The election is not over yet. In fact, it is still more than four months away. Still, I have a strong feeling that when the post-mortems of the 2020 election are written, it will be this week that marked a turning point for Donald Trump. To paraphrase the old song from “Hee Haw,” this week has been one in which “if it weren’t for bad news, the president would have no news at all.”
Even though President Trump has consistently trailed in polling, this week it got worse with Joe Biden opening up a double-digit lead in many polls. The Real Clear Politics polling average currently stands at 9.4 points and the president has not led in a poll since February. The last time he tied Biden in a poll was in April.
The damage is not limited to national polling. Biden is opening up wider leads in swing states and even red states are becoming competitive. That Trump trails in all seven swing states is not new. What is new is that Biden leads in the only recent polling in Georgia and Texas. While many are skeptical of polls, the Trump campaign is taking them seriously enough to begin buying ads in normally deep-red Georgia.
The Trumpian implosion in the polls is not out of the blue. In fact, it is amazing that it has taken this long. Rather, the decline is driven by Trump’s inadequate response to a multitude of crises. Joe Biden’s increasing lead is mirrored by Donald Trump’s rapidly dropping job approval. From a high of 47 percent in mid-March per the Real Clear Politics average, Trump’s approval has dropped to 41.6 percent. This represents a net disapproval of more than 14 points.
After more than three years in office, the president’s re-election hopes are being sunk by his incompetent handling of the Coronavirus pandemic, the resulting economic crisis, and the race riots and protests sweeping the nation. While the minds of many anti-Trump voters have been made up for months, if not years, the new factor is that Trump’s base seems to be splintering. Two key Trump demographics, seniors and evangelicals, seem to be softening in their support of the president. To make matters worse, polling shows moderates and independents are swinging away from Trump and towards Biden.
Part of the reason for the growing dissatisfaction with Trump is his response to the riots and civil unrest that has gripped the country for a month now. Some of it is also due to the worsening pandemic.
A few weeks ago, it seemed that the curve was being flattened and the worst was behind us. That was before many states tried to get back to normal and thousands of people took to the streets. Now, 48 states are reporting increasing numbers of new cases and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is warning that the “window is closing for us to take action and get this under control.” Getting the pandemic under control has been made more difficult by the president’s insistence on getting back to normal and his supporters’ ridicule of masks and other mitigation strategies.
If all that wasn’t enough, two new scandals erupted about President Trump this week. The first may grow to be the most serious threat to his presidency since the revelations of the Ukraine quid pro quo. In this new scandal, a New York Times report revealed that the Trump Administration knew for months that Russia had offered Taliban fighters a bounty to kill US and allied soldiers in Afghanistan and did nothing.
The White House has denied that President Trump and Vice President Pence were briefed on the intelligence, but this defense, that members of the Trump Administration did not do their jobs, does not bolster the Administration’s credibility. Not responding to alleged Russian targeting of American soldiers undercuts the president’s tough-guy image and makes him seem indecisive and incompetent at best.
The bigger question is why the Adminstration is still mostly silent. NPR notes that the White House does not dispute the substance of the intelligence assessment’s claim, only that Trump and Pence were aware of it. Whether he has known about the bounties for months or merely days, Trump has yet to criticize Putin’s Russia for its actions.
The second scandal, which broke Sunday morning, was president Trump’s retweet of a video in which an elderly Trump supporter in Florida can be seen yelling, “White power.” Trump commented, “Thank you to the great people of The Villages” on the retweet, which has uncharacteristically been deleted. The original tweet with the video is linked below.
The “White Power” retweet is yet another in a long series of unforced errors by President Trump. The retweet is just one more example of Mr. Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip impulsivity coming back to bite him. Retweeting a “white power” salute would never be good for a president but today’s racial tensions make the mistake all the more devastating.
The mounting bad news is threatening to fracture the Republican Party’s support for Trump. Charles Gasparino, a Fox Business panelist, tweeted this morning that “GOP operatives” are not-quite-openly talking about the possibility that the president could drop out before the election if “his poll numbers don’t rebound.” While it would be hard for me to believe that Trump would decide to bow out, it is possible that Republicans could decide to cut their losses and concentrate on preserving their Senate majority by distancing themselves from Trump.
With the election four months away, there is still time for a shakeup in the race, but, after four years of Trump, it is increasingly clear that what you see is what you get. There are still some faithful souls who believe that Donald Trump can become presidential and rise to the occasion. That isn’t going to happen. If the election remains a referendum on Donald Trump, Republicans are in for a bad night.
Much has been made of Joe Biden’s disappearance, but even though Sleepy Joe is a deeply flawed candidate himself, he is smart enough to follow the old military maxim, “Never interfere with an enemy while he’s in the process of destroying himself.” So, don’t look for Biden on the campaign trail as long as Trump keeps stepping on his own toes. And that might be a while. November, even. Donald Trump just can’t help himself and he won’t listen to people who could help him.