He still has no second term message beyond his own grievances.
President Trump may soon need a new nickname for “Sleepy Joe” Biden. How does President-elect sound? On present trend that’s exactly what Mr. Biden will be on Nov. 4, as Mr. Trump heads for what could be an historic repudiation that would take the Republican Senate down with him.
Mr. Trump refuses to acknowledge what every poll now says is true: His approval rating has fallen to the 40% or below that is George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter territory. They’re the last two Presidents to be denied a second term. This isn’t 2017 when Mr. Trump reached similar depths after failing to repeal ObamaCare while blaming Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. He regained support with tax reform and a buoyant economy that really was lifting all incomes.
Now the election is four months away, voters know him very well, and Mr. Trump has reverted to his worst form. His record fighting the coronavirus is better than his critics claim after a bad start in late February and March. He mobilized federal resources to help hard-hit states, especially New York.But he wasted his chance to show leadership by turning his daily pandemic pressers into brawls with the bear-baiting press and any politician who didn’t praise him to the skies. Lately he has all but given up even talking about the pandemic when he might offer realism and hope about the road ahead even as the country reopens. His default now is defensive self-congratulation.
The country also wants firm but empathetic leadership after the death of George Floyd, but Mr. Trump offers combative tweets that inflame. Not long ago Mr. Trump tweeted that a 75-year old man who was pushed by police in Buffalo might be an antifa activist. He offered no evidence.
Mr. Trump has little time to recover. The President’s advisers say that he trailed Hillary Clinton by this much at this point in 2016, that they haven’t had a chance to define Mr. Biden, and that as the election nears voters will understand the binary choice. Perhaps. But in 2016 Mrs. Clinton was as unpopular as Mr. Trump, while Mr. Biden is not.
Mr. Biden hasn’t even had to campaign to take a large lead. He rarely leaves his Delaware basement, he dodges most issues, and his only real message is that he’s not Donald Trump. He says he’s a uniter, not a divider. He wants racial peace and moderate police reform. He favors protests but opposes riots and violence.
Some Democrats are literally advising Mr. Biden to barely campaign at all. Eliminate the risk of a mental stumble that will raise doubts about his declining capacity that was obvious in the primaries. Let Mr. Trump remind voters each day why they don’t want four more years of tumult and narcissism.
Mr. Trump’s base of 35% or so will never leave, but the swing voters who stood by him for three and a half years have fallen away in the last two months. This includes suburban women, independents, and seniors who took a risk on him in 2016 as an outsider who would shake things up. Now millions of Americans are close to deciding that four more years are more risk than they can stand.
As of now Mr. Trump has no second-term agenda, or even a message beyond four more years of himself. His recent events in Tulsa and Arizona were dominated by personal grievances. He resorted to his familiar themes from 2016 like reducing immigration and denouncing the press, but he offered nothing for those who aren’t already persuaded.
Mr. Trump’s advisers have an agenda that would speak to opportunity for Americans of all races—school choice for K-12, vocational education as an alternative to college, expanded health-care choice, building on the opportunity zones in tax reform, and more. The one issue on which voters now give him an edge over Mr. Biden is the economy. An agenda to revive the economy after the pandemic, and restore the gains for workers of his first three years, would appeal to millions.
Perhaps Mr. Trump lacks the self-awareness and discipline to make this case. He may be so thrown off by his falling polls that he simply can’t do it. If that’s true he should understand that he is headed for a defeat that will reward all of those who schemed against him in 2016. Worse, he will have let down the 63 million Americans who sent him to the White House by losing, of all people, to “Sleepy Joe.”
Things are looking down for the Donald.
For a long time, Republicans have brandished the same old narrative to try to scare their way into the White House.
Their candidates were presented as the patriarchs, protecting the house from invaders with dark skin.
With Nixon, it was the Southern Strategy, raising alarms about the dismantling of Jim Crow laws.
