Into the Final Stretch
This is the last week of the 2020 campaign. America votes a week from tomorrow. Here are some of the main issues to keep an eye on this week:
Swing States: Biden is leading across major swing states, but the polls are tightening. As it stands, if Biden wins anything close to what the polls say he will win, the election will be a landslide. He leads in Pennsylvania and Michigan. Trump still leads by a small margin in Texas and Arizona. Florida and North Carolina look like tossups.
Of course, the polls have been wrong before and the energy from the rallies makes it hard to believe Trump is as far behind as the polls indicate. In order to win, Trump needs to win the sunbelt states; Florida, Texas, Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina; then he’ll need one of Ohio or Pennsylvania and one of Michigan, Wisconsin, or Minnesota. The easiest path would be to win the sunbelt plus Pennsylvania and Ohio. If he loses Pennsylvania but wins Ohio, he’ll need Wisconsin and one other swing state, maybe New Hampshire, to go his way.
One of the issues in states like Pennsylvania and Texas is fossil fuels. At the most recent debate, Joe Biden promised to completely phase out fossil fuels within ten years. The Trump campaign will be hammering this issue in swing states.
The Pandemic. Cases are skyrocketing across the country and around the world. Several European countries are going back into lockdowns. VP Pence’s chief of staff and four other top aides have tested positive for coronavirus, sparking new concerns about White House protocols. Pence is continuing with his scheduled events and has continued to test negative. Mark Meadows said the White House’s strategy is not to control the pandemic but to fight it with therapeutics and vaccines.
The two candidates are offering starkly different approaches to the virus. Trump said in the debates that we are turning the corner on the virus. Biden said we’re headed into a “dark winter.” In terms of cases, Biden seems to be right, but vaccines and therapeutics could change that. In terms of reopening, Trump seems to be right. The Biden campaign has offered very few tactical differences from the Trump administration. The biggest difference is lockdowns. Biden has emphasized that he is open to locking the country down again. The president has promised not to.
The Laptop. This Hunter Biden laptop story isn’t going away. While Biden did a good job brushing off Trump’s attacks in the debate, the story is going to get harder to avoid over the course of the week. On Thursday, one of Hunter Biden’s former business associates, Anthony Bobulinski, stated that Joe Biden both knew about Hunter’s business interests and profited from them. The FBI and the DNI have denied that the laptop is Russian disinformation.
The Biden campaign has denied that any wrongdoing. In the debate, Joe Biden denied he knew about Hunter’s business deals and that he received any money from any foreign governments. He also said that Hunter did not make any money in China. Both of these statements are false. The Biden campaign has chosen to ride out this story and the Trump campaign is pressing it. Expect more information to come out this week.
Social media suppression remains in the background as well. The New York Post’s Twitter account is still locked, almost two weeks after publishing the first story about Hunter Biden. Twitter has imposed new rules on retweets and story-sharing and all of the social media companies have promised to control information on election night. Facebook will be taking down and limiting the spread of “misinformation” pertaining to the outcomes. Twitter will likely do the same.
Lids. The Biden campaign has been one of the most unconventional campaigns in history. Through a combination of Covid concerns, favorable polling, and concerns about Biden’s mental and physical stamina, Biden has run the least active, least transparent campaign in modern political history. Republicans have called it a “run out the clock” strategy, and it just might work. Biden is fading in swing states but may be able to hold on for another week. While Trump is holding multiple huge rallies every day, Biden called a lid this morning and may not attend any in-person events before the election.
Religious Voters. Religious voters may not play the decisive role they did in 2016 but remain an important group in the political landscape. There are many evangelicals voting for Democrats this year, some focused on Trump’s personal character, others on immigration and race relations, and some making the bizarre argument that Biden will be better for the pro-life cause. Among some groups, the social pressure has become so intense that not voting for Trump is being pitched as the only way to preserve “Christian witness” and maintain good relationships with non-believers.
But that’s not the whole story. Evangelical support remains strong for the president. At Christianity Today, Kate Shellnutt reports that many Christians who saw Trump as the lesser of two evils in 2016 have been impressed and assured by the way Trump has governed. 57% of white evangelicals are voting “for Trump” while 20% say they’re voting “against Biden” and only 13% “against Trump.” That’s another reminder that the media doesn’t always represent public sentiment, even in the Christian media world. The Christian celebrity crowd seems more enthusiastic about Biden than they were about Clinton, but Trump has maintained his support among evangelicals.
Here are some of the most important closing arguments published this week for Christians and the 2020 election:
John Piper puts the election, and all of politics in perspective, arguing that policies are not the only dimension to political leadership, personal character still matters. He provides one of the most important reminders of all, “May I suggest to pastors that in the quietness of your study you do this? Imagine that America collapses. First anarchy, then tyranny — from the right or the left. Imagine that religious freedom is gone. What remains for Christians is fines, prison, exile, and martyrdom. Then ask yourself this: Has my preaching been developing real, radical Christians?” In fact, I think most pastors would agree with Piper here. No matter what happens next week, we have a job to do and it does not matter who’s in the White House or what freedoms we have. “I will invite [my neighbor] to become an exile — to have a kingdom that will never be shaken, not even when America is a footnote in the archives of the new creation.”
