by Tony Wyman
The Only Way Trump Can Win In November Is To Stop Being Trump
Just this morning, 127 days before the November 3rd national election, President Trump tweeted a video of a White supporter driving a golf cart festooned with “Trump 2020” signs and chanting “White Power!” at anti-Trump protesters.
Instead of being appalled by the blatant display of bigotry and taking the opportunity to condemn those who shared it, the president thanked the “great people” in the video for sticking up for him against his opponents.
“Thank you to the great people of The Villages. The Radical Left Do Nothing Democrats will Fall in the Fall. Corrupt Joe is shot. See you soon!!”
Former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton, now a staunch critic of the president’s, told CNN’s Jake Tapper shortly afterwards that it is possible Mr. Trump deliberately tweeted the video as a signal to his largely white and uneducated base, but, he said, it is also possible the president simply was too lazy and impulsive to pay close attention to the message he was sending out to the more than 30 million voters who follow his Twitter account.
“It may be that you can draw a conclusion that he heard it, and it was racist, and he tweeted it to promote the message. It is a legitimate conclusion to draw. It is also entirely legitimate to say he just had no idea what else was in the video other than the Trump sign,” commented Mr. Bolton on the president’s unprofessional blunder.
Tim Scott, the GOP’s only Black U.S. Senator, called the president’s tweet “inexcusable,” which it clearly was. But it was something else as well: another in a long series of unforced errors and self-inflicted wounds by a man who seems determined to lose the 2020 election to an opponent who, so far, appears to feel little pressure to actually run for the office.
And why should he? So far, without doing hardly anything to promote his plans for a Biden presidency, the Democratic challenger leads Mr. Trump by a whopping 14-points, according to a New York Times and Siena College poll.
The former vice-president is also leading in the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. States like Iowa and Georgia, which should be solid red states, are up for grabs.
Even Texas is vulnerable. The latest polling there shows Mr. Biden either leading by one-point or trailing by just one in a state Mr. Trump won by nine-points in 2016.
Trump’s Base Is Shrinking
On top of that, support for the president among key constituencies is dropping. At this stage in the 2016 election, against an opponent the white evangelical community despised, Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump had 78% of the religious right vote. Today, he is clinging on to just 69%, according to a survey by the American Enterprise Institute.
Much of the reason the (impeached) president demanded states reopen churches during the early days of the pandemic was motivated by his need to staunch the loss of support his pollsters told him he was experiencing among White protestant and Catholic voters.
The Public Religion Research Institute poll showed double-digit declines in popularity from March’s high to the April for White Evangelicals (-11%), White Catholics (-12%) and White Mainline Protestants (-18%).
In addition, the president’s mishandling of the virus and of the civil unrest following the police killing of George Floyd cost him even more support among religious Americans, seeing his approval rating drop from 80% in March to 62% by the end of May.
Working class white women, another group that strongly supported the president, despite his history of misogynistic behavior and insulting comments directed at females based on their gender and appearance.
In 2016, Mr. Trump beat Ms. Clinton by 26-points with white women without a college degree. But, thanks to the president’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, his unwillingness to wear a mask in public, and his insistence on reopening businesses too soon, blue collar white workers feel their safety isn’t the president’s chief concern and are starting to back his more empathetic opponent.
Now, Mr. Trump’s lead over Mr. Biden with white working class women is down to just six points, according to an ABC News poll in late May.
Prof. William Galston of the Brookings Institute estimates the drop in support among blue collar white women could cost Mr. Trump 2%-points in November’s election, should polling numbers hold until then. “It took a near-miracle for him to win the electoral college with only 46% of the popular vote in 2016,” said the former adviser to six Democratic presidential campaigns. “With 44% of the vote, it would not be possible.”
Another key group where the president’s support is falling is among active duty military personnel. During the 2016 election, 61% of veterans voted for Mr. Trump, but, today, according to a December 2019 poll by Military Times, the president’s approval rating among military personnel is only 42%.
In addition, numerous high-ranking generals and admirals have gone public with their criticism of the president and his threat to use military troops against peaceful protestors demonstrating against police brutality directed disproportionately at African-Americans.
Army Gen. Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued a rare statement to service members following the president’s “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” threat directed at protestors, reminding them of their oath to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States and the people of the country.
In that memo, Gen. Milley said,
“Every member of the U.S. military swears and oath to support and defend the Constitution and the values embedded within it. This document is founded on the essential principle that all men and women are born free and equal, and should be treated with respect and dignity. It also gives Americans the right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. We in all branches, all components, and all ranks remain committed to our national values and principles embedded in the Constitution.”
