There are two ways one could try to turn the COVID lockdown debate against Biden. One way, which I think would be smart, would be to accuse him of being frankly full of sh*t about how much better America’s response to the pandemic will be on his watch. And the first step in that argument would be to stress that there just isn’t much the president can do about day-to-day progress against the disease. The feds are racing towards a vaccine, they’re doing what’s possible to fast-track drugs to treat the disease, but there’s no federal power to order a lockdown. We went through that six months ago when Trump briefly declared that the White House had authority to order states to reopen for business, only to have every legal expert in the country politely remind him that he does not. In America, governors decide whether to lock down, just like governors decide whether to impose mask mandates. Rather than let Biden strut around pretending that as president he’ll immediate order from some menu of policy options that Trump has ignored, Trump should have called him on it. Biden’s making empty promises to voters, hinting at using powers that the executive doesn’t have in order to make Trump seems more negligent by comparison.
Framing the argument that way would also sidestep the uncomfortable fact that Americans generally support lockdowns much more than Republicans do. In mid-September a Newsweek poll found that 54 percent would support a national lockdown (which, again, the president can’t order) if necessary. Just 24 percent said they wouldn’t. And daily cases were a lot lower when that poll was taken than they are now.
Instead, though, Trump’s going for full scaremongering. Which is on-brand, at least, and is certainly easier for late-deciding voters to understand than an argument about the limits of presidential power in a pandemic: