Two men like fire and water in the craziest election campaign the world has ever seen. This is what our correspondent Donald Trump and Joe Biden experience in the race for the White House.
Shortly before the election on Tuesday, Joe Biden knows that he has no chance. He gives his usual speech again: That Donald Trump’s second term in office would be devastating and that only he himself could restore the “soul of the nation”. His wife Jill is at his side.
For the scheduled election party, they will only be able to be switched on via video. I feel the sadness that lies in the room. Biden makes the rounds through the audience, chats longer and presses more intimately than usual. I stand by and think: So this is what the ending feels like.
Photo series with 12 pictures
Biden actually loses on Tuesday: He only finishes fifth in the New Hampshire Democratic primary. A disgrace. His candidacy is half dead.
Donald Trump feels like celebrating. He has brought the current issue of the “Washington Post” with him, which he proudly presents to us in the East Room of the White House: Trump acquitted – Trump acquitted. It gushes out of him for 62 minutes, he kicks, he praises, he wanders. The impeachment process is over, the economy is booming, donations are at a record level – all signs point to re-election.
Donald Trump after the impeachment acquittal: The signs were for re-election. (Source: Drew Angerer)
That was an excursion into the second week of February 2020 that I am currently thinking about again and again. Biden on the ground, Trump is floating. Then came the craziest election campaign the world has ever seen. And this is how I experienced him:
Two men, whose characters could not be more different, want to lead America. They are fighting against each other, but also with a virus that has never brought the country under control. With the wounds that racism and violence have inflicted on the nation, with the fatigue, energy, fear and all the other feelings of a troubled nation. A cynic versus a moralist. A man who wants to heat things up. And one who wants to cool off. Two like fire and water. That’s the choice.
Back then, just after that week in February, things started moving. The black voters in South Carolina save Joe Biden, who then gathers all moderates behind him at record speed and dispatches Bernie Sanders. At the same time, Donald Trump wants the nation to believe that the coronavirus is just “the Democrats’ next hoax”. I experience Biden’s triumph at “Super Tuesday” at his victory celebration in Los Angeles and sit in Trump’s first so-called coronavirus briefings. It is the last few days that seem normal. Then we went home.
The election campaign will stay frozen until June. I only see the candidates on the screen. Trump out of the White House day in, day out. He talks about head and neck with Corona, belittles it, advertises miracle cures. Biden now and then logs in from the improvised TV studio in his basement and otherwise remains invisible. He gets ridiculed for it, but it’s his smartest move. He holds back. The election should remain what it is: a referendum on Trump.
Trump sinks in public image three times this year: At the first corona wave, which he shows no interest in combating. At the racism protest after the death of George Floyd, to which he is unable to speak. With his own corona illness, which reveals how negligent and reckless he is.
Joe Biden in Florida: More Americans trust him than Trump in the Corona crisis. (Source: Brian Snyder / Reuters)
Every time it turns out that Trump’s greatest talent fails – the gift of distraction. Law and Order, China, Biden as an alleged gateway for socialism. Nothing can overshadow the corona and crisis in the public debate, while millions slide into poverty and schools remain closed. Trump’s hoped-for joker, a vaccine until election day, is canceled. America is voting with 230,000 Covid deaths and a third wave.
With every appearance, Biden reminds of Trump’s fatal equanimity at Corona. Biden: “I will listen to the scientists.” Trump: “There’s no more lockdown with me.”
Only in summer does Biden venture out of the house. An appearance in Pittsburgh, placed in front of a dozen journalists in large circles, for the purpose of keeping an accurate distance. A visit to Wisconsin, a meeting in the garden with ten voters. The greatest possible caution for the 77-year-old challenger.
The 74-year-old incumbent, however, was happy-free-negligent. In August the rallies start again as if nothing had happened, with thousands out on the country’s airfields. Without masks, without spacing.
Air Force One approaching Phoenix, Arizona: Trump wins the Pictures campaign. (Source: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Air Force One serves as the backdrop. The big cinema: King Donald I floats in to speak to the people. There is no cell phone that is not pulled out. The last act is also new. Instead of the Rolling Stones’ calm starting “You can’t always get what you want”, “YMCA” is now booming after the last movement. For the first time in September in Pennsylvania, I see Trump, well, dance – he now does it after almost every performance, it becomes the image of his election campaign. If Trump goes under, he does it by dancing. Young man, there’s no need to feel down!
This is how Trump wins an election campaign – the election campaign of the pictures. His performances exude energy and enthusiasm. In the final spurt he finds his way back into the role of the entertainer. Celebrate if he deviates from the manuscript. But the specter of defeat creeps into his speeches again and again, albeit disguised as a joke. “If I lose to him,” he says of Biden, “you will never see me again.”
In the last few meters he seems manic and panicked. He tweets at half past two at night, rushes through the country, makes three appearances in three states a day. His attacks are becoming more extreme: In Trump’s story, Biden is demented and super criminal, as diabolical as he is willless, a puppet of leftist forces and “the worst candidate who ever wanted to become president”. He demands investigations against his political opponents. Trump says little or nothing about his plans for a second term. Biden is a politician, he complains. The president prefers to remain an outsider.
He takes refuge again and again in 2016, when Hillary Clinton’s email affair and the FBI’s investigation into the matter helped him to win. He is now trying to do the same to Joe Biden and his son Hunter. But Biden is not Clinton.
Are you interested in the US election? Washington correspondent Fabian Reinbold writes a newsletter about the election campaign, his work in the White House and his impressions from the US under Donald Trump. Here you can subscribe to the “Post from Washington” free of charge, which then lands directly in your mailbox once a week.
Biden doesn’t have strong pictures, but strong numbers. His lead in the polls is stable, and in terms of donations he has left Trump far behind. Four days before the election, Washington is pretty sure he’ll win.
His message was constant from the start: he puts character and decency at the center. He plays the nation’s comforter whenever he can, promising to take the virus seriously. But only in the past few days has Biden found his look – he is now holding drive-in-like drive-in events where the horn brings some life to the events and everyone can still observe the corona rules.
Drive-in rally in Tampa, Florida: Finally some life in the Biden election campaign. (Source: Luis Santana / Tampa Bay Times / AP / dpa)
Biden also eludes the voters. Only a select few are allowed to look directly at the man who wants to become president. They are loyal followers who are on certain lists. As an ordinary citizen, you have no chance. You don’t even know where exactly the events will be. Not even as a correspondent. Only a small pool of the US media is granted access. The last time I saw him was in March. A campaign isolates itself. She thinks she can afford it.
Trump’s events are accessible, Biden’s are not. But they are also a health risk, Bidens not.
Risk versus caution.
Self-determination against consideration.
An anti-politician against a politician.
Fire and water.
That was the campaign, this is America’s choice. The end is in sight.