As much as I distrust political polls, I tend to believe that the current readings are correct: If the 2020 election were held today, Joe Biden would win — maybe not by as much as 14 points, as one poll showed last month, but by a comfortable margin.
Two problems. The election isn’t today, it’s still four months off, and polls only provide a snapshot of how things stand when they are conducted. Moreover, pollsters and pundits are evaluating this presidential election as if it can be judged by the calendar, based on how things usually play out from Independence Day forward. But 2020 is different: This will be the shortest presidential campaign on record — a campaign that hasn’t even begun, despite the activities of the candidates.
Americans aren’t thinking about elections. They might be willing to speak to pollsters, but they’re preoccupied with rebounding COVID-19, growing rage over racism, and economic volatility. These issues do have deep political dimensions, but with summer upon us, folks are understandably distracted by how tough it will be without kids’ programs, vacations, and entertainment options. That will change by September.
Americans are focused on other issues right now
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is self-destructing, which is encouraging for Democrats. His first campaign rally since the pandemic struck was a fiasco. His tweets are increasingly ill-considered — even for him. The base to which he panders appears to be shrinking.
Joe Biden, although he has finally ventured out of his basement bunker, is playing a game of rope-a-dope. Yes, Trump behaves like a dope. But I’m not convinced that Biden can just float along the ropes, Ali-style, until November.
I do, however, support Biden’s low-profile strategy for now. As the saying goes, never interrupt an incumbent president while he’s digging his own grave. The Biden campaign would gain nothing by pressing harder while Trump is floundering. Besides, the public has lost its appetite for lofty campaign promises and multitudinous multi-point plans.
Independence Day cloud: This July Fourth, deaths of three Marines haunt Trump on Russian bounty to Taliban
The first signs of meaningful life in the 2020 campaign will come at convention time — Aug. 17 for Democrats in Milwaukee and Aug. 24 for Republicans in Jacksonville. But even these events are likely to be underwhelming, with fewer delegates in the halls, pooled TV coverage, and presidential candidates whose status we’ve known for many months.
This presidential campaign begins in earnest after Labor Day. What seemed at the start of 2019 to be a marathon will be a two-month sprint.
Stay safe and watch TV until Labor Day
Those of us who traipsed across Iowa and other early-voting states during 2019, covering a crowded field of Democrats, wasted our time — as did the candidates. It meant nothing. This was supposed to be the process by which the fittest candidate would emerge, but all the rallies and picnics and interviews and bus rides — all of it — added up to zero.
Biden ran a rather dull primary campaign. He finished fourth in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire, and lost to Bernie Sanders by double digits in Nevada. Then — based in no way whatsoever on over a year of campaigning — Democratic leaders, media and South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn decided that a Democrat couldn’t win without minority support (which is true) and that Biden had the most of it (also true). Everything that followed was perfunctory.
Once Sanders dropped out, the campaign became a yawn, although media tried to keep it going with chatter about who Biden would pick as a running mate. When the pandemic hit, even that was a bore.
And that’s how it will be until Labor Day. Trump will then have two months to figure out what he might care to do in a second term — something he was uncertain about during his recent interview with Sean Hannity. He’ll have to hope against hope that the virus subsides quickly and with it unemployment, which means a lot more than the Dow Jones average.
Biden will have a running mate to help with the sprint. I hope his polling lead gives him the courage to pick a vice presidential candidate without regard to race. A New York Times poll showed that four in five registered voters believe race shouldn’t be a factor; even three of every four black voters felt that way.
During the 2020 campaign’s slow-walk through summer, our focus should be on curbing the virus, staying safe, and maybe chilling in front of the TV watching some fan-free NBA and MLB games. As for the two candidates, the only message I care to hear from them is: See you in September.
Peter Funt is a writer and host of "Candid Camera."
You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chill advisory: Trump, Biden campaigns will heat up after Labor Day.