President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse panel approves 0.5B defense policy bill House panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate House panel votes to constrain Afghan drawdown, ask for assessment on ‘incentives’ to attack US troops MORE is at one of the weakest points of his presidency with Election Day just four months away.
A barrage of problems has sapped the president’s popularity and sharply steepened his climb toward reelection.
Trump now lags presumptive nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden campaign raised M more than Trump in the month of June RNC, Trump campaign raised 1M in June Michigan shuts down most indoor bar service in bid to prevent virus resurgence MORE by almost 10 points in the RealClearPolitics national polling average.
The coronavirus and the economic damage it has wreaked are colossal political liabilities — and several polls have shown Trump’s response resonating badly with voters.
A president who thought he would be able to run on a strong economy has had that card torn up.
Trump’s often-angry rhetoric in relation to protests against racial injustice — pledging a draconian response to protesters he has characterized as extremists or subversives — has also seemed out of step with a changing nation.
The dim view of Trump’s position extends beyond the ranks of Democrats and other ideological foes. Among people in his orbit, there is talk of panic as the president’s polling position worsens. Even the betting markets give Biden roughly twice as strong a chance of winning in November.
A series of new polls from CNBC on Wednesday showed Trump trailing by no fewer than five points in six battleground states: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The CNBC surveys found Trump down seven points in North Carolina, which he won by almost four points in 2016 and which has only backed a Democrat for president twice in the past half century— Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterJimmy Carter says Israeli annexation would be ‘illegal’ land grab Trump’s mark on federal courts could last decades WSJ editorial board tees off on Trump: Trends pointing to ‘historic repudiation’ MORE in 1976 and Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaHow Obama can win back millions of Trump voters for Biden Biden taps Obama alums for high-level campaign positions: report Democrats debate Biden effort to expand map against Trump MORE in 2008.
Trump’s approval ratings, too, have fallen away. His net approval rating in the RCP average is around negative 15 points, the worst it has been since the start of 2019, when voters blamed the president for a partial government shutdown.
Observers who think the current state of the polls is due to Biden’s strength as a candidate are few and far between. Instead, the Democrat has simply stayed out of trouble while Trump has waded into it.
“Trump is the person who just keeps on giving every day in so many different ways,” said Jerry Austin, a Democratic strategist in Ohio. “He just keeps pissing off essential voters, whether by tweeting or some off-the-cuff remark or when we found out about the bounty situation with the Taliban.”
As Trump’s position falters, Republicans in elected office also feel more at liberty to distance themselves from him.
Last weekend, when Trump retweeted a video in which a supporter twice shouted “White Power!” Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottGOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday If only woke protesters knew how close they were to meaningful police reform Officials couldn’t reach Trump on golf course to delete retweet of video showing man chanting ‘white power’: report MORE (R-S.C.) — the Senate’s sole Black Republican — called the decision to do so “indefensible” during an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The retweet was later undone, and the White House insisted Trump had not been aware of the remark when he first retweeted the video.
That move was the latest in a number of incendiary choices by the president.
Trump, early in the protests, had tweeted “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” He later suggested without evidence that a man in his 70s who suffered head injuries after being shoved by police in Buffalo, N.Y. could have been part of “a set up.”
An Economist/YouGov poll conducted June 28-30 found that Trump’s handling of the protests was approved by just 34 percent of Americans, whereas 53 percent disapproved. Black Americans disapproved by a resounding margin (75 percent to 13 percent) but so too did a plurality of whites (48 percent to 40 percent).
Team Trump continues to evince confidence, at least publicly.
In a memo sent to reporters last weekend, Trump’s deputy campaign manager Bill Stepien insisted that “the enthusiasm gap is real and wide” between the president and Biden.
Stepien also took issue with public polling, which he contended was not doing a good enough job winnowing out likely non-voters, a failure that he said skewed their samples too young — and therefore unfavorably toward Trump.
The president himself contended in a Fox Business Network interview broadcast Wednesday that Biden “just wants to raise everyone’s taxes because they want to spend it on nonsense….The Democrats want to raise taxes.”
The president and his allies have also repeatedly called Biden’s mental acuity into question, suggesting he is not up for the rigors of the job.
There is the possibility that Trump can defy the pollsters yet again in four months, especially if the economy shows signs of a more vigorous comeback. On Thursday, the latest jobs report found the national unemployment rate falling more than 2 points to 11.1 percent.
The attacks on Biden might work, especially considering they are backed by a deep war-chest. The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee were reported on Wednesday to have raised $131 million in June alone, a haul that left them with $295 million on hand.
Then again, Trump has been attacking Biden for months, and it hasn’t worked so far. There is, too, the extraordinary peculiarity of 2020 to consider. As COVID-19 cases rise again, it remains unclear what the presidential campaign will look like even in its final stretch.
Strategists from both parties note that there will likely be a huge upsurge in voting by mail, which would mean many voters could make up their minds sooner than normal.
“It’s likely we will be looking at an election where people will be deciding in maybe late September or early October,” said GOP strategist Liz Mair. “That means [Trump] doesn’t have as much breathing room. They don’t have this whole period to recover that a campaign normally would.”
Trump may not be close to being counted out — but he is on the ropes for sure.
“He goes into this election a very weak incumbent, comparable in many ways to Carter or George H.W. Bush,” said Princeton University history professor Julian Zelizer. “But the campaign here hasn’t really begun.”
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.