The Memo: Trump's grip on GOP loosens as polls sink

President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Michael Cohen book accuses Trump of corruption, fraud Trump requests mail-in ballot for Florida congressional primary MORE faces the prospect of growing dissent within his own party unless he can arrest his slide in the polls.

Trump has fallen a significant distance behind presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenHarris to host virtual Hollywood campaign event co-chaired by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling Trump plans to accept Republican nomination from White House lawn US seizes four vessels loaded with Iranian fuel MORE in recent weeks, as the coronavirus has become resurgent. Republicans are eyeing their electoral futures with increasing nervousness.

“Are they worried about Trump’s approval rating? Absolutely, because many of them know they cannot significantly outperform the president. If you are in a swing state or in a swing district, you need the president to be at least competitive,” said one former Republican member of Congress, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. 


Asked about Trump’s chances of reelection, the former member replied with one word: “Improbable.”

Ryan Williams, a GOP strategist and former aide to Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Harris launch Trump offensive in first joint appearance Ron Johnson signals some GOP senators concerned about his Obama-era probes Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump MORE (R-Utah), said, “Republican elected officials are beginning to see this is headed in the wrong direction and the pandemic is not going to go away before Election Day."

Trump, Williams added, “is in a tremendous hole right now and is running out of time.”

Romney has been among the most willing Republicans to criticize Trump. He was the sole GOP senator to vote to convict Trump on one count of impeachment. More recently, he tweeted that the president’s commutation of Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneHow would a Biden Justice Department be different? Matt Gaetz, Roger Stone back far-right activist Laura Loomer in congressional bid Barr: The left 'believes in tearing down the system' MORE’s sentence was an act of “unprecedented, historic corruption.”

Most Republicans decline to condemn Trump in anything close to such emphatic terms. But there are some signs that they are willing to put distance between themselves and the president.

A New York Times report over the weekend noted that even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief agreement | Weekly jobless claims fall below 1 million for first time since March | Trump says no Post Office funding means Democrats 'can't have universal mail-in voting' Overnight Health Care: Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal | US records deadliest day of summer | Georgia governor drops lawsuit over Atlanta's mask mandate Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal MORE (R-Ky.), who has generally been a strong Trump ally, last week “broke with Mr. Trump on nearly every major issue related to the virus.”


The Times cited McConnell’s strong support for the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci defends voting by mail if 'you don't want to take the chance' in person Museum unveils new Fauci bobbleheads after previous edition sells out Marlee Matlin: 'Unfathomable' that White House doesn't have sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings MORE; his cautionary note that Americans would be struggling with the coronavirus for some time; and his emphasis on the importance of wearing a mask.

Trump for the first time tweeted a photograph of himself wearing a mask on Monday afternoon. “Many people say that it is Patriotic to wear a face mask when you can’t socially distance. There is nobody more Patriotic than me, your favorite President!” he wrote.

Trump also said on Monday that White House briefings on the pandemic — which appeared to have been abandoned — would be brought back, starting Tuesday. Their return might be savored by the president, but they could also fray the nerves of his party colleagues, given his propensity to wander off script.

At a briefing in April, Trump suggested to widespread consternation that the ingestion of disinfectant might help treat COVID-19.

Republicans are already nervous enough.

The weekend New York Times report cited remarks apparently made by former GOP Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump slams 'rogue' Sasse after criticism of executive actions Wary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker Budowsky: Why I back Kennedy, praise Markey MORE (Wis.) at a corporate event. According to a partial transcript of those remarks, Ryan fretted about how heavily Trump was losing suburban voters to Biden and said, “if that sticks, he cannot win states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.”

Trump trails Biden by almost 9 points in the RealClearPolitics national polling average. Three major recent polls have put him down by double digits, including an ABC News-Washington Post poll over the weekend that showed Trump lagging by 15 points among registered voters and by 10 points among likely voters.

The same poll showed voters having more trust in Biden than Trump to handle the pandemic by a 20-point margin, 54 percent to 34 percent.

There is no real secret as to the various ingredients that have put Trump in his current predicament.

The United States has failed to “bend the curve” of COVID-19 infections downward, unlike most other developed nations. The economic damage has been severe, robbing Trump of one of the most vital pillars for his reelection campaign. Alongside this, the nation has been roiled by protests over racial injustice and voters have generally disapproved of the president’s response.

The Trump campaign and its allies insist the opinion polls are wrong, alleging that they are not modeling likely turnout correctly and may be under-representing the president’s support.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDanielRonna Romney McDanielTrump hurls insults at Harris, Ocasio-Cortez and other women Trump and allies grapple with how to target Harris Trump campaign blasts 'phony' Harris after Biden names her VP MORE told Fox News on Monday, “I have really struggled with a lot of these polls and the metrics behind them. Many of the polls are sampling only registered voters … What we are seeing at the RNC is the president doing incredibly well in battleground states.”


Trump also fired a warning shot across his critics’ bows during a contentious interview with Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceOvernight Defense: Appeals court rules male-only draft is constitutional | Pentagon dismisses 'unserious' post-election debate Chris Wallace: Trump struggling with attacks on 'shape-shifter' Harris Pentagon dismisses 'unserious' debate over potential military involvement in any post-election dispute MORE on “Fox News Sunday.”

“Do you know how many times I’ve been written off? My whole life,” Trump told Wallace, before adding, “I won’t lose.”

The seismic shock Trump delivered by his defeat of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal Gloria Steinem: Selection of Kamala Harris recognizes that 'black women ... are the heart and soul of the Democratic Party' MORE in 2016 makes many political insiders nervous about making predictions this time around — even though Clinton never led by as much as Biden does now.

Virtually no one expects Biden to win by anything like the margins the polls are currently predicting. But Republicans nevertheless understand the steepness of the climb Trump faces — and the rising gradient for the party’s down-ballot candidates.

“At some point, there is every expectation that we will see some tightening of the numbers. Once that happens, do we overreact to that as well — ‘He’s coming back! Is Biden in trouble?’ ” said Doug Heye, a former communications director of the RNC.

But, Heye added in reference to the pandemic and its economic impact, “politically, the significant thing is that this election is not going to be about what we thought it was going to be about in January.”


For Republican elected officials, there is a serious dilemma. The president is an increasingly heavy millstone when it comes to winning over moderate, suburban voters but he remains very popular with his base. A recent Fox News poll indicated that his performance in office retained the approval of 86 percent of Republican voters.

The president, meanwhile, has always been quick to return fire on any Republican whom he perceives as disloyal.

“It is doubly troubling for Republicans, running with a president who is becoming increasingly unpopular but who will also attack them if they try to put any distance between him and themselves,” said Williams, the GOP strategist.

“You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”


The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.