PARIS -- Whether the Democrats are aware of it or not (and it doesn't seem that they are), Donald Trump is dictating the selection of a presidential nominee. The Democratic front-runners are currently grasping to be anointed the anti-Trump savior who will rescue America from Trump's clutches.
Former Vice President Joe Biden embodies the old Democratic and Washington establishment that was defeated in 2016 when it was Hillary Clinton who carried its torch. For those who think Hillary herself was the problem, swapping her out for Biden represents the solution. Biden is the candidate of choice for those who believe that four years of Trump disruption will leave voters longing for a return to calm and conventionalism. But if you think that the Washington establishment is any less weird or disconnected from reality than Trump, you probably haven't spent enough time in Washington, D.C.
Speaking of Trump's weirdness, this may come as a shock to policy wonks, politicos, media figures and establishment fixtures, but most Americans don't clutch their pearls at Trump's every outrageous utterance. Only about 22 percent of U.S. adults actually use Trump's rant platform of choice: Twitter. Most are too busy in their daily lives to hang on his every word or to follow the latest cable-news outrage over his most recent provocative statement. Even when people do pay attention, Trump's statements are fleeting in their minds.
Here's a pop quiz to prove the point: Can you spontaneously recall any 10 -- or even five -- of Trump's flamboyant statements? Probably not. Which means that most aren't going to remember at the ballot box, either.
The question that voters are going to ultimately ask themselves on Election Day isn't whether Biden is more "presidential" than Trump, as if the candidates were being considered to play the role of the American president in a Hollywood movie. It's going to come down to the same thing that it always does for voters: Are they personally better off now than they were before the incumbent took office?
In other words: Are they employed? Has their lifestyle improved? Have their taxes and cost of living gone up or down? Are any loved ones at risk of being sent to fight another war on the other side of the planet that has zero impact on America's domestic security?
That last question might be the biggest advantage Trump has over Biden. The Obama-Biden administration ramped up regime-change wars abroad, with disastrous results. Trump's instinct seems to be to end such wars and not start new ones. If Trump can maintain course and stay out of military entanglements abroad, it would make him the only president in a generation to have done so.
Currently polling behind Biden in the Democratic race is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who's proposing the leftist equivalent of Trump's border wall with his plan to cancel all $1.6 trillion in student-loan debt by having Wall Street pay a transaction tax. Congress isn't radical enough to fund either Sanders' dream or Trump's wall, but both plans send a message about the candidates' ideological bent.
In Sanders' case, that message is tough luck for all those who managed to pay off their student loans already, worked their way through school, lived responsibly within their limited means, or chose a course of study that balanced means with eventual return on investment. You should have just broken the bank, suckers, because here comes Uncle Bernie to retroactively relieve all the others of personal responsibility and give them an edge over the people who didn't stick anyone else with a bill.
Speaking of free money -- always a favorite topic in the run-up to an election -- Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (running third in the latest polls) joined Sanders in the call for student debt forgiveness. And apparently, Warren doesn't want to stop there.
"It wasn't until marriage equality became law that gay & lesbian couples could jointly file tax returns -- so they paid more in taxes," Warren tweeted. "Our government owes them more than $50M for the years our discriminatory tax code left them out. We must right these wrongs."
If Democrats want the federal government to hand out money as an apology for previous tax policies, why stop there? How about refunding everyone who paid a whopping 70 percent marginal tax rate before President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981 and eventually trimmed it to 28 percent? You wouldn't want to discriminate against any segment of American society by dismissing any historical claims of fiscal persecution, right?
Anyone who thinks that the Democratic front-runners are any less weird than Trump hasn't been paying close attention. Journalist Hunter S. Thompson once said: "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." The 2020 election is shaping up to be a race of consummate pros.