Former acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on Tuesday conceded that if November’s general election becomes a “referendum” on President Donald Trump, the Republican incumbent will face “real headwinds” in his race against former Vice President Joe Biden.
“If the president can go back to drawing those contrasts between him and Joe Biden — that becomes a race between Trump and Biden — I think the president does extraordinarily well,” Mulvaney told Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo. “And he shows people, ‘Look, if you hire me, this is what you get. If you hire him, you end up with no jobs.’”
But “if it ends up being a popularity contest or, worse, a referendum on President Trump, I think he’s got some real headwinds to face,” Mulvaney, who now serves as the U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland, said.
The blunt acknowledgment from Trump’s former top aide comes amid escalating anxiety among congressional Republicans regarding the president’s electoral prospects and increasingly incendiary language less than four months before Election Day.
As the United States confronts a resurgence of coronavirus cases and reckons with widespread racial unrest, Trump has encouraged a broad economic reopening while defending divisive symbols including the Confederate flag, U.S. military bases named after Confederate commanders and statues of historical figures whose legacies are complicated by America’s racist past.
Meanwhile, virtually all public polling shows Trump trailing Biden by substantial margins nationally, with the presumptive Democratic nominee bolstering his leads in the same swing states Trump captured in 2016 to win office. Only 38 percent of Americans currently approve of the job Trump is doing as president, according to a Gallup poll published Monday.
As his political fortunes have faltered, the president has focused his rhetorical energy on issues surrounding law enforcement and race. In recent days, he has shared a video in which an elderly supporter could be heard shouting “white power,” deemed the Black Lives Matter movement a “symbol of hate,” and warned of a burgeoning “left-wing cultural revolution” during a speech at Mount Rushmore.
Trump doubled down on that line of messaging Monday by criticizing NASCAR’s decision to ban the Confederate flag from its races and calling for an apology from the sport’s top Black driver. He also reprimanded the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians for announcing they would review potential name changes for their sports franchises after years of pressure from Native American groups.
Mulvaney suggested Tuesday that Trump should pivot away from those polarizing topics and focus instead on the state of the U.S. economy, telling Bartiromo: “You have already seen some indications of growth. Maybe that’s what he should be talking about.”
“There’s good news there,” Mulvaney added. “How do you take that and turn that into a message that gets you reelected? And one of the things you do is to point out to people that you made America great — to use his term — in the first place, [and] you can do it again.”