With Reagan, it was launching his 1980 campaign on fairgrounds near where the Klan murdered three civil rights activists.
With Bush senior, it was Willie Horton coming to stab you and rape your girlfriend.
With W. and Cheney, it was Qaeda terrorists coming back to kill us.
With Donald Trump, it was Mexican rapists and the Obama birther lie.
For re-election, Trump is sifting through the embers of the Civil War, promising to protect America from “troublemakers” and “agitators” and “anarchists” rioting, looting and pulling down statues that they find racially offensive. “They said, ‘We want to get Jesus,’” Trump ominously told Sean Hannity Thursday night.
But Trump is badly out of step with the national psyche. The actual narrative gripping America is, at long last, about white men in uniforms targeting black and brown people.
In the last election, Trump milked white aggrievement to catapult himself into the White House. But even Republicans today recognize that we have to grapple with systemic racism and force some changes in police conduct — except for our president, who hailed stop-and-frisk in the Hannity interview.
The other scary narrative is about our “protean” enemy, as Tony Fauci calls Covid-19, which Trump pretends has disappeared, with lethal consequences. With no plan, he is reduced to more race-baiting, calling the virus “the China plague” and the “Kung Flu.” Nasty nicknames don’t work on diseases.
The pathogen is roaring back in the South and the West in places that buoyed Trump in 2016. Texas, Florida and Arizona are turning into Covid Calamity Land after many residents emulated their president and scorned masks and social distancing as a Commie hoax.
Is Trump’s perverse Southern Strategy to send the older men and women who are a large part of his base to the I.C.U.?
The president showed off his sociopathic flair by demanding the repeal of Obamacare — just because he can’t stand that it was done by Barack Obama. Millions losing their jobs and insurance during a plague and he wants to eliminate their alternative? Willful maliciousness.
And this at the same time he has been ensuring more infections by lowballing the virus, resisting more testing because the numbers would not be flattering to him, sidelining Dr. Fauci and setting a terrible example.
The Dow fell 700 points on the news that Texas and Florida are ordering a Covid-driven last call, closing their bars again, and the virus is revivifying in 30 states.
In 2016, the mood was against the status quo, represented by Hillary Clinton. But now the mood is against chaos, cruelty, deception and incompetence, represented by Trump. In light of our tempestuous, vertiginous times, Joe Biden’s status quo seems comforting.
It is a stunning twist in history that the former vice president was pushed aside in 2016 by the first black president and put back in the game this year by pragmatic black voters.
Bill Clinton was needy; he played a game with voters called “How much do you love me?” Do you love me enough to forgive me for this embarrassing personal transgression, or that one?
But Trump has taken that solipsism to the stratosphere, asking rallygoers in Tulsa to choose him over their health, possibly their lives, recklessly turning a medical necessity into a tribal signifier. I wasn’t surprised that so many seats there were empty, but that so many were filled.
In a rare moment of self-awareness, Trump whinged to Hannity about Biden: “The man can’t speak and he’s going to be your president ’cause some people don’t love me, maybe.”
It’s not only the virus that Trump is willfully blind about. A Times story that broke Friday evening was extremely disturbing about Trump’s love of Vladimir Putin. American intelligence briefed the president about a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offering bounties to Taliban-linked insurgents for killing coalition troops in Afghanistan, including Americans. Yet Trump has still been lobbying for Putin to rejoin the G7.
Trump had a chance, with twin existential crises, to be better after his abominable performance in his first three years. But then, we’ve known all along that he is not interested in science, racial harmony or leading the basest elements of his base out of Dixie and into the 21st century. Yes, the kid from Queens enjoys his newfound status as a son of the Confederacy.
A Wall Street Journal editorial Thursday warned that he could be defeated because he has no message beyond personal grievances and “four more years of himself.”
But Trump has always been about Trump. And the presidency was always going to distill him to his Trumpiest essence.
I asked Tim O’Brien, the Trump biographer, what to expect as the man obsessed with winning faces humiliating rejection.
