The American President

There’s a scene in the excellent Rob Reiner film The American President where the fictional Commander-in-chief Andrew Shepherd is giving an impromptu address to assembled media in the White House Press Briefing Room and says, speaking via live TV coverage, to his challenger, Bob Rumson, that being President of the United States was, to some extent, about character. With one week to go until election day here in the United States, I think some parallels can be drawn between Aaron Sorkin’s excellent writing from the aforementioned film and the current race for the White House. Those who watched the final televised debate last Thursday between incumbent President Donald Trump and challenger, and former Vice-President, Joe Biden, might have been pondering the differences between the two men, not just on policy but regarding character too.

With only a week of campaigning to go, the polls have Joe Biden winning by a solid margin. At the time of writing, there had been no, obvious collapse in perceived support for the Democrat candidate, according to the latest polls. Not that the pollsters were very accurate last time around, and not that winning the popular vote matters so much, as Hillary Clinton found out. According to CNN, though, Biden is around 9 to 10 points ahead nationally, ahead in the majority of key ‘battleground states’ and has brought a number of Republican states into play this time around, such as Texas and Georgia, which all seems to bode well for him. One element that is very different this election year is the way in which a large number of the electorate have dramatically changed the way in which they vote. Whether it is because of COVID-19 or the high-profile media coverage about potential mail fraud, there is no doubt that voters are taking advantage of mail in voting and early voting like never before, with 66 million voters having already cast their ballots – a massive increase on the 2016 campaign. One additional factor in this could be that voters had already made up their minds well before the election date appeared on the horizon, as it would be a massive understatement to say the country was fairly polarised at this point.

Returning to the issue of character, there does seem to be some obvious differences between the two candidates. While both are septuagenarians, and white, I’d argue that’s where the similarity ends. Trump is combative, bombastic, brash and seems to enjoy fiery exchanges with the media whereas Biden appears to be much more laid back. Trump is looking to continue to bring his brand of American nationalism back to the fore by Making America Great Again, again, whereas many see Biden as a unifying figure who can tone down the rhetoric. This is somewhat, albeit anecdotally, reflected in the public support for both candidates. Trump supporters seem to be as brazen as he is and have built veritable shrines to the President on their front lawns and many have giant flags protruding from their pick-up trucks, whereas as simple A4 signs and modest bumper stickers seem to be the campaigning tools of choice for Biden supporters. One area where Biden has been fairly vicious about President Trump is on his handling of the Coronavirus pandemic,  which could be the key issue which decides this election. While the President loves playing the pantomime villain of US politics, even he has not enjoyed the extra scrutiny his record dealing with the pandemic has brought on him. Currently, over 8 million people in the US have tested positive for the coronavirus with 225,000 deaths a grim reminder of how badly it has been handled here. Trump’s approval ratings have taken a hammering, with 60% of Americans saying that they disapprove of Trump’s handling of the epidemic.

I don’t believe that the recent TV debates have done much to change anyone’s mind although the last one was at least civil, as was the debate between Pence and Harris, which perhaps gives us some hope that the political tone will change no matter who wins. It will be interesting to see what happens next Tuesday and if the current polls are correct. In true Hollywood style, The American President’s finale has the good guy winning – both the girl and, we viewers are left to assume, his re-election to The White House.  We only have one more week to find out which of the presidential candidates gets their Hollywood ending.

John C