They called Ronald Reagan the “Teflon President,” but, when it comes to not having bad news stick, the Gipper had nothing on Donald Trump. Much of Trump’s tenure has been marked by bad news (much of it the result of bad decisions by the president) but very little has stuck to Mr. Trump. Now, a month prior to the election, the bad news continues to hit the news cycle at an alarming rate.
Beyond this weekend’s revelations about President Trump’s tax avoidance, consider a few of the stories that have emerged over the past few weeks:
- Bob Woodward’s taped interviews in which the president admitted that he understood the danger of Coronavirus but “downplayed” the pandemic
- Nearly 500 former generals and admirals endorse Biden in a joint letter that says Trump is “not equal to the enormous responsibilities of his office”
- Trump’s former Coast Guard chief says Trump is waging an ” insurgency… on our constitutional rights”
- On at least two occasions, Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election, saying he doesn’t want to be “cheated”
- The Senate report on Hunter Biden failed to find criminal wrongdoing or break new ground despite years of claims and investigations, which led to Trump’s own impeachment
- The intelligence officer who gave Trump 300 daily briefings wrote in the Denver Post that “As damaging as his faulty leadership has been, four more years would be devastating”
- US Coronavirus deaths surpassed 200,000, the highest national death toll in the world
- The Varieties of Democracy study found that executive respect for the Constitution was at its lowest level since 1865 and corruption was at its highest level since Warren G. Harding
- Olivia Troye, Pence’s lead aide on the Coronavirus Task Force endorsed Biden, saying that Trump “doesn’t actually care about anyone else but himself”
- Trump has sparred with health officials about the readiness of a COVID-19 vaccine and claims that the White House can overrule FDA authorization to speed the drug to market
- The allegation that Trump called wounded military veterans “suckers and losers”
- A former National Security Council official said the White House pressured her to say John Bolton’s book was a security risk in an attempt to delay its publication
- Continuing civil unrest and high racial tensions
- Polling found that more voters think Trump is unfit for office than Biden
And that’s just for the last four weeks.
Atop this mountain of red flags, warnings, and incompetence now comes the news that Donald Trump has paid nothing or next to nothing in taxes for at least 11 of the past 15 years. While paying fewer taxes is a worthy goal, it will be embarrassing for the billionaire (or is it “millionaire”) presidential candidate whose tax reform was a lightning rod for many middle-class taxpayers who ended up paying more. At the very least, Trump’s tax shenanigans may add fuel to Joe Biden’s plan to increase taxes on the wealthy, an idea that already has overwhelming popular support, even among a majority of Republicans.
To be fair, it hasn’t been all bad news. Trump’s Arab-Israeli treaties were good news and didn’t get the coverage that they would have in a different year. A year when a signatory to the treaty wasn’t leaving open the possibility of an unpeaceful presidential transition.
There was also the Supreme Court vacancy which, although Republicans see it as good news, might not be. The opening has energized Republicans but it has also energized the left. And the numbers seem to be on the side of the opposition.
Justice Ginsburg was far more popular than Donald Trump (by about 15 points) and voters favor leaving the seat vacant until the outcome of the election can be determined by double-digit margins. If Amy Coney Barrett proves to be an unpopular nominee, the Supreme Court vacancy could end up being the final nail in the coffin of the Trump campaign by swaying unaffiliated voters against Trump. Ironically, confirming Barrett before the election might also give Trump-skeptical Republicans one less reason to vote for the president since the Court will have a definite conservative tilt.
Despite the onslaught of bad news interspersed with a few favorable items, Trump is bearing up better than expected under the onslaught. Make no mistake, that doesn’t mean he’s doing well, but the situation could always be worse. Trump’s average approval rating currently sits at 43.7 percent, somewhat recovered from the summer doldrums, and right where it has been for the majority of the past three years.
That is not nearly good enough to win re-election. Biden leads by an average of seven points in national polls. When the Electoral College is considered, Biden leads in all of the swing states and is becoming competitive in red states such as Georgia and Texas.
But Trump’s resilience may be enough to prevent the complete collapse that would overtake a candidate with a less zealous base. What is astounding is that the bottom has not dropped out of the president’s polling given the volume of bad news. Even more astounding is the fact that Mr. Trump is polling ahead of incumbent Republican senators such as Lindsey Graham.
My theory is that the 43-percent is made of several disparate groups of voters. One of the largest segments is the “My Trump, right or wrong” crowd for whom the president can literally do no wrong. A second group is voters who don’t like Trump but who fear Biden and the Democrats more. A third group is the partisans who will simply vote for any candidate with an (R) after his name.
We have also become numbed by the sheer volume of mind-numbingly shocking and, frankly, alarming revelations about the president. He’s been so bad for so long that it takes a lot to move the needle after five years of the media spotlight on the president’s erratic behavior. Abnormal has become the new normal or, as WWII GIs used to say, “Situation Normal: All Fouled Up (SNAFU).”
The high floor (so far) for Trump is both good and bad for Republicans. In the short term, it is good because it will help the party minimize its losses this November and Republicans need to maintain the Senate, or at least a big enough caucus to filibuster, to check the progressive agenda. In the long term, however, it can be dangerous for the party because so much of the Republican identity is now based on personal loyalty to Donald Trump. It will be difficult for conservatives to steer the party in a positive direction post-Trump if most Republicans are still members of the personality cult.
Donald Trump won’t make finding a new Republican direction easy. He won’t be going away after the election, no matter how it turns out. The president will be cheering (and jeering) from the Twitter sidelines and directing his legions of followers, a faction that will likely remain formidable.
For the moment, however, the real question is what tomorrow will bring. Trump is facing a daily dribble of bad news that is similar to the bad news cycle that Hillary Clinton endured in 2016 with health problems, leaked emails, and a lack of direction. That year, the steady drip of bad news finally broke her once solid lead after James Comey’s letter to Congress was released.
This year, Trump is already well behind his challenger only a month out from the election. The steady flow of negative press will make it even more difficult for Trump to climb out of the electoral cellar. It’s impossible to predict the next fire that the Trump campaign will have to put out, but the fires will undoubtedly continue until Election Day.
If you would like to continue the discussion on social media, you can visit David Thornton’s Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.