The Trump campaign is in trouble. Or, at least, it seems that way. Yesterday, it was reported that two of President Trump’s closest outside political advisors, David Bossie and Corey Lewandowski, told the president that he was falling behind in certain swing states that are critical to his reelection. The two swing states in which the Trump campaign is currently fretting over are Arizona and Florida. President Trump won Arizona by nearly four points in 2016, but he is currently trailing former vice president Joe Biden by two points there. In Florida, a Republican-dominated state that the president won by one point in 2016, the president is lagging behind Joe Biden by two points. These polls in Arizona and Florida are consistent with the president’s standing both nationally and in other key swing states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
President Trump’s poor showing so far in these states have increased concern among the Republican Party about the overall health of the party’s political position going into the November elections. Previously having solid confidence in holding the Senate, the GOP finds itself increasingly nervous about its chances at remaining in the majority come January 2021. For example, the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign are becoming more worried about Martha McSally’s chances of being elected to a full term in the Senate come November. The former United States congresswoman from Arizona who was appointed to the Senate seat that she now holds as a replacement to John Kyl (who was appointed by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey to the late-John McCain’s seat) is currently trailing behind her Democratic opponent, Mark Kelly, by as much as thirteen percentage points.
The GOP is also continuing to show its concern for its prospects in Georgia, both for the presidential and Senate races. Senator Kelly Loeffler is in a “statistical tie for first” in the Georgia race after being investigated by the Department of Justice for her involvement in stock trading at the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak. A recent survey conducted by allies close to Governor Brian Kemp shows that the presidential race is a “dead heat” as Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 47%-46% in a state that Democrats have not won nationally since 1992 but are hopeful that they can turn the state blue over the coming decade.
The poor polling is not the only thing that is keeping the Trump campaign and the Republican Party fretful about November. Despite a large war chest and the power of incumbency, the Trump campaign has still struggled to “define” Joe Biden successfully, something that George W. Bush was able to do against John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama did against Mitt Romney in 2012. So far, the Trump campaign has attempted to portray Joe Biden as old and out of touch (“Sleepy Joe”), soft on China, playing a key role in an Obama Administration that had a poor economic record, and as a Washington insider that is a bad candidate. However, none of these attempts have been able to stick, as Biden continues to lead Trump. This inability to use its advantages successfully has frustrated many Republicans close to the White House. As one put it to Politico, “If you have the cash advantage and all of June, why are you not burying him?”
The Trump campaign has started to make an attempt to reorient its campaign. It recently promoted Bill Stepien, the White House Director of Political Affairs, to deputy campaign manager as a way to help focus the campaign on how it will take on Biden and promote its own message. However, many Republicans are warning that the election will be a referendum on Trump, particularly his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and not on Joe Biden. As former-Wisconsin governor Scott Walker recently put it, “I think it still boils down to a referendum on the president. They’ll [the Trump campaign] beat up on Biden and they’ll raise some concerns” but the election will ultimately result in how people feel about Donald Trump.
This is not how the Trump campaign should want the election to be. Today’s Rasmussen Daily Presidential Tracking Poll has President Trump’s approval rating down to 42%, with only thirty percent of Americans strongly approving his job as president while forty-seven percent strongly disapprove. These are not good numbers, especially considering how the White House has been trying to portray the president as having shown strong leadership during the crisis.
The problem with the Trump campaign is that Trump himself cannot stay out of his own way. Over the weekend, Joe Biden’s most recent gaffe had him calling African-Americans who do not support him as not being black. That should have been the biggest story. However, Biden’s gaffe has been largely overshadowed by President Trump engaging in a conspiracy theory surrounding MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and the death of one of his employees.
But maybe this is what Donald Trump wants. Maybe he wants the election to be a referendum on him. Maybe Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist for The New York Times, was right when he wrote that Trump only wants attention and not power: “Great men and bad men alike seek attention as a means of getting power, but our president is interested in power only as a means of getting attention.”
Whatever it is, the Trump campaign should get its act together sooner rather than later.