He added, in a clear rebuke to the president, the National Guard was “operating under the authority of state governors” during the period of civil unrest and that the Armed Forces of the U.S., “comprised of all races, colors and creeds…embody the ideals of our Constitution” and will “operate consistent with national laws and our own high standards of conduct.”
The message to the White House couldn’t be any clearer: the president was on very thin ice with the highest ranks of the U.S. military.
Can Trump Stop the Bleeding?
With polls telling the president he is heading towards what could be a historic loss to Joe Biden in November, what can Mr. Trump and his campaign team do to stop the collapse in his numbers?
Assuming no miracle COVID-19 cure is on the immediate horizon that allows American businesses to reopen and gives consumers the confidence they need to resume active lives of spending and traveling, how can the Republicans construct a reasonable plan to keep the White House out of the rubble of the Mr. Trump’s political collapse?
They need to get Trump to stop being Trump.
Yes, I know you are laughing out loud right now and I don’t blame you, but hear me out. If you canvas Republican election strategists, they say the path to victory is through an economic recovery that fills the nation with a sense of optimism that four more years of Donald Trump in the White House will return the prosperity and growth the nation had enjoyed since 2010, before the virus struck and the president and his administration bungled their response to it.
These strategists believe voters will forgive the president for mishandling the response to the virus if he can, somehow, return robustness to the American economy and get employment levels back to near where they were before the pandemic spread out of control in the country.
The problem with this strategy is it is more likely Tom Brady will win the Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers than it is the economy will be roaring back by November. And President Trump is largely to blame for that.
By failing to take the threat of the virus seriously, by claiming it was under control before claiming it was a hoax before claiming it was a conspiracy against him before claiming he always knew it was a massive threat before claiming it was all the fault of the governors – Mr. Trump blew the chance to demonstrate his ability to lead during a crisis. He undermined his own best defense of the economic collapse that followed the arrival of the virus.
Had he taken it seriously from the start and attacked it with all the resources at his disposal, seeing it not as a threat to his presidency, but as an opportunity to show why he deserved a second term, the people wouldn’t have blamed him for the world-leading deaths or the unprecedented loss of jobs and wealth that came with virus.
Had he chosen to wear a mask in public and used his influence with his supporters to get them to follow CDC guidelines designed to minimize the spread of the virus, the United States (125,539 deaths, as of this writing) might be where South Korea is today (282 deaths, despite having a population density 15 times greater than America’s).
So, if the development of a vaccine isn’t on the immediate horizon and if there is little chance of the Bucs winning the Super Bowl, how can the president appeal to Americans to give him another shot if not to admit he made mistakes and has learned from them?
For this strategy to work, Mr. Trump has to make immediate changes to the way he conducts himself in public.
He has to show some humility, some willingness to accept responsibility for his mistakes, for his bad hires, for putting people like Michael Flynn, Sean Spicer, Stephen Miller, Betsy DeVos, Steve Bannon and Ben Carson in top posts, for disregarding the advice of real experts and labeling dedicated professionals working in the government for the good of the people “the Deep State,” as if they were some shadowy underground conspiring to make him look incompetent. As if he would need their help for that.
He needs to drop the wild accusations of corruption he’s made against his opponents, claims that looked ridiculous even before they were proven groundless by investigators and journalists.
He needs to put an end to the hyperbolic exaggerations that roll off his tongue like pickup lines from a con artist in a hotel bar. No more claims to be “the most perfect person“ or that he has “a knack for manufacturing” when he’s never manufactured anything or that he “probably would have been a good general“ when the world knows he dodged the draft.
All these things make him look weak and insecure, like a man unwilling to confront reality head on, like one more comfortable living in a fantasy world.
He needs to be honest with the American people, to trust us for the first time in his life, to tell us the truth rather than to spin us a sales pitch.
And he needs a real plan to go forward, one with attainable and realistic goals, ones that unite the nation behind a cause more befitting a great nation than to build a wall to keep out desperate people drawn here by the beauty and promise of the American dream, a plan more ambitious than to withdraw behind our shores and hide from the rest of the world.
Damon Linker, writing in The Week, thinks the winning strategy for Mr. Trump is to run against his own administration, to blame its members for his failures, to double down on being Donald Trump.
Trump has already laid the foundation for running against his own first term — in the tweets he regularly fires off against members of his administration who have resigned or been fired and then turned on him. (Former National Security Adviser John Bolton is just the latest in a long line of examples.) These missives invariably denounce the former staffer in unmodulated terms, as unambiguously awful, and treat the resignation or firing as evidence of Trump’s own toughness and high standards. What he never notes is that he invariably hired the incompetent traitor in the first place.
But, in a country growing increasingly tired of Donald Trump, of his negativity, his excuses, his blamestorming, is this approach really a path forward for the president or another approach that ultimately ends up with the American people saying “You’re fired!”