Comfort food versus chaos in the presidential race

While the economic and health damage from the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the presidential race carries on. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden can’t hold events in town squares and auditoriums, but he’s giving interviews and hosting virtual town halls. And Biden is currently leading President Donald Trump in national polls and in swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin.  

In this combination of file photos, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Delaware, on March 12 and President Donald Trump speaks at the White House on April 5. (AP Photo)

Polls are just snapshots, not predictions. But what’s going on?

As the pandemic continues, home cooking is feeding our bodies and souls. Hunkered down, comfort food hits the spot. 

Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is benefitting from being the comfort food candidate. He may not be incredibly exciting, but, like the recipes we use, there are times we’d rather have something we know well and can depend on to work.

Biden has shown his competence in governing. When overseeing the Recovery Act, Biden built in accountability and transparency. According to aide Ron Klain, Biden “traveled the country to see stimulus projects in action [and] held phone calls with a rotating group of bipartisan governors and mayors.” Biden also “insisted that the recovery implementation office that reported to him, they had what he called the 24-hour rule, which is any question that a governor or mayor raised got an answer within 24 hours.” Biden and Klain also ran the Obama administration’s Ebola response.

Meanwhile, Biden doesn’t have the temperament of an elitist or a technocrat. Instead Biden shows empathy and comes off as an ordinary guy, talking about his upbringing and family, his good times and tragedies. 

Biden’s Democratic primary opponent Elizabeth Warren stressed Biden’s openness to others’ perspectives. Said Warren: “When you disagree, he’ll listen – not just listen, but really hear you. And treat you with respect, no matter where you’re coming from. And he has shown throughout this campaign that when you come with new facts or a good argument, he’s not too afraid or too proud to be persuaded.”

And what a contrast all that is to Trump, who seems to take all criticisms personally and continues to defy not only science but common sense. 

Last week, Trump looked over at expert Dr. Deborah Birx and talked about possibly using ultraviolet light or powerful chemicals inside people’s bodies to kill the coronavirus. Said Trump, “I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that.”

Later Trump said he was being sarcastic but simply voicing that suggestion showed no common sense. 

And it marked a continuation of Trump taking no responsibility for the consequences of his actions. 

After a long period of Trump downplaying the virus, we still don’t have what’s needed to safely move forward — adequate tests and contact tracing — nor the protective equipment medical workers rely on to stay healthy. Trump promoted a drug, hydroxychloroquine, that the FDA says is neither safe nor effective. 

The federal government is diverting needed supplies from veterans’ hospitals and other health care facilities. When an outbreak occurred on an aircraft carrier and the captain sought help, he was removed

A program to help small businesses has left many without assistance while big corporations have gotten cash, including tens of millions to companies with ties to the Trump administration. And there’s a lot we won’t know because Trump blocked oversight provisions that Congress  had passed.  

To counter criticism, Republican U.S. Senate campaigns are focusing on China. A 57-page GOP memo suggests that Senate candidates “Don’t defend Trump, other than the China Travel Ban — attack China.” However, Trump is vulnerable to critiques on China, as Trump repeatedly praised the Chinese government’s coronavirus efforts and two months ago predicted, “I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away.” 

In times like these, the competence, common sense and civility of Joe Biden is pitted against the chaos and incompetence of Donald Trump. With that choice, many Americans find the comfort food candidate more appealing. 

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.