For the entirety of the 2020 campaign, President Trump’s team has barked that the polling is wrong, over-represents Democrats, under-represents Republicans, doesn’t properly account for Trump partisans refusing to play along, misses the intensity of voters, or whatever.
As I have noted before, all of that may be right, but it is immaterial.
What is material is that the presidential race has been static for the last four or so months, and that is bad news for presumptive Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden.
Let’s assume the survey results are, broadly speaking, correct. Right now, the former vice president holds a modest lead: an average of 6.4% in the polling results compiled by Real Clear Politics. That has been remarkably static for the last five months. On March 5, he led by an average of 5.5%. On May 5, it was again 5.5%. On June 5, it had grown to 7.1%. By July 5, it was even bigger at 8.7%.
In short, Mr. Biden’s lead has moved around in a 3-point range for 150 days, in a campaign that has about another 80 days left on it.
A peek inside the numbers provides a bit more insight. In the last nine polls that surveyed likely voters (rather than registered voters), the average lead is a little bit smaller at 5.7%. This is not surprising, as likely voters tend to tilt Republican. In the last two surveys of likely voters, Mr. Biden’s leads were just 3% and 4%.
So, there has been a steady, if marginal, drift downward in Mr. Biden’s lead, at least in the last 30 days. Time alone will tell if that will continue.
But the results taken as a whole should prompt some concern in the Biden camp. One way of looking at the race is that Mr. Biden has held onto a comfortable margin for a long time. Here’s another way: Despite everything that has happened in the last six months, Mr. Biden has been unable to put away the president.
Team Biden has been playing prevent defense for five months now, hiding the candidate and hoping he can hold off Mr. Trump for just another 80 days. The problem with that is by allowing the president to hang around, Mr. Biden has placed himself in a position in which the slightest mistake or hiccup on his part, or the slightest bit of good news for the president — a vaccine? unexpected economic good news? — may touch off a surge, even a modest one, for the president that may be dispositive.
Mr. Trump has taken the hardest punches that Mr. Biden and his media allies can throw at him and is still standing. It is still a fight.
For his part, Mr. Biden and his crew must understand that once you start playing not to lose, it is very difficult to regain the initiative (ask the Atlanta Falcons). They need to play the remainder of the campaign without error. That is why it seems very likely that they will do their best to avoid, postpone, delay, minimize, manage or otherwise evade the debates. The slightest error there or elsewhere could be enough to cost him the election.
On the other hand, if the president can convince voters that Mr. Biden is dangerous not because he may be sliding mentally, but because he will offer the largest tax increase in the history of the planet, that could make a meaningful difference in the race.
Or the president could argue that the next four years could be as good as the first three of his first term. Or that his second-term goals will include more chipping away at the regulatory state, or the removal of our soldiers from the Middle East and Afghanistan, or continuing to damage the Chinese regime by explicitly removing supply chains from China, or even draining the swamp by reducing the budget of the federal leviathan.
Any or all of those could be the MacGuffin in this race. But, as Tennyson reminded us with respect to another, more important, event, the time draws near.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.