"Do you think Biden would be any better?"
"I think my beagle Roscoe would be better. And I think Biden would be a little better than Roscoe."
That was a conversation I had the other day with a conservative relative. I humbly submit that it captures the current American political condition.
Some people defend the cynical madness of President Trump still. Usually they do so only as an alternative to their greater fear of modern-day Democratic liberalism and ineptitude.
Even supporters of Joe Biden lament his shortcomings and wish for a better option.
A poll last week from The Wall Street Journal and NBC showed Biden with a 51-40 lead over Donald Trump. A later poll from ABC and The Washington Post had Biden up 15 points, but also by 11 among "certain voters."
Yet the Journal-NBC poll provided worrisome news for those who believe it's important that the country rid itself of the Trumpian outrage.
It's because of the concurrent finding that 73 percent of respondents believe the country to be on the wrong track and that only 18 percent believe it to be on the right track. What that means is that only 18 percent believe the country is doing well but 40 percent support the re-election of the man steering in the wrong direction. Trump polls 22 points better than the country.
It means 73 percent believe the country is doing poorly but only 51 percent trust Biden to lead in a better direction. Biden polls 22 points worse than the national distress.
Perhaps some of those in that 22-point gap find Trump non-complicit in the wrong track, probably because they watch the parallel universe of Fox News. Then there probably are those who merely feel understandable distress about the virus and the race and anti-police violence. They perhaps do not relate their pessimism to any specific person.
Some in the 73 percent seeing a wrong national direction probably cite as a factor that Democrats can't do any better than Biden.
Something else has happened while Trump has had a deserved horrible month. It's that Biden has had a bad one as well.
His favorable-unfavorable rating in this poll in June was 37 percent favorable and 38 unfavorable. In this poll it's 34 percent unfavorable and 46 unfavorable.
What happened in those 30 days? Mainly, white male voters and self-identifying Republicans began to think worse of Biden.
Most likely, it was because of destructive violence in the streets with Democratic-led urban centers accused of permissive police reactions and with Democrats tied in some element of the public consciousness to protesters' demands to "defund the police."
Appealing at this point to oddly undecided voters is probably hampered by any intimation, unfair though it be, that Biden would reduce traditional police protection.
We also saw during those 30 days Trump's first television spot centering on Biden's age and alleged mental decline.
That's the race. It's mostly between those who adore Trump and those who deplore him, with the latter a larger group. But Trump can still push a few buttons to help the soft support for Biden begin to collapse.
The poll shows 50 percent saying they'd never vote for Trump and 37 percent saying they'd never vote for Biden. That leaves 13 percent who might vote either way.
And guess what? Biden's unfavorable rating among those 13 percent was higher than Trump's, by 45-43.
You'd still rather be Biden than Trump, leading by 11 and trailing only slightly among the undecided. But this poll is a prescription for narrowing.
Much has been made of Trump's 50 percent problem, meaning the finding that half the electorate would never vote for him.
That sounds fatal until you consider that 54 percent didn't vote for him in the last presidential election. Democrats always win the popular vote. It's the electoral college that foils the people.
The vulnerability for Democrats is simply that Biden is a weak nominee.
It wasn't five months ago when he clearly was the lamest Democratic presidential candidate on stage for debates. He ran poorly in states giving him extended study, Iowa and New Hampshire. He began to run the table only when he went South for two advantages--rat-a-tat primaries and overwhelming Black support in states like South Carolina in which Blacks dominate the Democratic primary voting group.
Biden won only when people considered him superficially and where Blacks were pre-determined to vote for him because he'd been Barack Obama's trusted No. 2.
So, now, carrying the burden of saving the republic, Biden can lay claim only to the strong but not necessarily decisive dynamic that he is not Trump.
Roscoe is not Trump either, but love him as I do, and vote for him as I would as the only alternative to the existing atrocity, I'd prefer a better alternative.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.