2020 Election Will Be Decided by the Virus

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Democrats are now the party of “closed” and Republicans the party of “open.” Generally speaking, Democrats believe we need to keep restrictions in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, and Republicans demand we open businesses to save the economy. Both have a point, and time will tell which side is advocating the wiser plan.

If the Republican states open up, and death rates do not spike, then President Donald Trump can claim that Democrats were overly cautious and demonstrated poor judgment. On the flip side, if the red states experience higher death rates after opening up, residents may lament their decision. Whichever side has the upper hand will scold the other.

Ultimately, the trajectory of the pandemic will determine which political party was right or wrong. The virus will determine the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

Independent voters decide close elections, and they will break for the party that got it right on how to best manage COVID-19. Whichever party gets it wrong can spin the facts, but they will only convince their die-hard supporters, not the swing voters each ticket will need to prevail in November. The polling on the pandemic illuminates that time and again, partisan Republicans are on one side of the issue, partisan Democrats on the other, while the average American is in the middle. With this in mind, it only makes sense that those independent voters will remain in the middle through the 2020 elections but lean toward whatever political party was ultimately “right” about how to best cope with COVID-19.

Something else to consider: that if Republicans are wrong, and COVID-19 spikes because Republican governors have eased social distancing, then the economy will also continue to crater. With an economy in the dumps, and unemployment terribly high, it is hard to see how President Trump wins another term – or that his party does well either.

Again, however, the same is true if you reverse the narrative. If Republican-controlled states are doing better economically because they eased social distancing, it is hard to see independent voters backing Democrats whose economies are lagging behind. Discerning Americans still tend to vote with their pocketbooks.

What is vexing for independent-minded voters is the mindless partisanship practiced by the two dominant political parties. Democrats are not solely for closing the economy to promote safety. Republicans are not for opening things up only to protect jobs. In part, these political positions are symptoms of our current political dynamic where each side reflexively opposes the other.

The president believes people will re-elect him due to the robust economy, so he wants the economy back – quickly. Whatever Trump is for, Democrats are against. Republicans are no better. When President Obama was in office, they opposed everything that Obama said or did with the exception of killing Osama bin Laden.

Look at the situation with the woman now accusing Joe Biden of sexually assaulting her. Democrats automatically believed an accuser of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, while Republicans questioned why this woman would level accusations so many years later. Now, Republicans don’t care that Tara Reade didn’t come forward for decades – and love pointing out the hypocrisy of the left. For their part, Democrats are suspicious of Reade and her motives for the exact same reasons cited by Republicans when Kavanaugh was in the hot seat.

While the partisanship in our society is discouraging, perhaps the pandemic’s role in the political dynamic has a silver lining. Whichever political party has the best plan for managing this crisis will be rewarded at the ballot box. This is exactly how a democracy is supposed to work.

Gary Meltz is a former press secretary for Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY, and is currently the principal at MELTZ Communications, a crisis and political risk management firm in Washington, D.C.

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