If you are paying attention, you know that nature is full of inklings and adumbrations. I am writing in New England in mid-September — and it was just about a week ago that a subtle change in the atmosphere proclaimed the advent of autumn. It was not just that the weather listed cooler; it was also that the entire sensory gestalt shifted. The world suddenly bristled with different smells and colors and sounds. Browns and yellows and reds were edging out summer greens in the leaves. The roads were carpeted with acorns. You knew that the world was confronting you with different prospects and expectations.
Something similar happens in the world of politics. For a long time, a certain narrative reigns. But then a presidential election looms — and at some point, the cinctures binding the dominant narrative begin to loosen. What tout le monde agreed upon yesterday is suddenly up for grabs. One consensus dissolves and is replaced, piece by piece, by another.
That is happening as I write. What we’ve been told about Donald Trump and Joe Biden, about the passel of other candidates for the Republican nomination and other Democratic aspirants, has mutated.
A couple of weeks ago, the official memorandum stipulated that while Donald Trump was the likely Republican nominee, he could not win against the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden.
Suddenly, though, the news was full of headlines such as “Trump moves to ‘General Election Mode’” — that is, he was so certain that his nomination was wrapped up that he was looking beyond the primary campaign to the main event.
Such stories would not have appeared a month before, because at that time none of the beautiful people had taken the full measure of Trump’s political potency.
Nor had they accurately gauged Joe Biden’s vital signs. Until a few weeks ago, the assumption in most quarters (but not all, as my regular readers will recall) was that of course Joe Biden would be the Democratic nominee. All of a sudden, that certainty crumbled. Even CNN — CNN! — ran a brief story enumerating some of Biden’s many — what to call them? — “Misrepresentations?” “Exaggerations?” Both sound better than “lies.”
Everything was out there already. We knew that Joe Biden was not at Ground Zero on September 12, 2001. We knew that he had never driven an eighteen-wheeler. We knew that his son Beau did not die in Iraq. Et very much cetera. All that was minuted in the public record. Somehow, though, it was not officially acknowledged — until, suddenly, it was.
Then there was Special Counsel David Weiss’s mostly-make-believe indictment of Hunter Biden on gun charges. It could have been worse, a lot worse, for the first son. But it was something, a little retort from Merrick Garland to the chorus of people complaining that his DoJ was a two-tier concession, with one set of rules and penalties for approved folks, such as Hunter, and another set of rules and penalties for deprecated folks, such as Trump supporters, Catholics, or parents who object to schools peddling pornography and perversion to their children.
Finally, there was the changing weather in the polls. For the longest time, the psephologists told us that Biden was ahead of Trump. Then he was tied. But then a couple of polls emerged that had Trump a point of two ahead in the general election.
All of a sudden, like the distinctive scent of leaves burning in autumn, you saw headlines such as, “What Biden’s Nightmare Polls Are Really Saying.” Accompanying them came the news that Biden’s approval rating, which had hovered around a worrying 41 percent for months, dipped suddenly to a panic-time 37 percent. Meanwhile, an ABC/Washington Post poll put Trump at 51 and Biden at 42. Uh-oh.
The Post instantly repudiated its own poll as an outlier, which was fun.
Taken all in all, I think these various signs and portents are part of a ground-softening exercise, something to prepare the Bidens and the country at large for the great changing of the guard, in which the Bidens shuffle off the stage to make room for whomever The Committee that rules us believes can beat Trump. Probably, the deal will be “Go quietly, and we won’t prosecute you or Hunter. Stick around, and get clobbered with all that unpleasantness about ‘Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.’”
Even here, I should note, there are some comic moments. One report chirped that it was “not too late for Biden to drop out and open the field to some younger, fresher-faced Democrats.” For example? I dare you to read the list without smiling. “The pool is large,” the writer told us. “Among them are California governor Gavin Newsom, fifty-five; Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, fifty-two; Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, sixty-three; transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg, forty-one; Vice President Kamala Harris, fifty-eight; New Jersey senator Cory Booker, fifty-four; North Carolina governor Roy Cooper, sixty-six; and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, thirty-three.”
The author left out Michelle Obama. I know that many Republican pundits mention her with trepidation. It is true that H.L. Mencken is supposed to have said, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” But against that I would counter with the always pertinent question “How stupid do they think we are?”
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s November 2023 World edition.