Nine months, in politics, is a long time, but for an American presidential campaign, it is simply an eternity: Donald Trump and Joe Biden will engage in a duel between now and November that is as exhausting as it is interminable, under the gaze of an America already tired.
If further proof was needed that this race until November 5 will be unlike any other, it was given on Thursday.
First there was the devastating report from a special prosecutor, in a case of confidential documents, pinpointing the failing memory of the 81-year-old Democrat.
Then there was this incredible spectacle of a livid American president, hastily summoning the press to say: “I’m an old man and I know what I’m doing, dammit. I don’t have memory problems “.
Usually, it is in the summer, after the official inauguration of the candidates of each party, Republican and Democratic, that the fight becomes really intense.
– Weariness –
But this election is definitely not ordinary.
Firstly because, almost from the beginning, the duettists were known. Neither the Democratic president nor the 77-year-old Republican tycoon has serious competition in the primaries.
Then, because it pits the current president against a predecessor, a scenario all the more unusual since the latter, moreover, still refuses to recognize his defeat in 2020.
Finally, because this return match is already exhausting the electorate.
A University of Massachusetts poll released on February 5 found that 53% of respondents would prefer Trump not to be the candidate, and 57% said the same of Biden.
However, everyone remains convinced that they are the best possible candidate. And each week that passes makes the prospect of one or the other withdrawing more unlikely – barring a serious accident, particularly health-related.
– Gaffes –
This brings us back to the question of the age of the two candidates, who will exhaust their bodies with incessant travel and repeated speeches.
All the polls show that on this issue, voters are more worried about Biden than about Trump.
The Democrat, whose moments of confusion are scrutinized more closely than those, however undeniable, of his opponent, “must show voters that he has the strength and cognitive abilities required, and the only way would be to put himself in spontaneous situations, where they see him think and answer questions in real time,” underlines Robert Rowland, professor of political communication at the University of Kansas.
But it is precisely during impromptu exchanges that Joe Biden is most likely to mix up the names of foreign leaders or stammer.
Conversely, if the octogenarian protects himself, he maintains suspicions – for example by refusing to give the traditional interview on Sunday preceding the Super Bowl, the final of the American football championship, to disproportionate audiences.
His supporters, however, want to believe that time is on his side. By November, they believe, Americans will better understand the good economic health, and the “nightmare” – Biden’s word – that a new Trump mandate would be.
– Judicial calendar –
Academic Robert Rowland draws a parallel with Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign, which got off to a bad start. But the former actor had managed to take credit for a good economic situation and to be re-elected.
Except, the professor emphasizes, “Reagan had a gift for reviving the American dream that Biden does not have.”
Who says endless campaign, also says search for relays to distribute the effort.
On the Democratic side, Biden can mobilize the young guard – certain dynamic governors like Gavin Newsom (California) or Gretchen Whitmer (Michigan) – or even Barack Obama, with undeniable charisma.
Trump, for his part, should rely mainly on the fervor that his person and his message continue to arouse.
The Republican presents himself as a providential man, the only one capable of saving America from “decline” and protecting the working classes against the enemies he himself designates, namely immigrants and the “elites”.
What could work against the 77-year-old tycoon is the legal time, with the various proceedings opened against him, four of which are criminal.
By November, if one of these procedures results in a conviction, the electoral tide could turn.
A recent poll made public by NBC puts the Republican ahead of Biden in terms of voting intention (47% against 42%). But when we ask the voters surveyed who they would vote for if Trump were convicted, the result was reversed: 45% for the current president, 43% for his predecessor.