By Larry Sheingold –
One thing to remember about elections. They’re comparisons, not referendums, a distinction that’s helped many an incumbent retain office.
Ballots offer choices. No matter how disappointing or alarming an officeholder’s record, no matter how many promises broken or efforts de-railed, if a politician can convince voters that the opponent is a worse choice, he or she is likely on the way to re-election.
This explains one of the axioms of politics. Make the other guy the issue.
This can take several forms, generally by posing one or both of these campaign questions. What do you want that my opponent opposes? What do you want stopped that my opponent won’t stop?
Which brings us to today. If this year’s Presidential election is a referendum on Trump, if he allows himself to be the issue, he’ll lose. But it won’t play out that way. Not exclusively, at least, because among the things this incumbent does well is making comparisons.
The choices, as he frames them, may be fallacious, but no one practices and appreciates the art of belittling by comparison better than Trump. It is fundamental and instinctive to him.
As Joe Biden gets closer to the Democratic National Convention and the presidential nomination, expect the Republican comparison machine to ramp up. We are already seeing indications that a GOP probe into Hunter Biden and his relationship with the Ukrainian gas company Burisma is picking up steam.
Some see it as this year’s version of the attack on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account during her State Department tenure, with anticipated chants of “lock him up” to follow.
It is just one of many possible avenues Republicans will explore to recapture alienated voters who might find Trump unacceptable, except in comparison to the Democratic nominee.
Of course, Bernie Sanders will still be heard from. If he perceives the chance for a brokered convention, expect him to do his own ramping up of attacks on Biden.
But one thing is certain. We are now well into the season of make-the-other-guy-the-issue and before November, Americans will be exposed to escalating name-calling as candidates practice the art of comparison.
Because, in this country, elections are a choice, not a referendum.
(Larry Sheingold is a retired political consultant who lives in Sacramento CA)