A fair warning to those who can’t take any opinion aside from the idea that Trump is cruising to re-election. This article is going to explore some of the ominous signs of the past month for the President and discuss them.
With that out of the way, I’ll offer a very unpopular opinion on the right. I think the downward trend every single poll is showing right now for Trump is real (to some extent) and that we should be taking things seriously if we don’t want to wake up to a President-elect Biden this November.
So what are the numbers? You can see them via RCP’s tracking. Biden currently leads +7.8 in the average. The latest polls (all those into the month of June) have Biden +14, +7, +6, +3, +7, +7, and +7.
Want some context? On June 5th, 2016, Hillary led Trump by only 1.5 points in the average. But more important than any one day’s numbers are the changes we see over the course of time. In 2016, what you saw is Trump closing the gap with Hillary over and over throughout the contest. The electorate was volatile with a lot of undecideds. People were changing their minds and at no point was Trump knocked out.
Unfortunately, the situation now is completely different, with Biden continually maintaining a very large gap. Trump has shown no ability (yet) to close the gap as he did with Hillary throughout the spring and early summer. Further, even Rasmussen, the most pro-Trump pollster out there, has Trump down 5 points in their latest poll. Is that a fake poll? You’d be hard-pressed to make that argument. In other words, do I think that CNN poll showing Trump down 14 points is an outlier? Absolutely. But do I think he’s actually down 5-7 points right now? Yes, I do.
If you’ve gotten this far and just believe every single poll is fake, you can probably stop reading. But if you see the issue here, let’s talk about the reasons why this is happening, because I think they are fairly easily explained.
As I wrote about a week ago, Trump’s response to the rioting has been great for his base who just want to let it all burn, but it has harmed him with independents and moderates who wanted to see decisive action. That voting bloc craves a feeling of security and calm. At one point, nearly 60% of the country supported use of the military to stop the destruction. Instead, Trump waited nearly a week to give a speech that talked tough but then still largely did nothing outside of securing the area directly around the White House. Tom Cotton had the right idea and whoever advised Trump not to follow his advice really screwed up.
Aside from the riots, the general malaise of coronavirus also isn’t helping. The virus is not his fault, but his inability to capitalize on the situation is. Spending weeks accusing Joe Scarborough of murder was not the kind of thing that brings fickle suburbanites back into the fold. There’s no doubt his two-hour briefings sparring with the media and saying confusing things hurt him as well. In fact, you could track his approval ratings from before the briefings started to after and the drop off was evident. As always, the less Trump talks, in person or on Twitter, the more people feel comfortable with him. That’s a strength he refuses to play into.
Then there’s the chaos narrative. Like it or not, the media have done a good job of presenting Trump as the chaos candidate in a time of chaos. The reason that matters is that 2016 was a milquetoast election in which people felt they could afford to say “burn it all down.” We are in the opposite situation in 2020, with people desperately looking for calm. Can Trump provide that? He could if he chose to, but that’s not who he really is.
With all that said, what’s this mean for November?
I think the environment Trump is campaigning in is more important than his actual campaigning at this point. He needs the chaos to calm down and the economy to rebound. Eventually, these protests are going to end and it should be long before November. We need to see another month of data, but it looks like the economy could make a V-shaped recovery, with some huge upward trends going into the fall. Not having a resurgence of coronavirus will be a huge factor as well.
If those last two months before the election bring us more to a 2016 type environment vs. the near-apocalyptic feel of 2020 so far, Trump can capitalize if the fundamentals of the economy favor him. If this continues, he’s the underdog because a lot of people are gullible enough to think Joe Biden is a steady hand. For Trump’s part, he could spend less time worrying about someone as irrelevant as Colin Powell and more time actually attacking his opponent. This push to de-fund the police is a golden opportunity. He should make that the top issue of his campaign until Biden is made to either own it or reject it.
What no one should do is just stick their head in the sand. Campaigns are not won by default. They are not won by hoping that lightning strikes twice, and yes, 2016 was very much lightning striking with tiny margins in several key states. Trump is probably not going to change his tack, so those that support him have to put in the work to get the vote out, spread the GOP message on policy, and highlight the absolute insanity Democrats are promising. Not acknowledging there’s a problem and taking action is how you end up with President Joe Biden.