Piper is decidedly against political pragmatism. Bad men who enact good policies can still be corrosive and destructive to the nation. He represents a group of people who feel that both candidates are disqualified to lead our country and neither deserve our votes.
Sam Storms responded to Piper by adding a strain missing from Piper’s analysis but present in the minds of many evangelicals. Abortion is worthy of being a determinative issue in the way we vote. The sins of our political class are grievous and it’s important that we see them and understand the effects they have on society. But the potential evil of having ardently pro-choice politicians in the White House and in Congress demand that we vote against them. Storms represents a group that sees the flaws in both candidates but maintains that personal flaws and support for abortion are not moral equivalents. Storms does not endorse Trump but he opens th door to vote for him in good conscience, even if abortion is the only deciding issue.
Carl Trueman chronicles the role of religion in the candidates’ platforms and rhetoric, lamenting the many inconsistencies their religious pitches have exposed, “When politicians make phony or manipulative religious claims, they expose the corruption of an American Christianity—whether that of the evangelical masses or of the Catholic ecclesiastical elites—that does not seem to take its professed faith seriously. To excoriate the loose sexual mores of one man as disqualifying him from office but to ignore or excuse those of another is not consistent Christianity. To defend the helpless unborn on paper but give a spiritual home to one who will defend the right to murder the unborn is not Christianity.” He points out the “court evangelicals” who have embraced Trump wholesale, losing credibility to speak against him, and the enablers who have allowed Biden to maintain that he is a devout Catholic. Trueman represents a group of voters on both sides who believe Christianity is caricatured and diluted by politicians of both parties.
Ross Douthat argues that Trump has given religious conservatives exactly what they want, even if they have to put up with the undesirable messenger. Douthat represents those who reluctantly support Trump because he’s been true to his promises. His record is hard to argue with. He’s governed like a conservative, supported religious liberty, limited immigration, rebuilt the military, kept us out of war, appointed hundreds of great judges, and built an administration that is committed to a conservative vision for the common good. Despite all of this Douthat may not vote for him, but if so, it would be in denial of a lot of good reasons.
National Review published three articles representing the yes, no, and maybe positions on voting for Trump. Andrew McCarthy writes in favor of Trump. His argument is simple; even if you don’t like Trump, just look at the alternative - and there is only one alternative. “It is not a matter of liking or despising Trump. It is a choice between Trump and what the Biden-Harris Democrats would do to the country. It is not a choice that any of us can avoid. So, I’m making it: I’m for Trump,” he writes, and all of the arguments about specific issues amount to a stark choice, “That is to say, Donald Trump’s candidacy is once again the thin barrier separating what remains of our constitutional order and the very different governing construct that Democrats would impose.”
Ramesh Ponnuru takes the other side of McCarthy’s argument; “On many issues, Trump has far exceeded the expectations I had when he won the 2016 election. I’m still not voting for him.” He represents the group who believe Trump’s character flaws keep him from meeting the threshold necessary for being president, and beyond that, believe that they will continue to compromise his accomplishments in a second term. He believes that neither Trump nor Biden would make a worthy president, so neither deserve our votes.
Charles C. W. Cooke takes the undecided position; he still doesn’t know. “I envy those on the right who have decided that President Trump is Hitler and that none of the things they previously cared about matter anymore. I envy those on the left who admire both Joe Biden’s agenda and Joe Biden himself, and who are not terrified by the Democratic Party’s turn. For them, this decision is easy — akin to watching your football team play. For me, it is filled with enough moving parts and what-ifs and on-the-one-hands to drive a person to distraction.” This group still makes up 3-5% of the electorate and they may cast the deciding votes next Tuesday, or they might stay home; they really don’t know yet.
Doug Wilson makes one of the strongest cases for Christians to vote for Trump that I’ve read. He takes the “Christian witness” argument straight on arguing from Scripture that voting is a “tactic, not a sacrament,” a strategy, not an endorsement of character or an identification. He points out that Christians should have an independent agenda from either of the two parties and do what is in the best interest of the church and the kingdom. As he sees it, that means voting for Trump in 2020. Like Mohler months ago, Wilson represents the group of people who see Trump as the better choice for furthering the mission of the church.
A Final Thought
All of these articles highlight the issues Christians face in the run-up to the election. One of the most important trends reinforced by Piper, Wilson, and others, is that we are not of this world and that means we are ultimately concerned with something bigger and more fundamental than the 2020 election.
That means we all need to spend time, this week especially, refocusing on our mission: we are here to love God and to love others, to serve God alone, to announce the good news of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, and to bring all of the nations into obedience to his commands. There is nothing more important than this, and if we lose sight of it, nothing else we do will matter in eternity. No president, no law, no judicial appointment can compensate for a church that has lost its focus.
With that in mind, we can disagree over how to vote, but there are parameters. We should be seeking to use the power of our vote, or of our abstention, to further the mission we've been given. Maybe like Piper, we believe that we cannot cast our ballots for either figure. Maybe like Storms and others, we believe that abortion should be the defining issue and we cast our votes for those who will stand for life. Maybe like Wilson and Mohler, we see Trump, and the Republican platform, as a good choice to further our purposes. In spite of these differences, we must all agree that we vote as Christians first, as Americans second, and as partisans a distant third.
Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak.