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Coronavirus steals Trump economic edge

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Trump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump MORE has the money, the bully pulpit and a firm grip on his party as he leans into his reelection race, but he no longer has what was long seen as the greatest strength of his presidency: a strong economy. 

With less than 200 days to go before the election, Trump is now running as a president seeking to rebuild an economy that a little more than a month ago was riding along with historically low unemployment.

Since then, about 22 million people have filed unemployment claims, inviting comparisons to the Great Depression. 

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It’s one reason Trump is pressing to open up the economy as quickly as possible. The White House on Thursday offered new guidelines for a three-phase opening, though actual decisions are left to governors.

“To preserve the health of our citizens, we must also preserve the health and functioning of our economy,” Trump said at the unveiling. “A prolonged lockdown combined with a forced economic depression would inflict an immense and wide-ranging toll on public health.”

Trump in many ways is a stronger candidate than he was four years ago, when there was talk that establishment Republicans might abandon him. At the GOP’s convention, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz urges Supreme Court to take up Pennsylvania election challenge OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration proceeds with rollback of bird protections despite objections | Trump banking proposal on fossil fuels sparks backlash from libertarians | EU 2019 greenhouse gas emissions down 24 percent Trump's NATO ambassador pledges 'seamless' transition to Biden administration MORE (R-Texas) memorably criticized the president and was booed off the stage. 

Cruz and other officeholders are now firmly entrenched with Trump, and they see their political futures, at least in the near term, as linked to the president. 

Trump also has much more money than he had in 2016. His campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) raised a combined $63 million last month alone — far more than the roughly $14.5 million he raised in March 2016.

Together, the Trump campaign and RNC ended March 2020 with $240 million in the bank.

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“I know a lot of my Democratic friends have been saying, 'Well, this is it. Trump’s toast.' I’m certainly not going to say that,” Republican strategist Doug Heye told The Hill.

He said the Trump campaign won in 2016 amid criticism it was unorganized and underfunded. In 2020, the president’s campaign will be well organized and well funded, Heye said.

The coronavirus will shadow the presidential race and may determine it.

Trump initially saw his approval ratings rise, but recent polls show approval of his handling of the pandemic trending downward. One survey from ABC News and Ipsos released last week showed public approval of Trump’s efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic 11 points underwater — a 6-point drop from a similar poll conducted the week before. 

In an even more alarming sign for Trump, Gallup polling data released on Thursday showed his overall approval rating plummeting from 49 percent in March to 43 percent this month — the steepest decline for Trump ever recorded by the analytics company.

Recent polling also shows that a majority of Americans believe Trump’s response to the pandemic was delayed. Sixty-five percent of respondents in a Pew Research poll released on Thursday said Trump was “too slow” to take major steps to address the outbreak in the U.S., while only 34 percent said he was quick to take these steps. 

Republicans warn, however, that it’s too early to tell how Trump’s response will be viewed by voters.

“Where are things in six months? What is the ultimate death toll here? And how do voters view that?” Heye said. “Do they look at a death toll and say that actually came in well under projections and the economy is starting to come back? Or do voters react in a completely different way.”

Trump will have to contend with a highly unified and motivated Democratic Party.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump Cruz urges Supreme Court to take up Pennsylvania election challenge MORE in the last week has won endorsements from Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDeVos knocks free college push as 'socialist takeover of higher education' The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Capital One — Giuliani denies discussing preemptive pardon with Trump Manchin: Ocasio-Cortez 'more active on Twitter than anything else' MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOn The Money: McConnell offering new coronavirus relief bill | Biden introduces economic team, vows swift action on relief | Rare Mnuchin-Powell spat takes center stage at COVID-19 hearing Biden introduces economic team, vows swift action on struggling economy Louisville mayor declares racism a public health crisis MORE (D-Mass.) as well as former President Obama.

It’s a far cry from 2016, when the primary fight lasted through the summer and supporters of Sanders complained the Democratic National Committee had stacked the deck against their candidate.

Former Rep. Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden inches closer to victory Nervous Democrats don't see 2016 nightmare repeating itself Biden's debate strategy is to let Trump be Trump MORE (D-N.Y.), who supported Biden in the 2020 primary race, said that may give the party an edge it hasn’t seen in nearly two decades.

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“The Democrats, who were supposed to have a divisive convention, will now go into the convention completely united. Democrats are exactly where they need to be,” Israel said.

He also argued four years of Trump will make Democrats more determined to oust him in November.  

“The big contrast between 2016 and 2020, of course, is in 2016, Democrats didn’t think Donald Trump would be elected, so they continued to fight amongst themselves,” he said. “Now they realize that the reelection of Trump is an existential threat to the country, so they just want to bring the fight to Trump.”

Progressive Democrats argue that while they will likely support Biden to defeat Trump, the party still needs to come to an agreement on a number of platforms, such as the future of the country’s health care system.

“There’s a lot more work that needs to be done to hammer out a policy platform,” said physician and former Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed, who supported Sanders in the primary. “The majority of voters who voiced an opinion that nominated Joe Biden believe in government health care. 'Medicare for All' would have fundamentally changed our ability to have dealt with this pandemic.” 

“I do believe the vice president understands the need for really, really rethinking the way we do health care right now. He may not still believe in Medicare for All even though this pandemic has made the case plainly,” El-Sayed continued. 

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Israel cautioned that the race for the White House is still far from decided. While most voters are already set in their opinions of Trump, “it’s the 20 percent that live in the seven battleground states” that will ultimately determine the election, he said, adding that those voters may not decide how to cast their ballots for months.

“In this election, 80 percent of the people will go to the polls having made their decision a year ago,” he said. “So the 20 percent that’s left, they're going to go to the polls based on the circumstances of that moment. They are defiantly undecided. They don’t make their judgments until the closing days of the campaign.”

Ultimately, however, the election will likely be a referendum on Trump, specifically his handling of the country’s economic and health woes. 

“It’s becoming clear that this election is going to be a referendum on Donald Trump, first and foremost,” Heye said. “Clearly that is more true this year than in past years — not just how mostly voters’ minds are made up on Trump but how intensely they are. The Trump opponent is a very intense opponent. The Trump supporter is a very intense supporter.”