VP Pence Showed in the Debate the Path for Pres. Trump to Take Back Control of the Race

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

 

It has been a bad seven days for the campaign of President Trump.  That fact is revealed in the polling.

Whether and to what extent the polls are accurate on a numerical basis, there is no question that there was a decent movement against the President in nearly every one of the polls over the past week.  It all began with the first Presidential debate.

Pres. Trump did what he wanted to do — he accomplished his primary goal of dominating Biden and sucking up all the oxygen in the room with is “alpha male” presence.  The problem is that I’m not sure Pres. Trump’s goals coincided with smart politics in this race against this opponent.

My view is that among the biggest assets the President has in this match is the identity of his opponent.  The Biden campaign knows that — that’s why Joe Biden has been kept hidden in a basement the past six weeks.  The Biden campaign knows it’s playing Russian Roulette with five chambers filled when Biden is let loose in public to speak.  The one thing Pres. Trump needs more of is the one thing the Biden Campaign wants to provide less of  — Joe Biden talking without a script.

The one consistent criticism of Pres. Trump’s tactics in the first debate was that he didn’t let Biden speak enough to unleash Biden’s inner gaffe machine.  VP Pence showed in the VP debate the importance of not jumping in on every subject and letting Harris offer some extended answers.

His national numbers across several polls have taken a significant hit over the course of the past seven days — beginning the day after the debate.  But what would have probably been a temporary transient poll hit became a much more existential problem on Thursday night when it was announced he tested positive for COVID-19, made worse on Friday when the decision was made to admit him to Walter Reed Medical Center.

The decline in the polling has been steady and meaningful, and there are no other events of consequence in that time frame to account for that decline.  No shocking news bulletin, no event on the world stage, no major gaffe, no discovery of a previously unknown negative fact.  His debate performance excited his base but was off-putting to some in the middle, and next thing you know he’s a mid-70’s victim of a virus that kills the elderly.  So when the pollsters are asking registered voters who they prefer — well “not the guy whose dying” should have probably been a category.

Shocking, isn’t it, that undecided voters might break against him in a news cycle where those are the events that dominate the headlines?

He’s out of the hospital now, seems to be rapidly on the mend, and VP Pence showed him last night how a “slow and steady” approach to verbal warfare — picking your spots to “slash and burn” — is the approach that wins over undecided voters.

The polling will begin to level out with his return to the White House and appearances by video which show a return to health.  But he needs to regain ground with voters who began to move away from him — that 4-5% shift that is reflected in the polling the last 4-5 days.

The best way to do that is to FIRST let Joe Biden show how he is not fit for the office.  That is not going to happen by yelling at Joe Biden on a debate stage.  That is going to happen by leaning back and letting Joe Biden talk.  Invite him to talk more.  Encourage him to offer more details about his plans.

A virtual debate, where Biden is not cowed into silence by the President’s penchant for jumping into every subject with both feet, may be a great format to accomplish this goal.  There are two debates left — the Campaign should think carefully about whether or not a virtual debate might moderate some of the aspects of the first debate that played poorly with the non-MAGA base.

Biden’s plans and the details indict themselves.  The Trump campaign needs the public to hear more from Biden, not less.  He’s just about as bad a “messenger” as you could imagine given his cognitive decline.  There is no need to hammer away on the obvious in front of an audience. Let Joe be Joe, and the obvious will show through.

The polls had Hillary Clinton so far ahead in early October that Nate Silver had her at a 95% likelihood of victory.  What’s she up to these days?

Donald Trump NEVER polled up to his ballot numbers — not in the 2016 primaries and not in the general.

The same will be true next month.

But I think what he really needs is to let the voters listen to Joe Biden for a couple of weeks.