Why Trump vs. Biden is a lot like 2016 — and why it's not

7 min read
The election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is less than three weeks away. Trump beat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Can he top Biden in 2020?
WASHINGTON — It's Republicans' biggest hope and Democrats' biggest fear: That the 2020 election will be a rerun of 2016, with an upset victory for Donald Trump despite polls and conventional wisdom showing Joe Biden is on his way to the White House.

Four years ago this month, Trump's campaign was essentially left for dead as Hillary Clinton expanded her lead, Republicans fled the apparently sinking ship and Lin-Manuel Miranda taunted Trump with a rendition of "Never going to be president now" to the delight of Saturday Night Live fans.

But, of course, Trump ended up winning and his campaign says he can do it again.

"Looking back at the election of 2016, most members of the media had the polling wrong, and that's really important to understand where we are today," former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told reporters, predicting a Trump blow out.

Some parallels between then and now are almost eerie.

The "Access Hollywood" tape and Trump's Covid-19 news both came on Fridays 32 days out from the election. Biden and Hillary Clinton had the same 11-point lead in the October NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. And there's even a late-breaking email controversy involving a laptop of unexpected origins, just like the one that revived Clinton's email scandal days before the election.

So what's the same and what's different from 2016?

1. The message

In 2016, Trump was an outsider. Now he's the president with a record to answer for and facing voters who are generally unhappy with the state of the country.

In the home stretch four years ago, he surprised some observers by largely staying off Twitter and staying on message as he drove home his argument that "Crooked Hillary" was everything wrong with the Washington establishment. That kept the spotlight on Clinton and helped drive late-deciding voters Trump's way.

This year, Trump's campaign is pushing a similar message against Biden — but Trump himself is often distracted.

The president sometimes seems more…
Alex Seitz-Wald
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