payroll tax. The payroll tax of course funds both Social Security and Medicare.
Trump says it’ll be made up for out of the general treasury, because growth is going to be the greatest, like nothing you’ve ever seen, and it’ll all be fine. Right. Remember in 2016 how he was saying that growth under him would easily hit 4 percent, maybe 5 or 6, maybe higher? Here’s the GDP growth during Trump’s first three years in office: 2.22 percent, 3.18 percent, and 2.33 percent. And, of course , it was down more than 5 percent in both of the first two quarters of this year.
Trump will end Social Security. Period. Either it will collapse, or financing it and Medicare out of the general treasury will absolutely strafe other functions of government. Social Security pays out more than a trillion dollars every year in benefits, and Medicare costs around $750 billion a year; by contrast, entire non-defense discretionary spending, which is basically all domestic spending on education and the environment and everything, is $660 billion.
You can do the math as easily as I can. If the federal government suddenly has to finance $1.75 trillion out of the general treasury, it will stop cleaning rivers, building highways, caring for veterans, and a hundred other things that people actually care about.
But that isn’t even the main point. The main point is that it’s more likely that Social Security and Medicare will just die with their funding source gone. After Trump made his announcement, the Social Security Administration’s chief actuary wrote that if the payroll tax is eliminated, the fund will go broke in 2023. That’s three years. From now.
It is utter madness. It’s the single stupidest thing I’ve ever heard a presidential candidate say. Biden—and Bloomberg, especially in Florida—needs to just hammer Trump on this. This should cost Trump millions of votes.
It’s always been said that Social Security is the third rail of American politics. I guess we’ll find out. Biden had some forceful sentences about this in his recent Pittsburgh speech, but since that speech was chiefly about police and rioting (the “news” of the speech was that he denounced looting and rioting), it didn’t get any press pickup. He needs to hammer Trump on this at the debates.
It’s kind of shocking and depressing that it’s not enough to turn our fellow Americans and say simply: Just look at that madman; he is destroying democracy. But it’s not. As abnormal as Trump makes everything, there are still ways in which this will be a normal election. Biden still has to win the economic argument, or at least fight it to a draw.