“He will descend further into abuse, alienation and authoritarianism,” O’Brien said. “That’s what he’s stewing on most of the time, the triple A’s.”
Those are some of the views Republicans endorse by uncritically embracing and supporting President Trump. He is leading his party down a sewer of unabashed racism and willful ignorance, and all who follow him — and I mean all — deserve to feel the mighty wrath of voters in November.
I’m talking to you, Sen.
- Susan Collins of Maine. And you, Sen.
- Cory Gardner of Colorado. And you, Sens.
- Thom Tillis of North Carolina,
- Martha McSally of Arizona,
- Joni Ernst of Iowa,
- Steve Daines of Montana,
- Kelly Loeffler of Georgia and
- John Cornyn of Texas.
And while those of you in deep-red states whose reelection ordinarily would be seen as a mere formality may not see the giant millstones you’ve hung around your necks as a real risk, think again. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina and even Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, you should look at the numbers and realize you are putting your Senate seats — and the slim GOP majority — in dire jeopardy.
You can run and hide from reporters asking you about Trump’s latest statements or tweets. You can pretend not to hear shouted questions as you hurry down Capitol hallways. You can take out your cellphones and feign being engrossed in a terribly important call. Ultimately, you’re going to have to answer to voters — and in the meantime you have decided to let Trump speak for you. Best of luck with that.
It is not really surprising that Trump, with his poll numbers falling and his reelection in serious jeopardy, would decide to use race and public health as wedge issues to inflame his loyal base. That’s all he knows how to do.
Most politicians would see plunging poll numbers as a warning to try a different approach; Trump takes them as a sign to do more of the same — more race-baiting, more authoritarian “law and order” posturing, more see-no-evil denial of a raging pandemic that has cost more than 120,000 American lives.
Racism is a feature of the Trump shtick, not a bug. He sees the nationwide protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd as an opportunity not for healing and reform, but to stir anger and resentment among his overwhelmingly white voting base. Trump wants no part of the reckoning with history the country seems to crave.
This week, city officials in Charleston, S.C. — the place where the Civil War began — took down a statue of John C. Calhoun, a leading 19th-century politician and fierce defender of slavery, from its 115-foot column in Marion Square and hauled it away to a warehouse. Also this week, Trump reportedly demanded that the District’s monument to Confederate Gen. Albert Pike, toppled last week by protesters, be cleaned up and reinstalled exactly as it was.
Trump went to Arizona not just to falsely claim great progress on building his promised border wall, intended to keep out the “hombres,” but also to delight fervent young supporters by referring to covid-19 as “kung flu.” Weeks ago, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said that racist term was clearly offensive and unacceptable. But since Trump has made it into a red-meat applause line, Conway now apparently thinks it’s a perfectly legitimate way to identify the virus’s country of origin.
All the other Republicans who fail to speak up while Trump runs the most nakedly racist presidential campaign since George Wallace in 1968 shouldn’t kid themselves. Their silence amounts to agreement. Perhaps there’s enough white bitterness out there to carry the Republican Party to another narrow win. But that’s not what the polls say.
Trump’s antics are self-defeating. He’ll put on a racist show for a shrinking audience, but he won’t wear the masks that could allow the economic reopening he desperately wants. He may be able to avoid reality, but the Republican governors — including Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida — scrambling desperately to contain new outbreaks cannot.
It’s almost as though Trump is determined to destroy the Republican Party. Let’s give him his wish.
Ben Rhodes served as deputy national security adviser to Barack Obama. He is currently a writer and political commentator and co-host of the podcast “Pod Save the World.”
Rhodes’ candid, full interview was conducted with FRONTLINE during the making of the two-part January 2020 documentary series “America’s Great Divide: From Obama to Trump.”
Watch Part One here: https://youtu.be/SnMBYMOTwEs
And Part Two here: https://youtu.be/l5vyDPN19ww